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Kevin Jamison ’14

“Park’s Warrior Center really helped me with my transition out of the military and my goal to complete my degree.”

A veteran of the Iraq War, Jamison said it was a natural fit to return home to Parkville more than two decades after he left for boot camp. “I like being around familiar faces,” he said of Parkville’s friendly, small town vibe. “It brings back good feelings for me.”

After completing a Bachelor of Science degree in social psychology in 2014, Jamison took a job as an outreach specialist at reStart, a nonprofit that helps homeless people in Kansas City. “I was leaving as many veterans on the street as I was helping. The experience was distressing and I wanted to find solutions to fill gaps I saw in the system,” Jamison said. “These men and women took the oath to serve our country just like me. So why was I treated better?”

That question led Jamison to an idea that has since captivated national attention. In 2015, he co-founded the Veterans Community Project — a nonprofit with a mission to eliminate veteran homelessness.

The VCP aims to offer free, temporary shelter to homeless people with a military background — even if they served a brief stint in the National Guard or Reserves, or were dishonorably discharged — conditions that may disqualify veterans from receiving government help.

Jamison encountered his own challenges when he retired from military service in 2010 — from adjusting to life outside of the military to becoming a full-time student at 44 years old. He remembers spending many hours in the Park Global Warrior Center talking with fellow veterans about their similar struggles. “Park’s Warrior Center really helped me with my transition out of the military and my goal to complete my degree,” said Jamison, who is now assistant director of corporate relations for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation.

Similar to the Park Global Warrior Center, the heart of the Veterans Community Project is a belief in the power of community. To help veterans reintegrate into a stable, civilian life, the VCP’s Outreach Center facilitates a variety of services, including counseling, mentoring, legal, employment and medical assistance — even yoga classes — to help veterans coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.

A one-size-fits-all program doesn’t work for everyone, explained Jamison. Instead, it’s about connecting with people on an individual level. “Developing trust can takes months,” he said. “That’s why veterans will be able to stay in the community as long as they need to get back on their feet.”

Casi Joy Lankford ’12

“I loved my degree program and everyone at Park, which helped me apply myself and earn my bachelor’s degree in early childhood education"

Music, sports, music — that was Lankford’s world growing up in Smithville, Mo. “College was never on my mind,” she said. Lankford, who comes from a family of teachers, said something came over her in high school. “Despite my music dreams, I wanted to go to college, and when Park offered me a track scholarship, I decided to go for it,” she said.

“I loved my degree program and everyone at Park, which helped me apply myself and earn my bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. I even graduated with honors!” she said. “It took a lot of sacrifice and determination — it does for everyone — but I knew if I just stuck with it, I’d never regret it.”

While at Park, Lankford used her teaching skills working at the School of Rock, a music school in Parkville, Mo., where she taught voice, piano and guitar for seven years. She also developed new curriculum for Little Wing, the school’s program for 3 to 5 year olds.

Watching her perform on stage, it’s hard to imagine Lankford was ever afraid of public speaking. “I’d sing one song after another and wouldn’t stop and talk to the audience because I was terrified. A public speaking class at Park helped me overcome my fears,” she said. “Now I can’t seem to shut up on stage. I love talking to the crowd and I owe that to Park.”

After graduation, Lankford decided to get serious about music. “If I was ever going to make my dream a reality, I had to bite the bullet and go to Nashville,” she said. On New Year’s Day in 2015, Lankford packed her bags for the Music City. Since then, the vibrant songbird has opened for Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Chaka Khan and others.

In February, Lankford’s career took a giant leap when she auditioned for Season 12 of NBC’s “The Voice,” singing LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue.” Her yodel caught the attention of all four celebrity judges who quickly turned their chairs around, signaling a thumbs-up vote for Lankford on the reality TV singing competition franchise.

Lankford released her debut album, “Love on Repeat,” and found time to make another dream come true. She married her high school friend-turned-fiancé, Bryan Lankford, on Oct. 14, 2017.

When she returns to visit family, Lankford wows the hometown crowd singing the National Anthem for the Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Chiefs and Sporting Kansas City.

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