For years, West Hawaii residents have voiced the importance of having a permanent place for veterans to go and the need for a multipurpose, intergenerational veterans center in Kona.
Despite ongoing efforts and promises from state government officials to establish such a center, the Veterans of Foreign War Post 12122 and its Ladies Auxiliary decided to create their own. The goal is to have a one-stop-shop where veterans and their loved ones can meet, share their experiences, socialize and easily access a wide range of services, said Dick Skarnes, post adjutant and quartermaster.
The post has taken over the former Swing Zone location on Makala Boulevard in Kailua-Kona, signing a one-year lease with Queen Liliuokalani Trust, which began in July. Three anonymous donors stepped forward to pay the first couple of months of rent and utilities, as well as fix the water line and plumbing issues in the restroom, Skarnes said.
As word spreads about the effort, the post has been overwhelmed by generous and encouraging support. It has received donations of kitchen appliances, a gazebo, barbecues, a computer and countertops, Skarnes said.
More donations are essential, whether it’s contributing toward the approximately $2,000 a month needed to keep the center running or volunteering sweat equity to make the facility look its best. The post plans to hold monthly community events, such as meals and flea markets, as fundraisers for the center. Its kick-off dinner was held Wednesday evening, said Chris Verduzco, the auxiliary’s treasurer.
Items on the wish list include flag poles, ceiling fans, flags, trash cans, file cabinet, laptops, propane stove, hoses, signs and bags of concrete.
Help is also being sought for landscaping needs and from those interested in getting the driving range up to par. The latter would require thousands of dollars and numerous sponsors, though it could be a potential funding source, Verduzco said.
For weeks, volunteers have worked to ready the center. There’s still much to do and helpers of all ages are welcome, Skarnes said.
The center’s main focus is to be an anchor for veterans’ supportive services in the community. Skarnes explained how the transition back to civilian life for returning veterans can be overwhelming and navigating the maze of available resources a daunting task. He said the center can be especially helpful to these veterans, who may have to deal with problems, such as dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide, injuries or loss, readjusting to their families and civilian life, finding employment in a bleak economic situation, filing for disability compensation, and getting the rehabilitation, education and training programs needed. Staffed by the post, its members can act as friendly liaisons, providing endless support and companionship, he added.
“The center is an opportunity to say thanks to these veterans for serving with honor and give back to them in a meaningful way,” Skarnes said. “For me, these veterans are the future of our country, and if we don’t take care of them, what’s our country going to be like?”
The center will be a regular meeting place for the post’s 72 members and its 40 auxiliary members. But they also want it to be a regular home for others, especially the island’s estimated 17,000 veterans. Skarnes said there’s a severe lack of facilities to meet the needs of local veterans groups. Only two of the state’s 29 VFW posts have permanent facilities, he added.
The center will be open daily. Hours of operation are still being decided.
To donate, get involved or for more information, contact Skarnes at 329-6261, (818) 384-7500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.