Veterans center getting into the holiday spirit

Cris Ritchie — Editor

December 12, 2013

HAZARD – Elected officials in a few Eastern Kentucky counties are continuing to give back to those who put their lives on the line for their country.

The county clerks in Perry, Leslie, and Letcher counties visited the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center in Hazard recently to donate several thousand dollars that will go to purchase items for use in the center. And this donation is only the latest of many meant to benefit local veterans.

Perhaps the most visible result of the clerks’ fundraising, along with donations from Coal Mining our Future, is the Christmas display along the center’s walking track. Lights and other decorations were installed last week and went live Wednesday evening.

“We just wanted to do something special for them,” said Perry County Clerk Haven King, who also chairs the board of directors for Coal Mining Our Future.

King said he hopes different youth groups and civic organizations will want to see the display. He is also hoping a group or two might want to sing during the annual Christmas party Coal Mining Our Future holds for the veterans every year. This year’s party is scheduled for Dec. 17.

“We’d just like to see some people come out and drive around and look at it,” he said. “I think it’s going to be great.”

The clerks participate in fundraising efforts for veterans across the state, and those efforts are buoyed by sales of hand-made birdhouses through clerks’ offices in several counties, including Perry. Winston Meade, the clerk in Letcher County, ships out or delivers the birdhouses, while his father-in-law makes them from recycled license plates. All of the money raised through their sale goes directly to benefits residents of veterans’ centers in the western, central, and eastern parts of the state.

In Hazard, the funds have been used to purchase wheelchairs and other equipment, along with items of entertainment for the residents, including a TV, computers, and a pinball machine.

“We want the veterans to be the ones benefiting from all this stuff,” King said.

Meade said this is simply a way to give back to those people who sacrificed for their country so that others can live their lives freely.

“If not for those people who died and served and sacrificed, I wouldn’t be clerk today,” Meade said. “I wouldn’t be standing here raising money. This is a little something to say thank you. This is something I enjoy doing.”

The clerks also continue to raise money through the Help a Veteran Everyday program, or HAVE, but they note that money goes to the Kentucky Veterans Trust Fund, which is then dispersed by that organization to benefit Kentucky veterans. But with the money they raise through the sale of birdhouses and other efforts (they recently raised nearly $30,000 by selling chances on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle) they know exactly how each dollar is being used.

“This money we raise, we say where it’s going to,” noted Leslie County Clerk Jim Lewis. “We don’t repair buildings or repair blacktop; it goes for residents to enjoy.”

Kenneth Baird, a native of Bulan who served in the U.S. Navy, said anyone can look around the center in Hazard and see how the money is being used.

“You can see the stuff they got around here,” he said.

In addition to the computers and other items, King also said they expect to have a new 60-inch TV installed soon. He added the Christmas display will be up past Christmas.