Q&A with Trish Ross
Residence: Warner Robins
Occupation: Chief operating officer, Georgia VECTR Center
Q: VECTR will be two years old in August — how do you rate it at two years? And what’s the whole name?
A: I give it 11 out of 10! Quite honestly, we’ve done better than I ever imagined, and I had some really big dreams. And it’s Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource Center.
Q: Qualify that “better.” Nice building? Budget? Staff?
A: Veterans helped. It’s in helping people and growing quality programs and services for veterans, their spouses and dependents.
Q: Can you give numbers?
A: As of July 6, we’ve served 16,789 people with 21,354 different services. Individuals come to us for multiple services so the two numbers. Close to 12,000 more have come for other training or events we host.
A: We did provided educational space for Robins Air Force Base, but this fall that changes. We need all our classrooms ourselves now. Other local and state meetings have been here, like a Veterans Administration Mental Health Services meeting, state meetings of the Workforce Development Board, the Returning Veterans Task Force, job and hiring fairs and other veteran-beneficial events. We get five minutes at each to tell what we do. Word of mouth is veterans’ most trusted source.
Q: Is one area or service most prominent?
A: Veteran services. People coming for information or to get their VA benefits make up about 75 percent. That’s good because then they see us and can learn what’s here, from educational opportunities to financial to housing assistance to legal assistance and on and on.
Q: Benefits information is provided by the VA here, not you, right? You call yourself a one-stop-shop for veterans by housing other service representatives.
Q: Exactly. The VA is here. Georgia Department of Veterans Service officers are here, and other on-site partners include the Georgia Department of Labor, a United Way/Mission United representative and quite a number of others.
Q: Who operates VECTR?
A: The Technical College System of Georgia and we’re specifically connected to Central Georgia Technical College, who provides on-site courses. There’s a lot of online and other learning styles here, too. The legislature gave $10 million initially to get things going, and Warner Robins gave the land near Robins on Armed Forces Boulevard. Gov. (Nathan) Deal was behind it, and his efforts helped start our first class, the commercial truck drivers training. It was a vocational need he saw and an opportunity for veterans. Local governments are really supportive. They got us adequate outdoor lighting. Houston County came to our rescue and helped expand parking. They also mow our grass. State, federal and community partners are at the center, all working on veterans’ behalf.
Q: What classes and certifications are available?
A: Truck driving was the first, then Cisco Networking Specialist, welding and now HVAC. Courses are accelerated to help transitioning veterans get back to work faster. We also serve active duty military now who are about to separate from service, so we’re helping on the front end, too, versus afterward. We’ve done that with the Air Force and are signing right now with the Army also. It’s possible because of a new agreement with Robins for military students to use their dormitories.
Q: Things are really growing.
A: We just got $3.9 million to expand programs and build a new building near the truck parking lot. New classrooms and equipment.
Q: Was VECTR a new idea or copied from elsewhere?
A: It’s unique to us. There’s no other center in the nation like it doing what we do like we do for veterans of all branches of service from all over a state. But representatives from other states are coming to check us out. Wouldn’t it be great if there was one of these in every state for veterans?
Q: As well as classes, programs and services, it’s a very pleasant facility. Your large lobby isn’t packed, but there are a lot of people sitting around, talking, working at computers, watching TV, probably some waiting to meet officials but a lot just using and enjoying the space.
A: We designed the building intentionally to be open and friendly. There’s a lot of light and windows and space. We wanted it that way for everyone but were especially mindful of those suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Q: Aside from stats, you’re here day-in-and-out, what do you see and hear that encourages you?
A: For one thing, if we had any fear that if we built it they wouldn’t come, that’s proven absolutely untrue. They came. Within two months we had to double parking. But really, it’s how partnerships have formed with groups and agencies to provide veterans help with what they need. We were originally set up as a training resource, and are, but we encounter needs and we just have to try to meet them or get them connected to whoever can meet them. That’s the heart of who we are. We’re really good at research and discovering who can help. Not everybody transitions from the military well. Some do, some don’t. VECTR is here to help in either case. Our veterans deserve that.
Q: What’s the contact information for more particulars?
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.