For disabled veterans, transitioning back to civilian life can often be a daunting task. For many, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) chapters serve as a lifeline by providing access to emergency funds, helping veterans navigate paperwork and advocating for veterans’ rights.
The DAV Chapter 36 in Taylor County, Texas, has been serving veterans for almost 70 years. Staffed entirely by volunteers and run on a small budget, the DAV is an organization of veterans helping veterans. “We try very hard to help every person who comes to us in need,” said Taylor County DAV Commander Geri Massey.
The chapter provides free assistance to file benefit claims, financial support for rent, a food pantry and a place of camaraderie where veterans can gather. Sometimes the aid is something as small as helping a veteran find the money to buy his daughter a ticket to prom or helping a parent of a child with special needs find the right support in the community.
The Taylor County chapter has had one home since 1947 – an old barracks building moved from Camp Barkeley, 11 miles south of Abilene, to its current location at 2555 Grape St. in Abilene. Camp Barkeley served as an infantry camp during World War II and was one of the state’s largest military installations. It was closed in 1945, which made its buildings and assets available for other military use.
“The building has a lot of history,” Massey said. “She’s had many veterans come through her doors.”
However, there was a problem with the doors that had been opened to so many veterans. There was also a problem with the floors. And the back wall. And the kitchen.
It was a 70-year-old building in desperate need of updating.
That’s when Lowe’s in Abilene stepped in.
Human Resources Manager Jay Fellers said helping restore the building was an easy decision. “At our store, around 35 percent of our employees are either veterans, active military or Reservists,” he said. “The reality is much of our workforce knows the veterans the DAV serves and understands the importance of their work.”
Fellers and 48 volunteers from the store spent three days completing a major overhaul of the building. “When we got on site, we realized that their back wall was in bad shape and needed to be replaced,” he said. “We basically ripped out the rear of the building and rebuilt the wall.”
The crew also scraped and repainted the entire interior of the barracks; cleaned out a storage room, removing old sheetrock and adding new flooring; they repainted the cabinets in the kitchen and added new flooring; replaced the ceiling tiles in a bathroom; and installed new doors for the offices with new hardware and locks. They did some landscaping and left a new weedeater, so the chapter could maintain the grounds.
While they were working, they realized the building was not cooling efficiently. Upon further inspection, the volunteers saw it was not insulated, so they brought in spray insulation and insulated the entire building.
“Not only will this allow the volunteers to be more comfortable in their offices, it will also help them be more cost-efficient with their heating and cooling,” Fellers said. “We know they operate on such a small budget, so every dime saved is one that goes toward caring for our veterans.”
The DAV was profoundly moved by the group’s work. “Those of us who volunteer here are disabled,” Massey said. “It is not always possible for us to climb a ladder or tear down a wall. That’s why we are so grateful to Lowe’s for coming out and helping us take care of our building. It really was a labor of love.”
“Those of us who volunteer here are disabled. It is not always possible for us to climb a ladder or tear down a wall. That’s why we are so grateful to Lowe’s for coming out and helping us take care of our building. It really was a labor of love.”— Taylor County DAV Commander Geri Massey
The building recently received a historic overlay designation. “This designation will make sure this building continues to stand for many years,” said Commander Massey. “Lowe’s helped us preserve an important part of our history. She has taken good care of our veterans for many years. We hope these renovations will help her care for them for at least another 70 years.”