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CCCC's Thewes focused on helping veterans

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Click to enlarge,  Matt Monarca, The Sanford Herald. Matt Thewes spoke about his time in the military and introduced his 'Hero Mirror" at a Veterans Day event at Central Carolina Community College.

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Matt Monarca, The Sanford Herald. Matt Thewes spoke about his time in the military and introduced ... (more)

11.30.2017College & CommunityCollege General

By Noah Grant, The Sanford Herald

SANFORD - When a child is born, they receive traits from their parents such as hair color, height and other aspects related to appearance and personality.

For Matt Thewes, he received his desire to help others from his late mother, Jane Thewes. He observed her selfless acts and incorporated that in his life.

"If it was raining out and we were at the bus stop and somebody else was getting wet, my mom would give them our umbrella," Thewes said. "And I'm like, 'Mom, you just gave them our umbrella, we're going to get wet.' 'But they have a paper bag of food and their bag is going to tear and they're going to drop their food so I'm going to give them the umbrella.' So she would do that."

Thewes serves as the director of Veterans Upward Bound at Central Carolina Community College. Per the website, Veterans Upward Bound "is designed to motivate and assist veterans in the development of academic and other requisite skills necessary for acceptance and success in a program of postsecondary education."

Essentially, the program helps veterans to prepare for college by offering courses, guidance and counseling while assisting in the application and financial aid process as well. Thewes served time in the Air Force, working in aircraft maintenance before becoming a C-130 loadmaster and a weather forecaster.

"In the military, they go through training and it's academic but it still is different, different requirements going from military training to standard higher education that the whole thought process is different in the mind," he said. "That transition, veterans have a hard time playing civilian already, (and) to be a student, to add that into it makes it more difficult."

Starting at Fayetteville Technical College, Thewes helped veterans as the veteran services coordinator at the school. He was asked by the school's administration to create a veterans center and visited Cape Fear Community College to get an idea for the project.

On his visit, Thewes met a Marine who had recently adopted the dog he served with while deployed. The first question the man asked Thewes was if he was a veteran. Thewes fostered credibility with the man based on their shared military history.

"So that kind of changed my mindset on advocating for veterans," Thewes said. "A veteran has to advocate for veterans because you have to have the credibility. That's kind of where I jumped into it."

The program offers courses in math and English that prepare students as they venture into college. Thewes and other employees work step by step until the veterans get into college and graduate.

Tutoring is vital in the program and tutors will go above and beyond to reach the students. Thewes said a tutor has gone to a student's residence before until they were able to get them transportation vouchers to get to a closer meeting place.

Veterans Upward Bound provides counseling for the students as well that doesn't just focus on education. Thewes said that if needed, the program could offer behavioral health counseling.

"Typically at the community college level, if we can help them be successful here, then they'll be successful at the next level," Thewes said. "So we just want to make sure that we give them as many tools as possible to carry on to at least graduate at the community college level or earn whatever certifications they're looking for and if they choose to move to a four-year school, we can help them with that as well."

With education as a focus, Thewes is limited in what he can do directly for the student but he uses connections and resources to assist in other avenues. Veterans Upward Bound uses referrals to help veterans with employment, legal aids, physical and mental health situations and more.

"Where my limitations begin, there are other organizations that can pick up," Thewes said. "That's where I think there isn't anything we can't help a veteran with when they come in."

Veterans Upward Bound works closely with the veterans, connecting them with different opportunities such as meetings with employers and college tours. Thewes said this closeness is part of what separates the program from others.

With a partnership with NCWorks, Veterans Upward Bound can make the transition from college to a job easier on the veteran.

"If you're telling me, 'I specifically want to do this type of job,' I wouldn't know, since I'm not an employer for that, what specific types of training you need but I know somebody that does," Thewes said. "So I would just find out other participants that might be interested in the same thing and then I would just take the whole group up there to kind of take a tour, meet with the (human resources) people, meet with some of the staff and see what they do and try to make it a worthwhile trip."

Outside of the program, Thewes strives to help out his fellow brothers and sisters who have served. His commitment to this population led him to create what he calls the "Hero Mirror." The veterans center he helped create at Fayetteville Tech had empty walls, so he put the words "You're looking at a Hero" on a mirror.

Thewes said veterans will routinely deny being heroes, so the mirror is his way to reassure them of their worthiness of the term.

"They may be suffering from something but they may not be," Thewes said. "They may just be too modest to really think that they are a hero and so the mirror, I think it's really transformational."

Whether it's a moment at the mirror or a meeting in his office, Thewes aims to connect with these veterans and point them in the right direction in education, health, employment or whatever else they may need. This stems from both his time in the Air Force and the influence of his mother.

"I think I'm an inside-out person," Thewes said. "The heart and the passion that's on the inside is on the outside."