GRANGEVILLE -- It’s a place for veterans to meet, the community to gather, and somewhere to pick up a good meal.
But the core of the Idaho County Veterans Outreach and Community Center is in reaching out and establishing relationships.
“Our older veterans, our Vietnam veterans, they love it. One of our veterans said it saved his life,” said Jinny Cash, marketing/events coordinator. She explained, when he first moved to town, he didn’t know anyone, and “the center was where he was able to make some friends.” Another older veteran can no longer drive, so his wife transports him to the center: “This is his social hour,” Cash said.
And it has become the gathering place, she added, for the “retired guys” to drink their coffee and tell tall tales.
The center celebrates its third anniversary this month, first having opened its doors on Sept. 28, 2016. Located on 318 East Main Street, the facility offers 1,500 square feet of assembly area, a private office, kitchen and storage, and seating for 80.
“It’s a great gathering place for veterans and community members too,” Cash said. That dual service is emphasized, as it was always meant to be a place for the whole community to utilize and enjoy, according to coordinators.
“We still get people who don’t know we’re here” said Lucky Gallego, center director and VFW Post 3520 service officer, or who think it is just for veterans. Both Cash and Gallego emphasized it is for the public, and they encourage everyone to utilize it, including for meals as that is the main source of funding that keeps the center operating.
Breakfast and lunch are offered Monday through Friday, veterans receive free breakfast on the second and fourth Saturdays (8-10 a.m.), and Taco Thursdays (5-7 p.m.) also include live music. For other activities, during October and November, the center will offer Bingo the first and third Saturdays, 5-8 p.m.; and cribbage is offered on Sundays, 1-4 p.m.
Paul Turpin, board member with the Idaho County Veterans’ Association, which oversees the center, added, the facility is very much open for the community to use, including family gatherings, and for groups to hold classes and organizations, such as the amateur radio club, to provide training. The association is a collaboration between the American Legion posts in Grangeville and White Bird, Crea-DeHaven VFW Post 3520 and the American Legion Auxiliary.
As a veterans’ center, the facility is an informational point regarding programs and benefits. Gallego is on hand as the center’s veterans service officer, and the facility is the new bimonthly meeting point for the state’s veterans’ advocate. Also, Gallego is certified in mental health first aid responder training. That service reaches out to veterans who are suffering from service-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other mental health issues in their lives.
“Often what these guys need is to express themselves; they want to be heard,” Gallego said, “and we serve as the focal point with someone to listen to them.”
Looking to address the issue of veteran suicide is what brought Turpin to the center, who has been volunteering there since its formation. His church, Trinity Lutheran, started a program, TLC4Vets, to outreach to veterans, a program that continues in conjunction with the center in four free dinners during the year.
“We started TLC4Vets because we were losing 22 veterans a day, nationwide, from suicide,” he said. The free dinners “brought a lot of people out of the woodwork,” he said, and into connection with other veterans, and as well, reawakened their sense of belonging to a community, in which they could participate.
“We’ve seen a lot of these guys open up and become involved in the community through the activities of this center,” Turpin said. Veterans who were on the fringe looking from the outside in are now participants in organizations and in public. “It’s brought the community closer together,” he said.
Along with all this, the center has become a historic display for military memorabilia by area residents, donating items and uniforms to preserve their history and function. The center also provides the Camas Prairie Honor Guard that serves its role in flag and memorial ceremonies. A story related to this: A woman whose father, a veteran, had passed away had received a flag, but it arrived without ceremony and improperly folded. Gallego explained the honor guard refolded it properly, provided a proper wood and class display case for it, and performed a proper presentation ceremony.
“There’s a lot of small things that come up like that, and that’s what we’re here for,” he said.
With the center at the three-year mark, the long-term goals, according to coordinators, are for self-sufficiency, and to own and/or expand their center, which as Turpin pointed out is “bursting at the seams” from all it offers and has on display now. For events that may exceed the seating capacity of other local venues, the center wants to become a place to accommodate those numbers.
“This is a community center. That’s always been our direction, and its where we’d like to go,” Gallego said.
For center information and upcoming events, call 208-983-9387 or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/IDCOVetscenter.