GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two groups focused on helping veterans want to ensure it’s easier for military members and their dependents to pursue higher education. 

The Armed Forces Thanksgiving committee awarded the West Michigan Veterans Coalition with $50,000 Friday morning.

The money will be disbursed into scholarships for area service members and their families. The coalition also donates to programming that helps veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related stress.

The money was raised at AFT’s 3rd annual luncheon earlier this year, which brings together local schools and businesses to pay tribute to West Michigan military members.

“Our goal is to involve students, high schoolers, with military people so they cannot be recruited, but just understand and appreciate,” Lt. Col. Denny Gillem, an AFT board member, explained to 24 Hour News 8. 

Gillem served in the U.S. Army and now hosts the radio show “Frontlines of Freedom.” 

“West Michigan is a very military and veteran friendly community,” he said. “We’re a good role model for the rest of the country. Like anything else we can always get better. We can always have more understanding, more appreciation, but we want to maintain the strength that we have.”

So far the West Michigan Veterans Coalition has awarded 13 scholarships of $500 in 2018, with plans to award seven additional scholarships before the end of the year.