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With more than 870 students using veterans’ benefits to pursue their degree at the College of Southern Maryland since last fall, the CSM Foundation has launched its second CSM Heroes Campaign in honor of those who served the country as well as first responders who risk their lives daily for the safety of others.

Currently one out of every 19 students is using veteran benefits to pursue an associate’s degree at CSM. Last year and throughout the summer, CSM served 879 students using veterans’ benefits, with the majority attending from Charles County at 42 percent and 37 percent from St. Mary's County.

The CSM Heroes Campaign, which continues through Nov. 11, raises funds to support students studying to become first responders, specifically in emergency medical services, criminal justice, fire science technology or homeland security programs, or students using veteran benefits as part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Yellow Ribbon Program.

"The college is privileged to serve more than 800 of our veterans every year. These individuals deserve our financial support so that they can achieve their goals," said CSM President Brad Gottfried in a statement.

The CSM Foundation marked Sept. 11 with the launch of its second CSM Heroes Campaign with the help of members of the La Plata campus student association, which offered commemorative yellow ribbons and patriotic pins as part of its Sept. 11 responders recognition. Student Association Treasurer Alexis Crawford, a second-year student in accounting, asked those assembled outside the Learning Resource Center to pause for a moment of silence to honor veterans and in support of local heroes.

Afterward, Crawford added yellow ribbons to the lapels of several local heroes, including Larry Abell, president of the Maryland Veterans Memorial Museum at Charles County and a student at the college in 1960 before serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. He was joined by fellow MVMM directors, Norm Saunders, a 1968 alumnus prior to serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and Marie and Don Halter, both of whom served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

“We’re here to serve veterans. We want to preserve their history and honor the deep sacrifices that so many people have made,” Abell said, who is also a life member of the 10th District Volunteer Fire Department in Charles County. “Our museum’s motto is remembering and honoring Maryland’s veterans. Also serving our veterans is part of that as well, and I applaud the College of Southern Maryland for what you are doing to support our veterans through these scholarships.”

Crawford also pinned a yellow ribbon onto the firefighter uniform of current student Elizabeth Varesko, who is a member of the Leonardtown Volunteer Fire Department and has just joined the Leonardtown Volunteer Rescue Squad. Varesko, who is pursuing associate degrees in emergency medical services and in Fire Science Technology, ultimately wants to become a flight medic with the state police and work as a paid firefighter for a base such as Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

“I love it,” she said of firefighting, despite the tough crash scenes she may work or donning the 60-plus pounds of gear that includes bunker pants, a fire coat, boots, air tanks, mask and helmet, plus tools while she works a fire scene for several hours. “It can be exhausting, but it is well worth the time. It’s just amazing, being a volunteer firefighter. The emergency field has changed so many people’s lives; it has made me a better person, no doubt. It kicks you into shape, and you deal with a lot of emotion, but there are always other firefighters there to help you through it. You can join a department and you don’t have to know anything going in, but they can provide you with the training, and they are there to help you get started. I don’t know where I’d be without it. I love it. It’s my passion; it’s my life.

I don’t consider myself a hero; I just do it because it’s what I love to do.”

To donate

During the CSM Heroes Campaign, donation boxes will be available at locations throughout Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties. Donations also may be made online at www.csmd.edu/Foundation/heroes/.

Participating area Papa John's are also partnering with CSM through Nov. 12 to donate a portion of its pizza sales when customers mention “CSM Heroes” or a derivative of the Heroes Campaign with any order. Additionally, on Monday nights that coincide with Monday Night Football, the participating Papa John's will offer a special, with $1 of every order going to CSM Heroes.

For more on CSM Heroes Campaign, contact Martina Arnold at 301-934-7649 or martina.arnold@csmd.edu or visit www.csmd.edu/Foundation. For information on CSM services available to student veterans, visit www.csmd.edu/Current/Veterans.