COOLIDGE — Volunteers at the Pinal County Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans donated more than 6,000 hours of their time to the organization in 2018.
“Everybody works so hard all the time (and) some of us put in a lot of hours,” Cmdr. Ronnie Smith said. “Myself, I’ve put in a lot (more) hours than when I was working.”
The non-profit’s dedication to helping struggling veterans in Coolidge and surrounding communities is likely why the group was nominated to be the grand marshal at the Coolidge Days Parade on Saturday.
DAV Chapter 36, which got its start on Florence Street in Casa Grande, became a part of Coolidge in 2012. The organization was first housed at the Open Hands Outreach Center before eventually moving in to its current location on Central Avenue.
For the past seven years, the chapter has worked with disabled and homeless veterans — aiding them and their families when hard times strike. DAV even enlists the help of other veterans organizations around Pinal County, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3713, to connect those in need of assistance to as many resources as possible.
For Smith, the cause holds a very special place in his heart.
“When I came home from Vietnam alive, after all the buddies I lost, I made them a promise that I would never let another veteran that needed help go unattended,” he said. “That’s why I put in so many hours each week — to make sure I keep that promise.”
The local DAV chapter works with struggling veterans from all over Pinal County who may need assistance, which comes in the form of financial help for those that have fallen behind on bills, clothing and other supplies for the homeless, or pitching in to make critical renovations to parts of a veteran’s home if they are unable to do so themselves.
However the program’s primary purpose, Smith said, is to help veterans “get what the VA (United States Department of Veterans Affairs) promised them.”
The DAV is equipped with Chapter Service Officers, whose purpose is to help vets apply for needed benefits through the VA. Between the months of January and August, the CSO program assisted 141 local veterans.
“Not one veteran should have to go it alone,” Smith said. “We all served together, we all fought for a common cause, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t stick together now and help each other out. And that’s what we try to do.”
But the support the DAV seeks to provide local veterans does not stop there.
These days, members of the non-profit are renovating a new veterans center on Main Street, just three blocks away from OHOP. The building once housed the Family Resource Center, 340 S. Main St. Restoration of the structure began at the beginning of this year.
The new veterans center will act as a place where veterans can come to spend time together, bond and even enjoy the occasional movie night. The center will also provide access to necessary resources for homeless veterans and vets that may be having a hard time making ends meet.
Once complete, the facility will even feature a accessible shower, designed specifically to provide some relief to homeless veterans — including those living in the desert and other underpopulated areas that may not be ready or willing to reintegrate. In addition, the center will also have plenty of supplies on hand for homeless vets including clothes, portable cooking stoves and even tents.
In addition, the DAV will provide resources and assistance to those that are need of housing, medical supplies or help communicating with the VA.
But while some key restorations on the facility have been completed, such as improvements to the roof, some critical repairs remain before DAV is ready to open the center’s doors.
Those elements include remodeling the interior of the building to make way for a shower and restroom designed to accommodate those with disabilities, installing the necessary plumbing and putting up dry wall.
Other needed improvements will include purchasing and installing new ceiling tiles to replace the ones that have been damaged by leaks in the roof and the installation of flooring.
The hope, Smith noted, is for the building to be open by the end of the year. Still, plenty of work remains to be completed before that vision can become a reality.
But for DAV members, the project is well worth the time and investment if it improves the quality of life for those vets who have fallen on hard times.
“It’s for a better life for the veteran that did serve, the one isn’t doing so great,” Smith said. “So they can have a life — not an existence, but a life. That’s why we’re here. We’ve still got their six.”