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New strategies to reach local veterans

Robert Houk • Sep 2, 2018 at 12:00 AM

 Like many civiic and community clubs across the nation, veteran service organizations are seeking to rebound from shrinking memberships in recent years. Local veteran groups say they are doing a much better job than their counterparts in other parts of the country when it comes to growing their ranks.

Officials with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2108 and the American Legion’s Kings Mountain Post 24 said community outreach and striving to think “outside the box” have helped to boost their numbers. In particular, both Johnson City organizations say reaching out to veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq has been a priority.

In that regard, Bob Hansard, the commander of the VFW, said his post at 2518 Jim Funkhouser Road, will soon be tobacco free to appeal to “younger vets.” Hansard said members recently voted to prohibit smoking in the main facility. He and board officials have decided to renovate an outdoor patio as a designated smoking area.

“The military went non-smoking 25 years ago,” Hansard said. “Going non-smoking is not going to hurt us Vietnam vets.”

Bryan Lauzon, commander of the American Legion’s Kings Mountain Post, said his ranks have “remained steady” at around 300 members during the past few years.

“We’ve lost a few and some have passed away, and we recognize there are fewer World War II veterans alive today,” Lauzon said. “We also know many Korean veterans are in their 80s, and Vietnam vets are now in their 70s.”

He said his members are attracted not only to the social events hosted by the post, but to the organization’s participation with local veterans and community programs. That includes supporting Boys & Girls Club programs and sponsoring a Boy Scout Troop.

The local American Legion post, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year, is also partnering with Johnson City’s police, fire and emergency medical services to host a 9/11 Remembrance and Patriot Day Celebration on Sept. 11. The ceremony to honor First Responders will begin at 8:30 p.m. at the amphitheater of the Memorial Park Community Center.

Lauzon said the American Legion is also reviving Johnson City’s Veterans Day Parade, which will be held at 11 a.m. on Nov. 10 along a route that stretches from State of Franklin Road to Memorial Park Community Center. He said this year’s actual Veterans Day on Nov. 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Such activities, Lauzon said, are designed to get the attention of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who are now focused on returning to their families and careers.

“This is our opportunity to introduce ourselves,” he said.

Board members of the VFW said recently they want would-be members to know their post is about more than “smoking and drinking.” In addition to the karaoke nights and other social events hosted at his post, Hansard said many of the VFW’s 378 members do community outreach and volunteer work at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Mountain Home.

That includes members who help out with a number of VA projects, including a hospice program for veterans.

“We sit with veterans in their final days,” Lauzon said. “We believe no veteran should die alone.” 

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