Coolidge VFW tries to overhaul image, welcomes community

• By JOEY CHENOWETH Staff Writer, Pinal Central Newspaper - 1/2/2019

COOLIDGE — The Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Coolidge is trying to appear more welcoming. The problem is it recently hasn’t had the look of a welcoming place.

The VFW Post 3713 is already fighting a stigma that it’s a place where old men go to sit at a bar all day. Nationwide, there is a battle to get that image out of the public’s perception, to get them to realize these posts are a part of the community, not just a club for one specific group.

But in Coolidge, there is another problem. The building itself had been neglected for too long and was in desperate need of a full renovation. When Derek Hulsebus arrived in Coolidge to serve as the post’s commander, he immediately set out to make those improvements.

In the past few months, the interior of the building has been under constant work. At any time, a group of volunteers is painting or putting up drywall or any other task needed that day. So far, that has led to a brighter, more welcoming atmosphere when somebody walks into the VFW for the first time.

"I’ve got a great group of people who have gone out of their way to help get this repainted, re-drywalled,” Hulsebus said.

This has been possible in large part due to donations from local businesses, which have been documented in the Examiner throughout the year. Walmart, for example, recently awarded a grant for a new water heater and swamp cooler to keep the kitchen temperatures where they need to be.

Of top concern was the electrical system. In the past, the VFW has had a hard time serving Thanksgiving and Christmas meals because the wiring in the building was so shoddy that plugging in two slow cookers at the same time could blow the entire system. So the entire system had to be redone.

For other projects, fundraisers are needed. Hulsebus is replacing the flooring in the kitchen and dining room area, and a fundraiser has been created to allow people to buy a tile and put their name, title and branch on it.

All this work has been done to provide a safer, more welcoming post that people of all types will be comfortable going. It’s an important step to restoring its purpose, to provide services — not just drinks — to veterans and their families.

"We wanted to get the building back in shape so we could do the programs we are supposed to be doing for the vets, their family members and the communities,” Hulsebus said. "With the building falling down around our ears, we didn’t have a place to do these events, whether it be charities to district functions to dinners to events for local kids.”

But Hulsebus also wants the VFW to be seen as giving to the entire community, not just veterans.

There are contests and events that look to benefit teachers, police officers, firefighters and more. There are also events for students to write essays or do work to win prizes from the VFW’s district.

However, Hulsebus said there is very little recognition of these community-centered events in Coolidge. A low percentage of the people he has talked to even know that they do that type of outreach, even for veterans’ families. That’s the perception he wants to change.

"We gotta do stuff for the families, we gotta do stuff for the kids,” he said. "We’re making it more family oriented with more programs, so when someone comes here and needs information on veteran programs, or access to e-benefits, they can do it here.”