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Friday, October 24, 2014

Campus Event Caters to Student Veterans

Clover Park Technical College's Blog
OCT. 24, 2014 By Somer Hanson

In conjunction with Disability Awareness Month, Clover Park Technical College’s Veterans Resource Center and Disability Resources Office hosted representatives from the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs for a special campus event Oct. 22.
Nikki Davis, traumatic brain injury outreach coordinator with the WDVA, spent a few hours at the VRC connecting with student veterans in a comfortable, informal setting for the VRC’s Quarterly Fall-In. The event welcomed 25 students, three staff and one faculty member, and gave Davis and Veteran Navigator Shawn Durnen the opportunity to meet with veterans and provide information on resources available to them.
“It’s about empowering our vets so they can empower themselves and their families,” Davis said. “The way to do that is to educate.”
Davis understands not all veterans are the same. An Air Force veteran herself, Davis knows the needs of those who separated from service.
“This is a way to reach out and let them know, even if they’re not quite ready, there are resources you can use that can help you be ready,” she said.
Chris Smith retired from the United States Air Force after 24 years of service and is now in the Computer Networking and Information System Security Program. Smith heard about the VRC’s event and headed over for a pizza lunch and to talk about his experiences in the service.
“I’ve wanted to stop by and check out the center,” Smith said. “Today was the perfect day.”
Durnen is one of more than 30 veteran navigators in the state. He communicates with CPTC’s student veterans on a peer-to-peer level. When veteran navigators host a support event for veterans, they have the opportunity to reach out to support specialists who can provide additional resources and training.
The Tacoma Mobile Vet Center was also on location outside the VRC to assist veterans with questions about additional resources.
For more information about the VRC, please visit www.cptc.edu/veterans.

Photo at top - Nikki Davis of the WDVA, student Chris Smith (left) and CPTC Veteran Navigator Shawn Durnen share deployment stories.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Meet Bellevue College's VetCorps Navigator Rachel Hayes!

BC’s Veterans’ Office expands

In order to expand their scope beyond financial aid and connect veterans with more services, Bellevue College’s Veterans Office has added another member to their team, Rachel Hayes, a Vet Corps navigator.  While Hayes does not work directly for the college, she does work to serve the college’s veteran population. “With the tradition [of the] higher education system, there are a lot of holes for special populations,” said Hayes. “I build the bridge between services, inside and outside of this college.”
“If this position doesn’t exist,” said Hayes, “then the veterans, here as students have to be their own advocates. They have to do the legwork, they have to find out for themselves, and it’s each one finding out the information over and over again. There’s no ‘lessons learned’ binder; there’s no standard operating procedure.” Once benefits have run out and help is needed to cover things such as rent, childcare, books or tutoring, Hayes can help find the money and resources that can make up the difference. At the present time, the only BC website available for veterans exclusively addresses financial aid. Hayes plans to create a Web page for services in addition to a Facebook page, where she will be making regular posts.
Outside resources include the Veteran’s Administration, Veteran’s Hospital, Veterans Training Support Center, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and One Less Mountain. An example of the services provided include grants from King County that will pay a veteran’s rent for one month, should they apply and express the need, as well as a grant that will pay for a veteran’s tutoring at current tutoring rates. These types of services make it more worthwhile to seek assistance.
Many of these programs will assist veterans with the registration process. Hayes emphasizes that even if an individual is not disabled or does not wish to disclose their disability, once the paperwork has been finalized, it is accounted for in the system, which means more money for the veterans who need it.  “We need the numbers,” Hayes said.  While filling out and compiling the appropriate paperwork can be difficult, counselors are on staff to assist veterans with the process. When sitting down with a counselor at one of the agencies, they will ask veterans a question and simply let them talk, taking notes in a manner that will be interpreted by the VA. One example of this would be if a veteran mentions that they get enough sleep, but says they only sleep for three hours, then the counselor would interpret that as insomnia.
Another program that Hayes works closely with is the Stand Down project, available through One Less Mountain. They accept new and gently used clothing for homeless veterans, offering numerous services in one location. Approximately 400 homeless veterans attend and are offered showers, medical care, legal assistance, housing options and this year, job interviews as well. The Military Voice Initiative will also have a presence to document veteran experiences. This recording is only released at the discretion of the individual and is intended to “honor [veterans’] voices, amplify their experiences, and let them know that we — as a nation — are listening,” according to their website. Should one wish to share the recording with their family members, this can help overcome barriers preventing them from sharing their story directly. “We’re holding so much stress, anger, sadness and guilt from our experiences while we’re overseas, or just in the military in general, that it becomes too much and bleeds into daily life, and our family happens to be closest, so they’re the ones who get it first,” said Hayes.
Another veteran resource is Growing Veterans, which engages veterans and the broader community in outdoor work taking on numerous projects, including wetland preservation and a weekly farmers market on Thursdays at the VA hospital. “What that does is create a sense of community,” said Hayes. “It lets your hands stay busy so you can talk to other veterans without having to look people in the eye, and it’s sometimes easier to talk about your stuff if they can’t see the tears running down your face. It also partners you with people who have never dealt with military personnel.”
Hayes’ office is located on the bottom floor of the B Building in the main office and will be available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. BC is one of 43 colleges in the state that currently have a Vet Corps representative. Students at schools without representation can still receive assistance from the program. In the event of a crisis, even if it is not suicide related, veterans are encouraged to call 1-800-273-2855.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

