Nov 12

Internet café opens at Utica veterans center

By Emerson Clarridge, Observer-Dispatch

Posted Nov 07, 2009 @ 08:31 PM

William Fonda of Utica mingles during the grand opening of the Central new York Veterans Outreach Center's "The Bunker" internet cafe in Utica, Saturday, November 7, 2009.  Dave Londres / Observer-Dispatch

William Fonda of Utica mingles during the grand opening of the Central new York Veterans Outreach Center’s “The Bunker” internet cafe in Utica, Saturday, November 7, 2009. Dave Londres / Observer-Dispatch

UTICA — When he returned from Iraq in early 2005, Army veteran Gary Matt was quickly caught in labyrinthine bureaucracy.  Medical appointments often sent the 30-year-old Utica man to Syracuse.  “Even just going out to Rome is a pain,” he said.

Matt’s experience is typical of the disarray that meets former military men and women once they’ve left the battlefield and returned home, said Army veteran Vincent Scalise, who served with Matt.  “The government does what they can,” he said.  Yet often, he said, the assistance falls short.

To ease the transition to civilian life, Scalise began year ago to head an effort to convert the former 87,000-square-foot YMCA building on Washington Street in Utica into a single-stop veterans’ service clearinghouse that offers advice on legal matters, employment assistance and counseling.  Many of the services already are available at the Central New York Veterans Outreach Center, and construction began last week on 15 transitional housing units – apartments for veterans struggling to find a place to live – that Scalise said he hopes will be ready in mid-2010.

The center’s most recent addition is a first-floor coffee shop and Internet café called The Bunker, which celebrated its grand opening Saturday night to a steady flow of patrons.  Computers will be available from early morning to late at night so veterans can fill out online forms for Veterans Administration assistance and access the Internet for other purposes.  The space will be open to veterans and nonveterans.

“I want people from all different walks of life,” Scalise said.  Jessica Perusse, the center’s head social worker, said “it’s a very relaxing, calm space.”  A formal flag-raising, ribbon-cutting and open house is scheduled for Wednesday, Veteran’s Day.

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