Veterans center’s Stand Down brings energy to South End

Volunteer Kat Ersch

Intermittent clouds didn’t keep people from attending the Veterans Stand Down held Saturday at the American Legion Post 141 in Bayview.

The second annual event was put on by the Veterans Resource Center and the American Legion. Visitors were able to gather valuable information on programs and benefits available to veterans of all eras, plus there were free haircuts, along with food, entertainment and much more.

New VRC executive director Fred McCarthy helped kick things off Saturday morning with three cheers. Board members said they were pleased with the progress the VRC has been able to make since partnering with the American Legion and hiring McCarthy.

“We’re energized,” said John McFarland. “I can’t stress enough how important this relationship is with the American Legion. Not only does it build community, but it gives us the ability to do a lot of outreach.”

The VRC was forced to close the doors of its community activity center last fall due to lack of funding. The nonprofit group joined forces with the American Legion earlier this year and has been holding its support group meetings at the Legion facility.

Board members are not the only ones who believe the partnership that has formed between the Legion and the VRC is a good one.

“There’s a new sense of collaboration and a synergy beginning to build,” said Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson.

“Especially on South Whidbey, we get veterans of all ages,” she continued. “Events like this build resiliency in the community and helps get people connected.”

Price Johnson said events like the stand down help build a mutually supportive relationship between veterans and organizations who can get people the assistance they need before it becomes a crisis.

Island County Veterans Services Coordinator Gerald Pfannenstiel agrees.

“I’m excited to see the partnership with the VRC and the American Legion,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of good things coming out of the South End.”

One of the main benefits of the stand down was helping veterans network with each other and with various organizations. There were representatives there from several agencies, such as colleges and Washington WorkSource. Social workers from the VA hospital in Seattle were able to help people with the claims process or answer questions as needed.

Also present was Rachael Rehberg, the Homeless Veteran Outreach Coordinator from the federal VA regional office in Seattle.

“These events are critical, especially in more rural areas,” Rehberg said. “Since I cover the whole state, I get to meet the people that run the centers and programs here and get referrals. We learn what’s here and the folks here learn what we have available, so we can work together.”

Jim Lautenbach is a Vietnam veteran who was helping out by flipping burgers. A member of the American Legion, he said he could see why events like the stand down are so important.

“There are so many vets who don’t realize what’s out there for them,” he said.

Volunteer and veteran Thomas Carmichael came over from Seattle to help. This was not his first stand down.

“Stand downs are good, mostly for the information you can get,” he said. “The (VA) hospital doesn’t always tell you.”

Tim Farrington was a structural mechanic in the Navy. He also came over from Seattle to help. He said the stand down was good for information, but for other things, too.

“It’s nice to see a place like this where people still got a heart and give,” he said.