VA will deploy mobile medical unit to Raymond beginning October 14, 2014

Here's some good news from the Fed VA for our State's Veterans in the Raymond area!

WASHINTON, DC—The VA has announced that it will deploy its mobile medical unit to Raymond for one week every quarter, beginning with the following scheduled appearance next month.  According to VA personnel, walk up appointments will be available, and if there is not availability upon arrival, veterans will have to option to be scheduled for a later time or day.

When: 10/14 – 9am-3pm
10/15 – 8am-3pm
10/16 – 8am-3pm
10/17 – 8am-Noon

Where: American Legion
221 Duryea St
Raymond, WA 98577

Services include:
  • Primary health care appointments and walk-ups 
  • Physical Exams 
  • Flu shots and other immunizations 
  • Prescriptions 
  • Labs 
  • Assistance in signing up for VA benefits

Monday, September 29, 2014

Durnen navigating service members on campus at CPTC

Durnen navigating service members on 

campus at CPTC

By:  Christina Carmen Crea/Northwest Guardian

People don’t care until they know you care,” said Shawn Durnen. And he wants it known that he cares.
As of Sept. 1, Durnen is the new “veteran navigator” at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood. The colleges’ Veteran Resource Center helps service members navigate their benefits and assists in transitioning to civilian life.
Because Durnen’s been a CPTC student and Soldier at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, he can relate to other students who also served in the military.
“It’s important for veterans to have a place on campus because they’ve experienced things many people will never see,” Durnen said. “They have fought in wars and it’s just a matter of having a location where they can decompress and meet with others. Today’s veterans, tomorrow’s leaders.”
Durnen said CPTC has a good history working with service members from JBLM and considers CPTC “military friendly.”
Easy transition
Along with being a former CPTC student in the Environmental Sciences and Technology Program, Durnen served in the Army from 2006 to 2010 and was stationed at JBLM in the 14th Engineer Brattalion, 555th Engineer Brigade. During that time, he also deployed to Iraq for 15 months.
As the new veteran navigator, Durnen hopes to mentor others like Jonathan Wagner, a former veteran navigator, did for him during his time at CPTC.
“He helped me start doing volunteer services and reach out to the public. He really taught me how to be more in tune with community,” he said.
Durnen’s goal is to evaluate students’ needs.
“If someone needs housing, I don’t want them to be afraid to ask for help,” he said. “The community is only as strong as the people in it. I want to maintain relationships and attack new and improved ways of helping the community to build stronger networks so we can continue our mission at CPTC.”
Durnen said the program itself is not just directed at service members, but at the whole community.
“I work with a lot of different people that includes military and civilian and our resources are open to both,” Durnen said. “I also work with a lot of nonprofits and on public outreach. My grasp on the community is large.”
Identifying students’ needs
Durnen said he wants to make sure CPTC maintains a culture that identify students’ needs depending on their situations.
One married couple Durnen helped had recently moved to the area and both wanted to go back to school.
“He thought the only way for his wife to go to school was to transfer his benefits to her,” Durnen said. “But when we finally sat down, we picked the situation apart. I got them housing, got his benefits for school and got her under FAFSA so they could both go to school.”
