Leading Life to Provide for Those in Need
More than 350 veterans of the U.S. armed forces chose to attend St. Louis Community College this year, and our College is proud to support them in every step of their educational journey. We know they sacrificed to serve our nation and we want to provide every opportunity for them to succeed in whatever they pursue. As we celebrate Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 11, STLCC is highlighting veterans who attend classes on our four main campuses. A new story will appear Monday-Thursday, leading up to the holiday.
We encourage you to read these stories for details and we ask that you please join us in thanking our veterans for their service.
Edmond Brown has a calling his grandmother fostered and that benefits the veterans at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park.
He serves. He cares. He guides.
Brown, 57, is in his second stint as a volunteer with the Veterans Resource Center at the College. He gravitated to working with veterans because he spent a brief time in the United States Marine Corps. He feels a connection for those who have worn the uniform and wants to help them navigate the sometimes-confusing world of veteran benefits and help them get the most they can out of college.
“For whatever reason, I like helping folks and I like seeing them reach their goals,” said Brown, who earned an associate degree in culinary arts in 2017 and is now working toward a degree in addictions studies. “I know what it is to need help. I like the fact that maybe I can motivate somebody not to give up and let them know the resources the College has so they can succeed and graduate.”
Helping others comes from a childhood of watching his grandmother, Dorothy C. Brown, serve her community. From civil rights to making sure those in need got care, she focused on several efforts during her lifetime young Edmond had a front-row seat for all her community service work.
Dorothy raised Edmond from when he was two days old. She was his guiding light.
Edmond has seen his dad maybe once, but isn’t certain the man was truly him. Edmond’s mother was always around, living in the same house, but struggled with a substance-use disorder that kept her from being as involved with her son as they both might have preferred. Sober for the past “10 to 15 years” according to Brown, they have a closer relationship now than during his childhood.
The importance of serving others instilled by his grandmother has been a thread throughout Edmond Brown’s life.
“She was kind of an activist and was always willing to help folks even when you might not be doing so great,” Brown said of his grandmother, who passed away in 1995. “I guess it rubbed off. Wherever she went, I went. Even if I didn’t understand what was going on at the time.”
In Service to Others
That influence provided one of the reasons Brown decided to enter the military in 1986. He said he felt his life wasn’t headed in his preferred direction and didn’t think college was the right choice. Once he made the decision to serve, Brown told himself he’d go into whichever branch reached out to him first. It turned out to be the Marines.
It also turned out to not be a great fit. Brown didn’t make it through boot camp, leaving the service after two months and three days. He departed with the hope he might return and finish.
He never did.
Brown spent the ensuing 20 years bouncing from job to job: fast-food industry, working in warehouses, a pallet company and numerous other businesses. Nothing stuck.
Then, he learned that although he didn’t complete a full term with the Marines, he was still eligible for educational benefits through the military. He decided to attend STLCC-Forest Park to improve on the cooking skills he learned from his grandmother. Brown didn’t necessarily want a job in the food industry, but wanted to improve a skill he enjoyed.
“Coming to the College helped me when I was floundering,” he said. “Coming here, I was leery because I was so much older than the normal age of students and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to compete. But there are a lot of resources here that I wound up using and getting help.”
Becoming a Resource for Veterans
While working on his first associate degree, he began a stint with the Veterans Resource Center to give back for the help he received and to assist veterans that he cared about so much. The center is a dedicated space at each STLCC campus for student veterans, service members and their families.
There are several resources and opportunities at each center:
- Providing education counseling regarding veterans’ affairs education benefits.
- Helping students complete necessary requirements to be certified and their benefits charged properly.
- Connecting with fellow veteran students.
- Holding meetings benefiting veterans.
- Providing a place for socialization or to relax.
- Offering a location to bring outside speakers and groups based on veterans needs and desires.
“I’ve been in their shoes, so I know,” said Brown. “There were quite a few veterans using the VRRAP when it first started, and once you make that bond, it tends to be for life.”
The Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program, or VRRAP as it’s more commonly known to veterans, was enacted in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan. Eligible veterans participating in VRRAP receive up to 12 months of tuition and fees and a monthly housing allowance based on the post-9/11 GI Bill rates. Covered education programs must provide training for high-demand occupations.
George Herrera, STLCC’s district manager for veterans’ affairs, who also served in the Marines, said Brown’s time in the service doesn’t matter to those he helps now. The veterans at STLCC-FP aren’t concerned with why Brown didn’t make it through bootcamp, Herrera said. They just appreciate what he provides them now and that he’s dedicated to them.
“It’s his persona,” Herrera said. “Even though he was in for just two months, you would have thought he was a one- or two-time enlistment person. His leadership, his service to one another. He wants that continuity. He wants stability that he brings to those around him. “
Brown took a break from school and volunteering during the pandemic but returned this semester. He wasn’t exactly certain what addiction studies entailed but having seen the effects of the disease in his mom and so many others in his life, he thought it might be interesting to explore.
So far, it hasn’t disappointed and has helped him grow as a person.
“Some of the stuff in addictions studies helps me not only for my family, but for me as well,” Brown said. “I’m not a drug addict, but I get to study myself. Because you can’t help somebody until you first help yourself.
“This is one of the reasons why I find the whole thing unique and a challenge because I get to see different aspects of others and of myself.”