Center planned for wounded veterans at UI

Center planned for wounded veterans at UI

CHAMPAIGN — Plans for a $12 million Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education were announced Thursday by Gov. Pat Quinn and University of Illinois officials.

The center, to be located next to the Family Resiliency Center on Nevada Street in Urbana, already has received a $6 million "lead gift" from Ron Chez, a 1962 UI graduate who is president of Chicago-based Ronald L. Chez Inc., a financial management consulting firm, and also is chairman of the board of EpiWorks, a semiconductor manufacturer in Champaign.

No construction timetable has been established, said Tanya Gallagher, dean of the UI College of Applied Health Sciences.

The new center will provide comprehensive services for veterans with disabilities who are enrolled on the Urbana campus, Gallagher said.

"This center will provide educationally integrated services to student veterans of our most recent conflicts, and their families," she said.

Gallagher and Quinn said the center would enable the UI to continue to be an international leader in higher education for disabled veterans.

She said the facility would present a "multidisciplinary, family-centered approach" to services, including residential and nonresidential services to help in "life-skills management, academic coaching, tutoring in adaptive learning strategies, training in the use of adaptive technologies, peer mentorship, psychological counseling, rehabilitative services, counseling and outreach to family members and career counseling."

Gallagher said that Chez, who in 2009 gave the UI more than a million dollars to establish a Chez Family Scholars Program, had read a newspaper story about Beckwith Hall, a residence center for students with disabilities.

"I went down there on other business and I wanted to see what the university was doing about the severely handicapped students," he said. "I went to visit it over there and I pledged some money for a personal assistant for one of the students. I was talking to Tanya Gallagher, and she said that we want to do a building for severely disabled veterans but we don't have the first pledge to get started.

"So I made a commitment at the time, which was not as much. And then through the assiduous effort of (Urbana campus Chancellor) Phyllis Wise and others, I decided to sponsor half of it to get it started."

Chez is a U.S. Army veteran.

"It's our honor to respect the great courage of people who have put themselves in harm's way and go off and defend our country," he said.

Quinn, who was at the UI to tout his proposed state tax credit for hiring veterans, called Chez's donation "exceptionally generous" and said "it just shows the patriotism of people all across our state and across our country."

"Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War said that it is the duty of all of us on the home front to take good care of those who have borne the battle, and take care of their families," Quinn said. "We want our state ... to lead the nation in welcoming home veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan and other places around the world. It's very important that our institutions of higher learning follow the example of the University of Illinois, which after World War II was a national leader in making sure that our returning veterans from that conflict had an opportunity with their Bill of Rights to get a college education."

The design for the Center for Wounded Veterans, Gallagher said, includes classroom space.

"We have learned that it's sometimes very helpful to have special sections of classes that assist in the transition," she said. "There's a tremendous difference between the kind of life one has in the military, not only in a combat situation but in the sense of having an organized day. They wake up in the morning and they have a scheduled day. It's very different when they arrive on campus and that kind of structure isn't here anymore. Part of what we need to do in the transition is to provide those supports in making the adjustment."

Chez's gift was made on Tuesday, Gallagher said, leaving $6 million more to obtain before construction can begin.

"I think there is a sense on the part of the population that these are people who have contributed a great deal, and we know that obtaining a world-class education is the key to employment," she said. "We're very optimistic that people will be very generous in helping us."