When people walk into the Veterans Resource Office, Durnen wants it to be a place “people can decompress.”
“We have coffee machines, chairs, a TV, tutoring, a conference center, job boards and more,” he said. “It’s open to anybody or everybody. We have a lot of people who aren’t even students come in here looking for employment information. We like to consider ourselves a one-stop-shop.”
Durnen said he wants students to know him as someone who “always has an door open.”
“I have no set schedule, so if a student, veteran or community member needs my assistance, I’m there 24-7,” Durnen said. “It’s a personal mission of mine that people can succeed and there’s no reason or block that can prevent them from achieving their goals. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll find it. We have the resources to provide information and to help them progress to the next step.”
Durnen said he is excited for this experience and hopes to always learn from different situations and get a better grasp on each.
“At end of the day, I like to be well-versed and I like to know that what I’m doing is making a difference,” Durnen said. “My main goals is to improve people around me, but also keep improving myself. People run into problems, there’s always an answer. Rather than shut down, it’s better to express issues and let someone in to help you.”
Helping others
During Durnen’s free time, he continues to help people by volunteering within the community and sometimes even spends one-on-one time with service members and students.
“Me, Jonathan (Wagner) and a couple veterans recently hiked up Rattlesnake Ledge,” he said. “It was kind of like therapy, the view up there is so beautiful.”
Along with volunteering his time, his other main focus is being a dad.
“I get a lot of people in here who have families, and I want them to know I can relate,” Durnen said. “I want to identify with each individual and am always reaching out to them on a personal note.”
The Veterans Resource Center office hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but Durnen added he can come in at other times, depending on when students need him. The center is located in Building 22 at CPTC.
For more information, visit the CPTC Veterans Resource Center’s website at cptc.edu/veterans or their Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/CPTC-Veterans-Resource-Center/151796971521511.


Christina Carmen Crea/Northwest Guardian

More information
Quick steps for admissions for service members
Step 1
– Meet with the Clover Park Technical College Veteran Navigator, Shawn Durnen (Bldg. 22, Room 121), for basic information and an introduction packet.
Step 2
– Take the “Compass Test.” Testing schedule available at information desk (Bldg. 17). Fee is $19 paid to the cashiering office (Bldg.17). You will receive student ID number when paying for test. You need picture ID when taking test, along with a copy of the receipt received from cashiering office.
Step 3
– Meet with an adviser to discuss your education plan (Bldg. 17)
Step 4
– Admissions to Clover Park Technical College: Fill out a form at student registration (Bldg. 17), and pay a fee of $20 to cashiering office.
Step 5
– Fill out “VONAPP” (Veteran’s Online Application) at va.gov.
Print out two copies of the completed application (one for yourself and a copy for Glenda Epps (Bldg. 17, Room 250).
Step 6
– Set up an appointment with Glenda Epps (VA registration clerk) to verify all information needed for registration.
Contact her at 253-589-5581 or by email at Glenda.epps@cptc.ede.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

