A veteran’s adventure through NKU


Photo by Brody Kenny

Newberry working on his homework. He is currently in his freshmen year at NKU majoring in human services.

When the fall semester began, Jim Newberry, an NKU freshman, was living under a bridge in downtown Cincinnati. Now, the 52-year-old Navy veteran and human services major has received a housing voucher and is looking forward to starting the spring semester with a place to live.

“Right now they have a voucher in Boone County,” Newberry said, referring to Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, or HUD-VASH, a program assisting him with housing, which he will likely receive by the end of the month.  “So I might pick that one or wait, depending on what I want to do.”

According to Newberry, HUD-VASH is working to find housing for him specifically in Campbell County, possibly at an apartment in Fort Thomas. HUD-VASH will pay for his housing and possibly his utilities. Newberry will have to pay 30 percent of his income. Currently unemployed, Newberry is seeking to go back to work.

A recovering drug addict and alcoholic for 35 years, Newberry became sober in July 2012 after “life got too much”.After he quit drugs and alcohol, Newberry also voluntarily left his job of 12 years as a production manager at Teron Lighting Inc. in Fairfield, Ohio.

“About two and a half months into my sobriety, I went to work one day, and I was sitting there looking around,” Newberry said. “I said, ‘What in the hell am I doing here?’”

In need of a place to live, Newberry found himself living in the Domiciliary in Ft. Thomas, before taking it upon himself to received his GED. His experience of being around homeless veterans, he says, inspired him to want to become an addiction counselor.

From November 2013 to April, Newberry lived in a house (checking to see where it was) that eventually was foreclosed on. Following this, he was then housed in a department of a labor-funded program through Goodwill, which mandated that he work in order to maintain his residency. Desiring to go to school, Newberry left the program.

“They said, ‘What are you going to do, live under a bridge?’” Newberry said. “I said, ‘If I have to.’”

After receiving his GED certificate in Dec. 2013 through Cincinnati State’s Veterans Upward Bound program, Newberry enrolled at NKU for the fall 2014 semester. His road to admission was aided through his introduction to Dave Merriss, Assistant Director of the Veterans Resource Station NKU. Newberry credits Merriss for helping him get through the admissions process.

“He helped me initiate the process for admissions, get the COMPASS test taken,” Newberry said.

Merriss, himself an Army veteran with a Master’s of social work degree, is deeply devoted to helping people like Newberry.

“I have two passions in life,” Merriss said, “One is working with the homeless and the second is working with veterans, but not necessarily homeless veterans.”

Newberry has been a regular fixture at the Veterans Resource Station, according to Merriss. He reportedly comes in every day, uses the computers, and talks to others who come through.

Originally enrolled for 16 credit hours, Newberry cut down to nine, though he says he has to have at least 12 next semester in order to keep his FAFSA and loans. Though initially overwhelmed by the obligations of a college student, like learning to use Powerpoint for the first time, Newberry found support through his professors and fellow students, and is winding down his first semester with a B average.

“Here at this university, everybody here has been so supportive,” Newberry said.

Some of the support has come from the two social work majors who are interning at the Veterans Resource Station. Seniors Jackie Vertrees and JA’Swayla Price are both in their last semester at NKU and came to know Newberry through the office.

“I wanted to deal with veterans in a different way, seeing them come in, trying to adjust back to civilian life out of combat,” said Price, whose father is a Vietnam war veteran.

Some of the things that Vertrees and Price have assisted Newberry with include finding a workable TANK bus route, FUEL NKU, an on-campus food pantry, and “being a shoulder to lean on.”

Upon graduation in December, they would like to continue their work with veterans or military personnel. Price desires to work in the VA Hospital, while Vertrees has considered a few other options.

“I’d like either the VA Hospital, on-base, or an armory, wherever I’m need[ed],” Vertrees said.

Though he is on campus from 9 to 5 during the week, Newberry’s current living situation, under a bridge at 6th and Gest St. in downtown Cincinnati, poses a few problems, particularly in regards to scheduling.

“I have to eat at soup kitchens,” Newberry said. “Sometimes my class schedule interferes with the schedule at the soup kitchen so I might not eat that day.”

Nonetheless, Newberry has made class attendance a top priority.

“I’d rather miss a meal than miss a class,” Newberry said, “I think I’ve missed two classes since I’ve been here.”

When it comes to his schoolwork Newberry says he looks forward to the convenience and ease of having a consistent place to live.

“Once I’m there, the fact that I can work at home, anytime I need to work, instead of having to travel an hour each way to get to a library,” Newberry said. “It’ll be so much easier.”

With the temperatures dropping, Newberry expressed gratitude for his Army-issued sleeping bag for keeping him warm. He also credits “a higher power.”

“ [The higher power] Put this in my life, just when I needed it,” he said. “This is not only the chance of a lifetime, it’s the adventure of a lifetime.”