Supporting Student Veterans | Beaufort County Now | A student veteran couldn’t afford textbooks. A donor stepped in to help.

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    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Erin Ward.

East Carolina University Army ROTC cadets practice terrain exercises at the West Research Campus in 2021. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

    Marine Corps officer Lara Gorham left the military to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. When she was accepted into the premed program at East Carolina University for fall 2021, it looked like her dream was within reach. Then her veteran benefits ran out.

    "I was becoming desperate. I had $11 in my bank account at the beginning of the semester, and I wasn't sure how I was going to afford gas for the week, let alone my books," Gorham said. She also had a young daughter at home and a long commute to campus.

    A donor-sponsored fund for student veterans was a lifeline. Thanks to the Paul Singleton Military Academic Success Fund, Gorham was able to purchase all of the textbooks and supplies she needed for the semester.

    "He made impossible circumstances attainable," she said. "I cannot thank him enough for his generosity."

    Even with federal funding and scholarships, student veterans can still struggle to pay college tuition and fees. Many student veterans have full-time jobs and families with mortgages, childcare and car payments that cut into funds available for college. And if they change their major or take on a minor, their GI benefits could run out before graduation.

    ECU alumnus Paul Singleton '58, '61 said he hopes his significant gift helps veterans and their families make the best of their studies and adapt more easily to campus life. It's one of the largest gifts ever for student veterans at ECU.

    "When I went to school, they didn't have Pell grants or government loans. Very few people were on scholarships. When I went back to school (after serving in the Air Force), I had a family, and even on the GI Bill, it covered tuition but not all the other expenses. I didn't want students to put up with what I had to put up with," Singleton said.

    Singleton attended ECU in 1951 but had to drop out after two semesters due to lack of money. He joined the Air Force in 1954 and was able to return to ECU after serving to finish his undergraduate degree. He went on to work as a navigation instructor in the Air Force and was in special operations for two deployments abroad. Singleton left the Air Force in 1984 and now lives in a military-affiliated retirement community in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. His late wife, Anne, was an ECU alumna, and his two brothers also went to ECU on the GI Bill.

    The Paul Singleton Military Academic Success Fund is unique in that it provides support not only for veterans, but also for reservists and dependents of disabled veterans, who do not get some federal funding for textbooks, said Nicole Messina, associate director of Student Veteran Services at ECU.

    "Very few universities offer extra support to these students, or to the dependents of disabled veterans, so Mr. Singleton has provided ECU with a great opportunity to help military-affiliated students," she said.

    Junior nursing student Cyniah Phillips is the daughter of a U.S. Army servicewoman. She's always looked up to her mom and decided to follow in her footsteps.

    "My dream is to be a nurse in the Army. As a nursing major, the books and resources I need for my education can be pricey. And not only does my mother have to worry about providing me with financial assistance, but now my sister is also a freshman in college who needs assistance as well. This isn't including the money that my mother needs to provide for my three other siblings who are at home," she said.

    With support from Singleton's fund, Phillips was able to get all her nursing materials without adding to the financial burden on her family. Many other students in addition to Phillips and Gorham have benefited from Singleton's generosity, Messina said.

    "Gifts to Student Veteran Services allow us as a unit to provide holistic services to support their transition from military to student life," she said. "Veterans have already given us so much, and I think it's wonderful when people want to give back to help them reach their goals a little more easily."
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