VetBikes – Putting Old Bikes to Good Use

VetBikes – Putting Old Bikes to Good Use

by ThurstonTalk Editor

By Laurie O’Brien
Andy Newman knows that inside almost every garage in Thurston County there is a decent bike gathering dust. His goal is to give those bikes a new life with a veteran. Newman, a retired Air Force pilot who lives in Olympia, understands that many combat veterans suffer in ways that are invisible to most people, and he wants to do his part to help them recover from both the physical and emotional wounds incurred during service to our country.
olympia bike donation
Andy Newman founded VetBikes to help get recovering veterans on quality bikes.
“It started with my assignment as an Air Force guy embedded with the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The load of bricks the Army and Marines carried in these wars was awe inspiring.  Ground duty in a war zone is something that most Americans will never fully understand,” explains Newman. “The Army and Marine troops I saw in combat zones endured a lot for us.”
He knew then that he wanted to do something to give back to our troops, but the question was how?
Newman stumbled upon his idea by chance. “In 2011, while back in my office at JBLM, I saw a group of cyclists getting ready to head out for a ride one morning.  I went out and asked if I could join them sometime and found out they were a group of wounded and recovering soldiers using cycling as therapy and recovery while getting well at the Warrior Transition Battalion, a unit of Madigan Army Medical Center.  They were riding nice road bikes that the Army provided on a lender basis.  I asked what they were going to ride when they were medically retired or separated for medical reasons, and they said they had to turn the bikes in, and then they would be on their own.”
And the inspiration for VetBikes was born.
The thought of veterans not being able to continue their therapy concerned Newman. An avid cyclist for most of his life, he knows that purchasing a decent bike – one fit for racing, off road riding, or even just a reliable commuter bike – can be a financial hardship for a lot of people. He also knows the benefits, both physical and mental, that exercise can bring. “All cyclists know the feeling of freedom and healing from whatever is bothering them that cycling provides. This is especially true for recovering soldiers, more so for the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that almost all of these wounded and injured soldiers have.”
olympia bike donation
Mike the Mechanic delivers a refurbished mountain bike to a veteran.
Most people understand that because of the dopamine released into the system, exercise can  help with all levels of stress, including PTSD.  But a sport like cycling is different. “When the brain also has to manage a machine and process the world speeding by like it does on a bike, this (dopamine) effect is greatly enhanced,” says Newman. “One of the soldiers summed it up this way: The demons that follow us are a few steps behind us when running, but miles behind us when riding a bike.”
In 2012, fully retired from the Air Force and working as a pilot for United Airlines, Newman, his brother-in-law Alex Young, and their friend Jeff Aregger landed on the concept for VetBikes. The idea? To collect high quality used parts and build bikes for vets to keep.
With Young’s expertise in non-profit administration and Newman’s military background they were able to form a 501(c)3 and develop relationships with both the Warrior Transition Battalion at Madigan and the Washington State VA to identify veterans who need bikes. “When those individuals separate, they have a custom fitted bicycle waiting for them to continue their recovery.”
olympia bike donation
The VetBikes mechanic shop at Building 9 is an important piece of the non-profit organization.
The partnership with the VA is a little different than that with the Warrior Transition Battalion. “Their intent is to have no veteran on the street without being offered a way out, to link them with their GI Bill benefits, get them into a residence and back in school and onto a job and back into our community,” says Newman. “There is an amazing program called Building 9 for Veterans in Retsil, WA.  The former homeless veterans there are the true comeback kids, working hard to get back into the community like the rest of us, getting a skill, and then a job.  Most of these vets can’t drive, but they can ride a bike.”
The VA relationship also brought VetBikes their chief mechanic. Last year, a homeless vet from Olympia entered the Building 9 program. A trained bicycle mechanic, he wanted to work on the bikes. Park Tool donated tools and VetBikes and the VA helped build a bike shop in the Building 9 residence.  Now “Mike the Mechanic” is on the state payroll, building bikes for his fellow vets. “We keep him supplied with bikes to restore and covert into commuters,” says Newman. “The production has reached a level where Building 9 is able to build bikes for other VA residences across the state.  This is a huge point of pride for us.”
olympia bike donation
Alex Young accepts a donated bike from Jim Brown and the Kona Bikes.
Of course, there is the ongoing need for quality bikes and components. Newman emphasizes that they are interested in older, adult-sized, name-brand bikes that were purchased through bike shops rather than cheap department store bikes. They especially need bikes that can be converted into reliable commuters: Old steel mountain bikes, road, cyclocross and hybrid bikes.
Newman, Young, and Areggar are all cyclists. Their kids are cyclists, and they know lots of other cyclists.  The three men alone had enough spare parts in their garages to build three complete bikes. Newman compares cyclists to golfers and fishermen: “They want the latest gear, the newest and fastest innovation.  Therefore, they buy new stuff all the time.” Those leftover parts are how VetBikes works, he says. Instead of selling bikes or parts on Ebay or Craigslist and meeting someone in a parking lot to make a transaction, VetBikes offers cyclists a way to donate their unused bikes, components, and gear to a worthy cause.
Due to the generosity of many cyclists, as of last month VetBikes had delivered over 125 bikes to vets living throughout Washington state. Each took an average of six hours to tear down, rehab, polish, and rebuild. Newman wants everyone to know that there are still countless veterans who can benefit from your donations though.
“Almost every garage in the community has a decent not-so-new bike that is gathering dust. We can give it a new life, an honorable life, and you get a tax benefit to boot! But the result for these vets is a new level of freedom and independence, fitness, and recovery.”
If you have unused bikes or components gathering dust in your garage, please consider making a donation to VetBikes. You can learn more about the program by visiting their website at VetBikes.org.
To learn more about the Building 9 program, and to see a King 5 feature about VetBikes, click here.
To learn more about the JBLM Warrior Transition Battalion, click here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Three Month Old Program Making Difference for Veterans and South Sound Prairies

