America’s next generation of leaders descended on Collin County this week to help out potential leaders of the following generation.

About 100 chapter leaders with Student Veterans of America (SVA) teamed up with defense contractor Raytheon Co. on a makeover project at Boys and Girls Clubs of Collin County.

“This is one of the finest group of men and women this country has to offer,” Jared Lyen, SVA president and CEO, told the chapter leaders before they embarked on their service project at the Boys and Girls Clubs’ McKinney branch.

The SVA operates about 90 chapters on 1,300 higher-education campuses nationwide, some with a handful of members, others with over 1,000. Nearly all are recent active-duty military members now pursuing their civilian career.

The organization’s primary purpose is to “empower the next generation of leaders of this country, which is our veterans,” explained Walter Tillman, SVA’s vice president of programs who spent six years with the Army National Guard.

SVA offers consultation services, leadership training like at this week’s Leadership Institute initiative, financial incentives and grants, and about $360,000 worth of scholarships annually.

Raytheon, whose Space and Airborne Systems (SAS) division is headquartered in McKinney, supports veterans during and after their time in the military. The company manufactures weapons and technology used at war, and has pledged $5 million to SVA.

Cyrus “Torrey” Cady, operations director for Raytheon’s SAS, welcomed the SVA leaders to McKinney and this weekend spoke to them about post-military collaboration. The 24-year Army veteran joined the military as a 17-year-old high school dropout.

“When you get out of the military, you’ve changed – you go back to the civilian community and you feel isolated,” Cady noted. “Having a group like SVA lets them know they’re not alone.”

Dropping out may not have crossed Cady’s mind had he been involved with Boys and Girls Club, which operates branches on or near military bases across the U.S. In Collin County, its three main branches – McKinney, Frisco and Plano – impact over 7,000 school-age children each year.

And keeping up with the demand is costly: Boys and Girls Clubs of Collin County spends roughly $12,000 a day to operate, said Zane King, chief development officer.

Hence the importance of contributions like SVA’s project – to outfit the new Teen Center at the club’s McKinney branch – and Raytheon’s ongoing presence at members’ schools and clubs.

Raytheon is partnering with community groups and venues to open centers of innovation tied to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“We have a national relationship with Boys and Girls Clubs of America,” said Kim Parks, of Raytheon. “We embrace that relationship.”

On Thursday, some of its employees strengthened that relationship alongside SVA leaders. They worked hand-in-hand to transform the McKinney club into an inviting after-school destination for the club’s older members.

Stephanie Stavrenos, an Army veteran with Saint Xavier University’s SVA chapter, spruced up the Teen Center landscaping with fellow SVA member Janet Gary, a nine-year Army veteran pursuing a psychology degree from University of Texas at Arlington.

“I want to help my fellow vets,” explained Gary, who joined SVA after a decade of post-military indecision. “SVA has made a world of difference.”

Its leaders are hoping to pass on such impact to the boys and girls who could soon follow in their military boot-steps. After all, SVA’s motto is “Yesterday’s warriors, today’s scholars, tomorrow’s leaders.”

For many, their tomorrow is already here.

“We would be nothing without the community that supports us,” Lyen said. “We’re most assuredly going to leave our community better than how we found it.”