PHILADELPHIA, April 17, 2014—When Navy veteran Stephen Fortt enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia he brought with him his natural leadership ability, more than 15 years of work experience, and an enterprising spirit honed from years of running a nonprofit.
On May 3, he will be among 81 military veterans who will be candidates for graduation at the 48th commencement, which begins at 10 a.m., May 3 at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, 1776 North Broad Street. Jotaka Eaddy, Senior Director for Voting Rights and Senior Advisor to the President and CEO of the NAACP, will address the graduates on the importance of civic engagement, voting, and the benefits that accrue from community service.
Community service, as it happens, is Fortt’s passion. In 2002, he started a nonprofit now called Work-N-Style (www.wayprogram.webs.com) that provides gently worn clothing for children, and men re-entering the workforce. “I dress young adults and men who are returning from prison or coming out of college and looking for work. My passion is really the children and students because I’m a student and I know that students have needs, whether they’re in kindergarten or college,” Fortt said. His short-term career goal is to manage a nursing or healthcare facility and continue to run his nonprofit, which currently relies upon volunteers. He plans to take additional summer courses at the College before transferring to a four-year college for a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management.
Initially, Fortt, 38, said he wasn’t sure how he would fit in on a campus. The West Philadelphia resident left the Navy in 1998, where he served as an electrician aboard the U.S.S. Portland. He held various business positions prior to 2012, when he enrolled in school to earn a degree that would lead to more stable employment. Healthcare management seemed a practical path for him because of prior work experience.
He found that the College’s culture suited him well. “There’s tons of support and a whole lot of resources here for young adults and older students. The teachers and instructors are awesome,” he said.
On campus Fortt found a caring community of veterans at the Veterans Resource Center that helped him navigate the academic system, expand his already extensive community network, and broaden his considerable leadership skills. He became president of the Veterans Club in fall 2013. He also connected with other student leaders on campus like retired Army veteran Jason Mays, the current president of the Student Government Association, who launched the College’s first-ever free textbook exchange for students. Mays also will be among the veterans graduating on May 3.
Fortt was one of several student leaders honored this spring by the College. At a ceremony, he received the College Mission Award, which is presented to recipients who lead by example and have demonstrated multiple aspects of the College mission in their actions. His nonprofit has provided wardrobes for some of the students participating in the College’s Homeless Student Support Initiative. “There’s a whole science and ideology behind getting men to look appropriate depending on the stylish trend of the time,” Fortt said. “My mission is to help people in need.”
Across the nation, military veterans like Fortt are finding college success because of specialized clubs and resource centers that address their unique needs, according to recent studies. Fortt says the College’s Veterans Resource Center provided a valuable bridge during his transition. It serves students who are either veterans or eligible to receive veteran education benefits through a spouse or close relative. Because of the College’s demonstrated interest in serving and supporting its military students, Victory Media recently named Community College of Philadelphia a 2014 Military Friendly School.
“The Veterans Resource Center is a very necessary resource for veteran students. It is so necessary, it’s like a major artery,” Fortt said. “If they don’t go through the Veterans Resource Center they’re classes could drop or they could face other issues such as the loss of financial aid.”
Steve Bachovin, Coordinator for the Veterans Resource Center said, “The center puts a human face on the enrollment application for our returning veterans. We recognized early on that the new post 9-11 GI Bill meant a lot more of the returning veterans were going back to school, so we put together this program where we could have them access both their school records and the Veterans Administration to streamline their entrance into higher education.”