GREENFIELD — The local Veterans of Foreign Wars post is getting a $300,000 facelift — a renovation project its regulars hope will make the building a better gathering place for the county’s vets.
The building will become not only fully accessible to those with disabilities but feature more modern decor long-time members hope young veterans will find more attractive than the aging structure.
Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2693 in Greenfield plan to invest about $300,000 in renovations to their hall on Apple Street in the coming months in an effort to welcome a new generation of veterans to join their organization.
Story continues below gallery
Nearly every corner is being touched, organizers say; the wood paneling that has adorned the walls since the ‘80s is coming down. Commercial ceiling tiles will be knocked out, and an American flag will be painted on the building’s facade.
In the ‘40s, volunteers renovated the facility from a church into a veterans post, said Ed Dennis, a post member. The building has been updated since then, but it’s been more than 20 years since the facility saw any significant changes.
Originally, leaders set out to find a new building, but they had a hard time finding something to accommodate their group, Dennis said. Instead, they’ve decided to stay put and restore the club. Through good financial leadership, the post has been able to save enough money to cover the work with cash it has on hand, he said.
Making over the local VFW is among a number of projects local veteran organizations across the county have undertaken in an effort to draw young servicemen and women to join their ranks.
The number of members — about 180 — at the local VFW is slowly declining, and leaders have a difficult time recruiting veterans in their 20s and 30s to join, said commander Walt Baran. Renovations to the building will help to modernize it, making it more welcoming to young veterans, he said.
The changes will also make the building fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which seeks to ensure buildings are accessible to people who use wheelchairs. The post has two members who use a wheelchair, and the renovations will make the club more accessible to them and other veterans or their family members in the future.
Inside, a game area will be updated with new games and equipment, a new bar and stage will be installed, and a modern jukebox that connects to WiFi will play music throughout the hall. In addition to rehabbing the inside of the building, the exterior will also get a makeover, and a much-needed parking lot will be constructed.
Baran expects renovations to begin next month; contractors have already demolished a home near the VFW the organization purchased in order to build a parking lot. Work should be completed by June, when the organization will host a small community gathering to celebrate its new chapter, Baran said.
“This is an investment in the future,” Baran said. “We want this to last for years to come.”
When talking with younger veterans, local leaders said they learned many think the post as it currently stands is outdated. They want a place to gather with others who have served their country, but the facility isn’t very appealing to them.
Dennis joked it was a big step for the club to get WiFi and big-screen TVs. Most of the members are 50 or older, and they don’t mind the outdated facility, Dennis said. But young veterans and their families tend to stay away, seeking more modern gathering spaces, he said.
In recent years, the club has even offered to pay new members’ first year of dues in an attempt to draw them into the organization. An updated club might be just what the organization needs to attract young veterans and their families, he said.
The camaraderie and networking opportunities veterans gain through memberships with organizations like the VFW are invaluable, Baran said, as civilians typically can’t relate to many of the experiences military members endure. Some have a hard time talking about and coping with what they’ve seen or been through, and talking to another person who understands is helpful.
With that in mind, local leaders want to transform the facility — to make it welcoming to any former serviceman or woman looking for a place to go, he said.
“We want them to know we are here for them,” Baran said.
Dennis echoed those sentiments, saying when he wants to go someplace to grab a drink and relax, he always chooses the VFW.
“Somebody may have had a hard day — folks here understand. They’ve experienced it,” he said. “We can sit knowing our backgrounds, our history, our experiences. … We can sit for an hour and not say a word, but there’s a lot being said.”