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OLLU marks Veterans Day; shines spotlight on student vet serving vets in need

Nov 10, 2020

Military service is woven into the DNA of Roy Orozco, a 42-year-old Army veteran and social work major. Orozco’s grandfather served in the Navy, his father in the Marines. One brother served in the Army, a second brother in the Navy, a third in the Marines.

And his wife, Gabriela? She served in the Air Force. “We’re all veterans,” said Orozco, a West Side native who served in the military from 1998 to 2001. “I’m proud of that.” 

His family is proud of what he does today. Orozco, 42, works as a case manager for a program with the American GI Forum that provides housing for homeless veterans. He runs his own nonprofit, Project Phoenix, that collects food and winter clothing for veterans. At the same time, he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work.

“What I enjoy doing,” he said, “is listening to people and helping people.”

It took Orozco about 20 years to figure that out. He grew up in a home marked by domestic violence. After graduating from Lanier High School in 1997, Orozco attended junior college briefly, joined the military, then worked a series of jobs, trying to find his passion. He found it once a friend offered him a job at Haven for Hope, a 22-acre campus that serves the homeless.

“Honestly,” he said, “it took me until 2016 to figure out what I was good at and what I enjoyed.”

At the encouragement of Elizabeth Longoria, a long-time friend and events manager at OLLU, 

Orozco applied to the school he considered “iconic” and impossible to attend. To his surprise, OLLU accepted him. “It was like a dream to get into the Lake,” said Orozco, who hopes to graduate in the spring of 2021.

Balancing work, school and family -- he is the father of two girls and two boys -- has proven to be challenging but fulfilling. He draws encouragement and support from his wife and brothers, all of them veterans. 

“Whenever I need something,” Orozco said, “my family always comes through.”