|Volunteers help prepare to distribute 30-pound bags containing a sleeping bag, wool blanket, hygiene kit, small backpack and a compression bag for the sleeping bag to lo9cal veterans in need. Photo/Betsey Bruner|
Special to the Navajo-Hopi Observer
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The task was unusual for Sara Herron, a longtime Flagstaff interior designer: To map out the inside of the Flagstaff Armory on North Thorpe Road so that it could contain tables for about 38 service providers who will be giving much-needed help to veterans and their families at the second annual High Country Stand Down event Friday.
The Armory site is the first location for the two-day stand-down activities, with the American Legion Post 3 on West Birch Avenue serving as the veteran surplus distribution site on Saturday.
"My main role is coordinating volunteers but also helping layout the day and the project map," Herron explained. "The map shows where each vendor is located in the facility, and will be used as a kind of guide for our volunteers. Our volunteers will connect with a veteran at the event and literally guide them through the process."
Herron has been working hard on the project for a month after being asked to volunteer for the job by Mandy Metzger, Coconino County Supervisor for District 4, and John Davison, who coordinates the annual Armed Forces Day Parade downtown.
It was a natural fit as Herron has helped coordinate four Project Connect events, which are one-day outreaches in October whose goal is to end homelessness.
Herron, who has operated her Herron Interior Design business for 10 years in Flagstaff and was a project manager for an architect before that, said after she measured the building, she produced the map in an Auto Cad format, "simply because that's how I draw and am comfortable using this method."
Helping with legal issues, too
Putting the finishing touches on the map and recruiting about 100 community volunteers to give out the map and guide guests to services is just one of many details that have gone into producing the High Country Stand Down.
The local effort, which is affiliated with the statewide Arizona Veterans Stand Down Coalition, is being spearheaded by Metzger's office and is the supervisor's personal community project. Multiple other agencies are partnering on the project.
"Our veterans ask so little of us and yet they signed up to give so much," Metzger observed. "When they return home, I want to be among the first in line to help get them the services they need."
The Arizona Veterans Stand Down Coalition is an alliance of community-based organizations created in 2001 to provide annual one- to three-day events that pair area homeless and at-risk military veterans with needed services.
Utilizing that model, the High Country Stand Down event, which is in its second year, will again connect area veterans and their families with services such as dental services and exams, legal services, AA meetings, physical therapy, housing assistance, notary services, help with pets, as well as hygiene kits, haircuts, showers and clothing, while supplies last.
On hand to help veterans will be the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, DNA People's Legal Services, and the Veterans Service Organization (VSO).
In addition, the Coconino County Superior Court, Flagstaff Justice Court and Flagstaff Municipal Court will be assisting veterans with an open criminal or traffic case or an outstanding warrant.
The handout for this service promises veterans, "You can appear before the judge without fear of being arrested."
Getting lives back on track
At the Saturday event, a storeroom-full of khaki-colored military duffle bags will be distributed to veterans.
A lifeline for at-risk veterans in northern Arizona, each 30-pound bag will contain a sleeping bag, wool blanket, hygiene kit, small backpack and a compression bag for the sleeping bag.
Ted Martello, an Army veteran with two tours of duty in Iraq, is now a veteran employment advocate at the Department of Economic Security (DES).He has been in charge of collecting the surplus items for the distribution.
"We ordered enough for 200 people," said Martello, who also serves on the stand-down steering committee. Martello said 17,500 pounds of surplus military gear was distributed last year, and this year will add about 100 pairs of boots to the total.
"At last year's Stand Down, a pair of boots brought the biggest smile to one of our veterans," Metzger said. "But, he also asked if we had any 'extra' flags. He said he always wanted one of his own. I am very thankful that northern Arizona is such a responsive community."
Davison, who served in the U.S. Army during the Cold War, also serves on the steering committee. He says the idea for the High Country Stand Down came out of a forum on veteran issues several years ago.
"Stand down is a military term when troops come back from the fields. It's just a cessation of activity so they can regroup," he explained. "Providing these seemingly basic services may be all that our veterans need to get their lives back on track."
Hoping to double attendance
In 2013, the inaugural event saw about 100 veterans receiving supplies, services and information. By extending the outreach effort, organizers hope to double attendance figures.
Additional services at the Stand Down event will include cots and bedding for homeless and at-risk veterans who would like to stay overnight at the Armory. They will also be fed, Davison says. American Legion Post 3 is providing a hall for planning meetings, insurance for the event and non-profit status, he adds.
Event organizers have also worked with the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs Western Navajo Agency to provide transportation from area chapter houses within the county.
"The stand down allows our veterans to obtain free supplies and most important the opportunity to gather veteran benefits information, resources and meet other veterans," said Eunice Begay, a veterans service officer with the Western Navajo Agency.
Just knowing someone cares
Two local veteran groups, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Military Order of the Purple Heart, are also involved in making the Stand Down event a success.
"I just think it's important to look at the needs of veterans all year round," said Rex Sterm, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War and commander of VFW Post 1709. "Most veterans, if we can help them find employment, they can help themselves. But with the economy, it's extremely difficult."
Billy Weldon, an Army veteran from the Vietnam War and Commander of the Purple Heart State of Arizona, said many of the veterans coming to Stand Down events are veterans of the Vietnam War.
"Stand down to me means taking care of the veterans who didn't get help when they came back from the Vietnam War," Weldon noted. "To me, a lot of the Vietnam veterans who show up know that someone out there cares. It can really mend the heart and mind after so many years, just knowing somebody cares about them."
Everything set for big event
As Friday approaches, caterers have been lined up, T-shirts ordered for staff, community volunteers recruited to carry supplies and equipment and posters distributed throughout the county.
Vendors are being asked to bring their own tables and chairs, and power cords if they must.
So, the stage is set, with the only remaining task for veterans and their families to arrange transportation and arrive in time to receive the help they need.