Planting career seeds in environmental field

Northwest Guardian

Published: 12:55PM August 7th, 2014

Northwest Guardian

Environmental intern Forrest Edelman, a former Airman with the 5th Combat Communicationa Group, harvests prairie grass seeds Aug. 4 at Shotwells Landing Nursery near Rochester.
More information For more information or to sign up visit www.dva.wa.gov/internships.html.
For more information on South Sound Prairies http://www.southsoundprairies.org/.
White House blog on Sentinal Landscapes: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/08/01/sentinel-landscapes-where-conservation-working-lands-and-national-defense-interests-

On a sunny morning, a thin, tan man in a large brimmed khaki hat leans over to get a closer look at the long stalks he holds in his left hand. He takes a small pair of clippers to snip off a part full of fibrous bulbs. The plant, called Collinsia Grandiflora, is native to South Sound Prairies and part of a great collaborative effort to help veterans and the ecosystems. The man, Forrest Edelman, is retired Air Force and gaining experience in the environmental field, which he’d like to find a career in.
Those looking to get their hands dirty and enjoy the great outdoors after leaving the military have a new opportunity. The Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs and Center for Natural Lands Management, a land trust focused on preserving native species, came together last spring to help veterans looking for the skills to transition into an environmental career.
Edelman works on Shotwell’s Landing Nursery, one of two areas volunteers tend to near the Black River near Rochester. Shotwells began as a couple plots and volunteers spending hours looking for seeds in the wild to get to where it is today, with over many rows of plants growing outdoors, and several greenhouses for those put into plant plugs.
New opportunities
The program, started last April, teaches participants how to identify, plant and care for native species, licenses them to use prescribed fires and gives them real experience in the field. All of these skills, coupled with resume seminars and job searching help, are meant to get interns into the environmental jobs they’re interested in.
Nine veterans have participated in the program so far, with six still involved.
Edelman is one of these interns and works in the nursery program, learning about native plants. After receiving an internship through the CNLM while still attending Evergreen State College, Edelman heard about the Veterans Internship program and jumped at the chance.
“I’d like to eventually find work with the CNLM, because I love the South Sound prairies,” he said. “They are wonderful and should not disappear. I’d love to help with that.”
The first step to join this program is through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Matthew West, Prairie Restoration Coordinator, said this internship is intended for people who might not qualify for similar experience with Americorp or other veterans programs. Veterans send in a letter of interest and several other forms, depending on their service background.
“What we’re doing, even with those with dishonorable discharge or criminal backgrounds, is we look at them and work with them,” he said. “Different professionals at the department are helping them with drugs or substance issues. As long as they are enrolled in the system, they may have an opportunity with us.”
There is also no age limit to apply.
Transitioning smoothly
Patrick Dunn, South Sound Prairies Director, said this new program caters to the needs of vets.
“We try to shape the work to both to what our capabilities and expertise are and what the applicants are interested in,” he said. “That’s when it works best, when our energies and goals are the same.”
There will also be time for networking with those currently working for the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
This is important for transitioning service members who are used to a rigid career path and not used to the private work force, he said.
“What we’ve found is that many vets are comfortable with them because a lot of the training is on the base, so they are used to training there and find it satisfying,” Dunn said. “That’s the crux of it, by helping maintain and conserve natural habitats on installation, it helps keep it ready for training in a wholly natural environment.”
Audrey Lamb, Conservation Assistant for CNLM’s South Sound Prairies Program, said they have been impressed with how well the interns have taken on these tasks.
“They all have experience with three key components; problem solving, using and fixing technology and communication skills,” she said. “The military has given them a really good start to go off into other areas, and we help add to that foundation.”
The future
This program was originally funded as part of a grant from the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program, which helps create partnerships with private and state groups to preserve the land used for military training.
The program is just three months old, which means future plans to expand are still in the future.
Word is spreading about this unique program. Just this week, a White House blog mentioned the South Sound Prairie work as an example of good conservation efforts. Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the first designated Sentinal Landscapes, which is given to areas that help nurture agriculture, military training and native wildlife. It also has the unique aspect of being a place to help veterans transition into civilian life, like Edelman and Skewer.
Dunn says the program may continue to expand in the coming years, in both the amount of interns and what is offered to those looking to learn.
In the meantime, Edelman continues harvesting seeds to be taken into a processing area. Here, the seed is separated from any other pieces and made ready for planting. Eventually, these seeds will go onto be studied, planted back into their natural habitat or grown with care for future seed harvests.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

