A veterans center is planned for the Rockbridge area that will provide a wide array of services for those who've been in the armed forces.
The Shenandoah Valley Veterans Center, a vision of VFW Post 1499, is to be located in the former Lomax Funeral Home in Buena Vista.
"We want to make it a community center," explained Michael Deavers, quartermaster of Post 1499, who talked about the long-planned project Monday afternoon, along with fellow VFW members Richard Elias, junior vice commander; Joe Thomas, adjutant; and Bob Trani, trustee.
Plans for the center include educational outreach programs, offices for the Virginia Veterans Services, the Virginia Wounded Warriors program and the Veterans Administration Rural Health Initiative, a headquarters for the Care Box Project of Rockbridge County, and Carilion outpatient services.
The center is to have a meeting room/reception area that can be used, free of charge, by all veterans groups such as the American Legion, the Buena Vista VFW chapter, the Marine Corps League, AMVETS, the Military Officers Association of America and all affiliated auxiliary organizations.
An important aspect of the center, said Andy Wolfe, a veteran who's been involved in the project, is to "bridge the boundaries" that have traditionally divided various veterans organizations.
Among the amenities planned for the center that will be open to the public are a restaurant with both indoor and outside dining areas, a bar and a gift shop. Nonmilitary organizations will be able to rent out meeting areas.
"It'll be the first in the nation. In my research I haven't seen another one anywhere," said Deavers. "And it's not going to cost the government anything."
Mariner Media Inc., a Buena Vista business run by Wolfe, is launching a $4 million fundraising campaign for the center on behalf of the VFW. The amount represents the total estimated costs of property acquisition, reconfiguration and renovations, and an endowment to fund seven employees.
The project is likely to be completed in stages. The VFW signed an agreement to purchase the Lomax building this week that includes a provision for a 180-day period to conduct a due diligence study of the plans.
The VFW is eyeing April 19 for an opening ceremony. That will be the 84th anniversary of the Shenandoah Valley Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 1499, being granted its charter. The post has been at its current location on Memorial Drive, next to Rockbridge Memorial Gardens, since the mid-1970s.
The center is to have about 7,000 square feet of floor space, compared to 4,000 square feet in the VFW's existing building.
The restaurant could become a de facto clubhouse for the nearby Vista Links golf course. Close proximity to the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College Rockbridge Center could present opportunities for educational partnerships.
While planning to move into the center this spring, the VFW is to maintain a presence at its current location for the foreseeable future. The thrice-monthly bingo games and various other community uses will continue there for now.
Plans for the center have been in the works for about three years, said Deavers. The objective is to offer a place for veterans to enjoy camaraderie, and to provide a location for services that otherwise require at least an hour's drive.
Post 1499 currently has about 140 members, and is actually growing, with veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars continuing to join its ranks. Deavers said the VFW's national office has sought the local post's input for how to recruit new members.
VFW member Woody Sadler has been helping oversee the project. Among the members who've been involved, in addition to those who presented the plans Monday, are Clyde Mull, judge advocate; and Buck Holland, surgeon. Realtor Jim Moore was instrumental in making the property transaction happen.
Deavers said he's kept Buena Vista city officials abreast of the VFW's plans, and expressed hope that the center could be a boon for the city.
Wolfe said the center will provide veterans with a means to gain access to services as well as offer a place to meet with each other to talk about shared experiences. It's critical, he said, to see that veterans returning home from the recent military conflicts get services for such war-related maladies as concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"There are a lot of people in the county who need to know that these services are available," commented Deavers.
A brochure explaining how to make a monetary contribution to the center is to be included in The Weekender newspaper this Saturday, Feb. 26.
Reader Applauds New Veterans Center
By Susan Pfeiffer, Lexington | Letter to the Editor, The News-Gazette March 4, 2011
I read with delight about the new Shenandoah Valley Veterans Center recently in your paper. As a nation and as a community, we owe so much to our returning veterans. Some of these brave men and women have lost limbs and have had to face mental challenges. They are heroes. With over half of VMI cadets joining our armed forces when they graduate, what better way to salute them than with the Center! I grew up in the Vietnam era, the era when soldiers were drafted and spat upon when they returned.
Shenandoah Valley Veterans Center will be such a wonderful place for our veterans to have access to assistance through the local community college. I read in the brochure that the center will have offices of the Va. Dept. of Veterans Services, the Va. Wounded Warriors Project and the Rural Health Initiative.
The Care Box Project will also be making its home in the center. The Care Box Project supports active duty soldiers who are stationed overseas. Since it began in 2004, Care Box has shipped over 15,000 pounds of articles to remind them that we are here supporting them and praying for their safe return. I have had the honor of supporting three soldiers from our area and know first-hand that they are so appreciative of goodies or an appreciative note sent from home, from someone they don’t even know.
It is not only veteran support, but community support that this center will need. As the Center grows and expands its vision, there will be a great opportunity for bringing income into the area.
We owe our veterans so much. We owe them our freedom. I hope that others in the community will join me in supporting the Shenandoah Valley Veterans Center with a donation.