Connecting veterans to resources through the Library

Los Banos veterans line up for a photo with Merced County Librarian Amy Taylor in front of the new “Veterans Connect” space in 2016.
Los Banos veterans line up for a photo with Merced County Librarian Amy Taylor in front of the new “Veterans Connect” space in 2016.

It’s been two years since the Los Banos Library’s Veterans Resource Center opened, and all of us at Merced County Library cannot help but reflect on what a privilege it’s been to assist 135-plus servicemen and women!

“Libraries are safe spaces where people care and want to provide assistance,” said County Librarian Amy Taylor. “Helping veterans navigate the internet to apply for benefits is a natural fit with the services and mission of Merced County Library.”

The VRC was initially funded by a grant through the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services in partnership with the California Department of Veterans Affairs and the California State Library. The goal is to provide assistance through trained volunteers to connect veterans to state and federal education, employment, housing, health, disability and other benefits they deserve.

The VRC has been manned 258 hours by trained volunteers over the last two years. One of those volunteers is Bob Plass, 527th PSC Army Veteran (Vietnam, 1967-68).

“It’s really rewarding to help people get on the right track to the get the benefits they deserve,” said Plass, who assists veterans every Tuesday from 12 to 2 p.m.

If a volunteer isn’t there, Nola Ramirez, trained Los Banos library staff member, is there to help.

What, I asked her, is the biggest impact the VRC was is having?

That “would be that our veterans can walk into the library and get help. As Bob has said, some days they just need someone to talk to and we are here locally to meet their needs.”

Outside of those meaningful conversations, Bob shared the top three resources he directs veterans to: Healthcare, housing and “general benefits,” which can all be found at www.calvet.ca.gov/. Veterans can also pick up a free copy of the California Veterans Resource Book, brochures explaining how to “Get Connected to Your Benefits” from CalVet or check out special books and audiobooks from our VRC collection. If that’s not enough, they can attend a veterans book talk, community discussion, and more.

Nola said she is grateful to be able to help the heroes of the past by finding Los Banos yearbook photos for recently identified servicemen.

For instance, Nola was asked by the National Memorial of the Pacific to find a photo of Navy Fireman 1st Class Raymond R. Camery, killed during the attack on the USS Oklahoma in World War II, and put to rest on March 28, 2018. He was a graduate of Los Banos High School in 1934. Nola used her connections in town and via the Milliken Museum to find a yearbook photo and then sent out that information.

We invite community members to contact us at 209 826-5254 or veteransconnectlibrary@gmail.com if you would like the VRC to host a table to connect our veterans with the services they need. Or stop in at the Los Banos Library, where the VRC is housed, during regular business hours – Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you come on a Tuesday, from noon to 2 p.m., you can stop in and talk veteran-to-veteran with Bob.

We are grateful for all that you and your families have sacrificed, so please let us know how we at the Merced County Library can continue to help.

Sara Brown in Deputy County Librarian with Merced County.