Library Serves Up Resources to Those Who Served
It’s an isolated world—especially for those coming home after serving in the military for several years.
For Ryan Antes, Veterans’ Commissioner representing Council District 7, reintegrating into the community after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan for four and a half years was a struggle. He was 18 when he enlisted in the Army, and when he returned in 2004 he felt a disconnect with the community he grew up in.
“Your friends, social support network and information resources are all tied to where you were physically located when stationed,” Antes said. “Reintegrating into the larger community is a bit of a process.”
Returning from his deployment, Antes knew that he needed to attain the achievements that others had the opportunity to do while he was overseas. He returned to school and received a Bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach and shortly after attended Loyola Law School, where he received his law degree. But despite his efforts, he never really felt reintegrated into the community.
“I went to Long Beach State and made some veteran friends,” he said. “... [It] never felt like there was a place to find other similarly situated veterans.”
The newly opened Veterans Resource Center at the Long Beach Main Library aims to fill that void by creating a communal space for veterans to help them better connect with the community. From non-fiction books to DVDs, the Library provides an array of resources to not only cater to veterans but also to help residents understand the complexities of serving for the military.
"The library has always been a place where veterans can come for information,” said Alana LaBeaf, a senior librarian who oversees the Veterans Resource Center. “This Center takes that idea one step further by actively disseminating the benefits available to veterans and their families, and connecting them to local organizations that can assist in getting those benefits and services."
Through a partnership with the California Department of Veteran Affairs (CalVet) and Veterans Connect @ The Library program, veterans and their families can be educated on the benefits and services available to them. CalVet provides assistance in four key areas: health care, housing, employment and education.
“Transition is a challenge for most of us veterans when we get out,” said Anthony Rodriguez, veteran and local interagency network coordinator. “The partnership with libraries is because when many vets get out of the military, they do not feel comfortable asking for and receiving benefits at the local VA.”
Rodriguez served in a reserve for nine years and was a Captain in the Marine Corps. Now, he works for CalVet assisting veterans in receiving benefits when they leave the military, he said.
“To my brother-in-arms, here,” Rodriguez said acknowledging Antes. “It is awesome that resources are coming together to assist the needs of those who have given so much.”
The resource center is currently open on Wednesdays from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The library hopes to expand its hours as more locals volunteer to help veterans reintegrate into the community and create workshops for veterans to connect with the community.
“I am more than curious to come to workshops and learn what else is out there,” Antes said. “Even if it isn’t something that directly helps me, I can take it back to the commission and find a way to help our Long Beach veteran community thrive.”