WDVA goes to the dogs

WDVA goes to the dogs

Conference focuses on service dogs and veterans

By Melanie Casey Reprinted from www.Northwestmilitary.com  July 24, 2014 http://www.northwestmilitary.com/veterans/health/2014/07/wdva-goes-to-the-dogs/

Most of us have seen service dogs. Sometimes we'll spy one at a restaurant, laying calmly by its master's feet. Or perhaps in the mall, walking sedately as its owner makes his or her way through hordes of people. Usually distinguished by their tell-tale vests, service dogs are trained to assist with a myriad of conditions, including vision and hearing impairment, epilepsy, paralysis, diabetes and more. But a service dog is much more than the vest it wears.  For servicemembers and veterans suffering from visible and invisible wounds of war, including post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, these highly-trained dogs provide physical and emotional support that can truly save lives.
But for some, there is confusion about what service dogs can and can't do. Thursday, Aug. 7, the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) and King County Veterans Program are hosting a daylong conference entitled "Service for Service: Washington Goes to the Dogs" at Green River Community College in Auburn.
Geared for veterans, veteran service providers, dog trainers and local business owners, the event is designed to foster awareness and educate the public about the different roles of service dogs.
"It's really to educate the general population about what service animals can and can't do," said Dorothy Hanson, MA, LMHC, the Behavioral Health Program director at WDVA.
Conference presenters, including WDVA Service Dog Program Coordinator John George (with his goldendoodle, Alphie), will discuss and demystify the different types of service dogs, such as emotional support dogs, companion dogs and therapy dogs.
The event's keynote speaker is Kathryn Champion, a former science teacher from Thurston and Yakima counties. Champion, a U.S. Army reservist who deployed to Iraq where she commanded a civil affairs unit and earned the Bronze Star Medal, lost her vision due to a virus contracted downrange that caused her optic nerve to deteriorate.
Also on the docket is Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, a Medal of Honor recipient currently stationed with the 7th Infantry Division on Joint Base Lewis-McChord and service dog proponent.
Hanson notes that currently there is no nationally recognized certification for service dogs. Therefore, some dogs may be better trained - and behaved - than others. Moreover, not all dogs wearing a vest are professionally trained service animals.
The conference will also include a panel discussion that will highlight the different methods of training service dogs. For instance, some may be owner trained or rescues, while others are specifically bred for service. Representatives from Northwest Battle Buddies and Prison Partnerships will also take the stage.
"It's just a good lineup of interesting, informative presenters," Hanson said.
For more information about the event, visit dva.wa.gov/dogs.html.
Service for Service: Washington Goes to the Dogs, Aug. 7, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Green River Community College, Lindbloom Student Center, 12401 SE 320th St., Auburn. $10 administration fee. Lunch will be provided. Register online at www.regonline.com by July 30.