Although large groups touring Washington, D.C. are commonplace, this one was a bit different.
On Saturday, Nov. 26, a group of Wharton students took 36 veterans, all members of the Veterans Upward Bound program, to the nation’s capital, where they spent the day touring the city and visiting important sites.
VUB is a federally funded program that aims to assist low-income veterans in becoming first-generation college students. Through the program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, soldiers have the opportunity to take classes at universities, and often receive assistance with applications and financial aid.
The undergraduates, who connected with the VUB through their Management 100 class, organized, fundraised and led the trip to Washington, D.C, a task that took several months.
“The trip was about showing veterans who had experienced setbacks, who lacked opportunities, that they deserved the chance to begin again,” Wharton freshman Tom Yuz said.
The group raised money for the trip in a number of ways, including reaching out individually to over 150 different corporations, and coordinating with Copabanana, a popular restaurant near campus, to hold a Veteran’s Weekend fundraiser. In all, they raised over $4,000 — about double the cost of the trip. The remainder of the money will go toward scholarships for veterans, the group said.
The group visited the White House upon arrival, and the veterans were able to take a guided tour before spending time at several of the museums in Washington, including the National Air and Space Museum. The last spot on the tour was the Arlington National Cemetery, a place the veterans were able to connect with.
“We had four veterans, each from a different branch of the military, walk with the guard to participate in a wreath laying ceremony, which many said was the most uplifting experience of the trip,” Yuz said.
On the trip, as well as during planning, the students were able to interact with some of the nation’s heroes, many of whom are in their 60s.
“On the bus ride to D.C., we all sat next to a veteran, which meant we had three hours to sit next to someone and get to know them,” Wharton freshman Megan Kyne said.
This intimacy also led to moments of vulnerability between the groups.
“One veteran shared how, while serving, he had an accident that left him with brain damage,” Kyne said. “After returning, his wife left him and he lost his job, but he’s with the VUB in order to get a job and hopefully see his family again. We shared a lot of intimate moments like that.”
Although the trip has passed, the students and the veterans have planned a reunion, to share their experiences and photos from the trip.
“For our [Management 100 group], even though it was a lot of work, we could see the direct impact of it,” Kyne said. “It wasn’t really about the grade as much as the relationships we formed through the project.”