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[Source: INEDA, 05.17 | Keywords: Human Resources, Employment, Veterans]

The Waverly Area Veterans Post Veterans Center honors the veterans of yesterday, today and tomorrow. It recognizes and celebrates the sacrifice of those who served in past conflicts, those who serve today, and those whose service awaits them. These men and women and their families are ever mindful of the reality that freedom is not free. It is in this spirit that this very special home — a place “Where Patriots Gather” — was built. — WAVP

Nearly nine years ago, the community of Waverly, Iowa was devastated when the Cedar River spilled out of its banks. The floods seriously damaged and destroyed many area homes and businesses, including the AMVETS building and American Legion Hall, leaving those veterans with no place to gather. At the same time, Waverly’s VFW building was showing its age, having outlived its useful lifetime by more than 20 years.

The Waverly community didn’t want to lose these vital organizations, something that had occurred in many Iowa communities due to dwindling numbers and funds. However, all three were faced with the daunting task of how to rebuild and fund their facilities. So, members of the four Waverly area veterans’ service groups decided to meet and discuss their options, including the possibility of a shared facility.

“We recognized that we needed to do what would best serve the needs of the veterans and ultimately felt we could do things better jointly than everyone doing their own thing,” explained Carl Benning, a salesman at Deike Implement and U.S. Army veteran. “Once we started talking about the specifics and practicality of joining together, most realized it was the only way to go.”

The transition wasn’t easy, however, since each Post had operated with its own building, funds and board of
directors. “When you have that many people involved, not everyone will have the same ideas and quite frankly, some weren’t in favor of the project,” reflected Benning. “However, once the plans were finalized and construction started, I’d say that 99% of the members had jumped on board.”

The Waverly Area Veterans Post (WAVP) was legally incorporated June 11, 2009, bringing together the four greater Waverly area veterans organizations: American Legion Post #176; AMVETS Post #79; Marine Corps League Detachment #1241; and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #2208. Following all of the legal work, site selection and building needs/specs, fundraising for the new facility began in 2011 and the groundbreaking took place in April 2015.

The group’s original goal was to raise all of the necessary funds to have a debt-free facility. To date, over $4 million has been gifted or pledged of which more than $500,000 has been pledged through in-kind support from various business trades. “The community really stepped up and supported this facility,” said Benning. “This is especially true of our veterans and their families. Of the 960 individual donors, more than 60% were from veterans’ families.”

Construction of the facility was completed in the fall of 2016 with the Grand Opening celebration held in October. Housed in a building overlooking the Cedar River in northwest Waverly, all of the building specifications and amenities were determined by assessing the combined needs of the four veterans’ organizations. The total cost of the project (including land acquisition, site preparation, construction, furnishings, landscaping, architect fees and contingency costs) was $4.5 million.

The 17,300 sq. ft. facility contains space for communications and career development; as well as spaces for the four veterans’ organizations and their auxiliaries to host monthly, regional and state meetings; funerals with full military rites; post-funeral receptions; civic celebrations; and Post dinners, including the community fish fry and monthly Saturday breakfasts. In addition, the facility features a room set up for families to connect with their deployed family members, a small chapel and a large banquet room. “I’d say this center not only fulfills the needs of vet families, but the Waverly community as well,” said Benning with pride.

The WAVP serves the needs of all veterans, active and inactive, and their families through programs and events that provide assistance in securing veterans benefits, seeking employment, connecting with their families when away from home, and hosting events where they can gather and socialize. In addition, the organization works with kindred organizations to help veterans dealing with homeless situations, mental health issues, difficulties getting jobs, and suicide prevention.

With more than 1,700 veteran families in Bremer County, it is a busy place. “Helping returning veterans through difficult life situations is one of the most important things we can do to get veterans back on their feet when they return home,” said Benning. “We also want to meet the needs of future veterans by creating a safe place where people can better understand and listen to what they are saying.”

The center is governed by a 12 member board of directors, with three members appointed from each of the four Posts. Benning currently serves as vice chairman. The board oversees a general manager who is responsible for the direction and control of the facility’s use, as well as programs and activities within the veterans’ center. “We felt it was important to have someone onsite every day to better support our veterans and families,” said Benning. “We are so fortunate to have found Sara, who is an Iraq veteran.”

The WAVP is thought to be the first attempt to bring separate veterans organizations together under one roof in the state of Iowa. “When we first started discussing this facility we figured that we’d research what others had done in the past and avoid any pitfalls they encountered,” said Benning. “We were absolutely amazed when we couldn’t find one facility like this in Iowa, let alone the United States.” Today, the WAVP is a working model for other communities to utilize.

He encourages others to get involved and support their local veterans’ organizations. “Support your employees who are involved with veterans’ organizations by giving them adequate time off to be part of honor guards and so forth,” stressed Benning. “In addition, keep in mind that there are a lot of veterans’ activities taking place in every community and businesses can play a huge part in that effort, not only in terms of dollars donated, but hours volunteered by their employees as well.”

Benning leads by example, volunteering countless hours with AMVETS and the WAVP. “While volunteering and serving on the board does take up a lot of my time, it’s a labor of love. One that I’m honored to do.”

For additional information about the WAVP, visit WaverlyVets.us.