Student Spotlight

Classmates use what they’re learning to help veterans

April 06, 2016 by Margo Myers
Jendayi Stafford and Gary Strong

Brandman classmates Jendayi Stafford and Gary Strong

When Jendayi Stafford and Gary Strong teamed up for a class project in a course at Brandman University’s Whidbey Island campus, little did they know it would lead to a larger project designed to help military veterans.

The pair has launched the Veterans Transition Support and Development Center in Oak Harbor, Washington, providing resources for veterans who are transitioning to civilian life. “There are limited resources here on the island to help veterans, and once they lose access to the programs on base, it’s even tougher,” said Stafford. “We are compiling resources to help veterans with a variety of services.”

Stafford got the idea for the center when she ran across a veteran at a coffee shop while she tackled her homework. They talked about what she wanted to do with the master’s degree she was working on, and the idea to assist other veterans grew from there. Knowing she couldn’t do it alone, Stafford approached Strong as someone she’d clicked with in class. When he agreed to come onboard, the two filed the paperwork as a nonprofit and started putting together resources.

So far, they’ve been helping people write resumes, helped a family find affordable housing and found a job-shadowing opportunity for a sailor who was interested in becoming an occupational therapist. “We never imagined it would take off so quickly,” said Stafford. “The community has shown amazing support for our efforts.”

Stafford has a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, and is working on a master’s degree in psychology, as well as a master’s in organizational leadership with a human resources certificate. Strong just completed his master’s degree in human resources this past December.  Both are walking in Brandman University’s commencement ceremony in May. Stafford said creating the nonprofit went smoothly because of the knowledge and training they received at Brandman.

“Throughout this entire process of starting the organization, I’ve already used a number of skills obtained through my bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership, and my human resources degree,” said Strong. “The education I’ve received has helped me become a better leader and aided my understanding of the different functions within a business structure.”

Part of what is helping the pair be successful is their experience separating from the military. Strong is currently on active duty until early May, serving more than 10 years as a culinary specialist. He’s ready to move into a new career path. “I represent those service members who don’t want to commit to 20 years in the military,” explained Strong. “I want to set the example that there are opportunities for success as a civilian.”

Stafford served six years as an aviation ordnanceman, loading weapons onto P-3’s Orion surveillance aircraft. She was medically retired in 2014. “We know what the current challenges are that veterans face, having gone through the process ourselves,” said Stafford. “It’s a different world now than it was even just a few years ago.”

The Veterans Transition Support and Development Center provides more than career help. It is building a resource list for life coaches and mentors, counselors, mental health specialists, VA and education specialists, as well as resources for those with disabilities. “We want veterans to know that they’re not alone in their transition process,” said Strong. “There are resources and we’re here to fill that gap where resources are lacking. Receiving support doesn’t stop when you receive your DD214, and we want to make sure they’re aware of that.”

Right now, Strong and Stafford are focusing on fundraising, donations and grant writing to support the center. Finding office space is next on their list. They’re also formed a VeTS Community Outreach program to allow veterans and active duty personnel to come together to support each other, and the community. More information is available at, or on Facebook.

This story appeared first on the NW Navy Life website.

Related stories:

  • Female veterans find a place at Brandman
  • Podcast – Jeremy McKinnon speaks on transitioning veterans
  • San Diego grad students raise money for veterans with class project

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