Madison businesses have a new cause to embrace – returning veterans

One of the positive things that occurred during the U.S. experience in Iraq was that no matter where people stood on the justification of that conflict, Americans generally didn’t turn against their servicemen and women. They properly saved most of their ammunition for the civilian leadership.

Now that Iraq war vets are returning home, Madisonians and others have a real opportunity to return the favor in terms of service. That opportunity comes in the form of the new Veterans Welcome Resource Center, which unofficially opened this week in a Gialamas Company site on Madison’s west side.

An official grand opening is scheduled for May 24, appropriately, as Memorial Day weekend approaches, but local employers don’t have to wait that long to embrace the center or the courageous people it serves.

Four sponsoring organizations, including the aforementioned Gialamas Company, which has donated space rent-free at 8025 Excelsior Dr., in the Old Sauk Trails Business Park, have already done their part, but the center will need additional cash or in-kind donations, volunteers to work there, and other donations of time.

When it comes to a company philanthropy project, this is one that should not require the C-Suite to issue marching orders.

Modeled after Dryhootch, a Milwaukee-based organization of Vietnam vets that was established to help Iraq and Afghanistan era vets re-integrate into society, the center will be a community-based resource. It will feature what organizers call a unique blend of programs and services to support Wisconsin’s veterans and their families, and it will house several organizations that offer different veterans services.

These services help veterans through a range of transitional periods, including returning home from deployment, starting or returning to college, and finding employment.

In addition to Dryhootch and Gialamas, sponsoring partners also include Madison’s Edgewood College and the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

Bob Curry, president and Founder of Dryhootch, said the while the Madison facility is modeled after the Milwaukee center, there are differences. “I think what’s unique is that we have more space in Madison, so we can do more things here – yoga, acupuncture, things like that,” Curry noted. “There is also more community involvement in Madison than Milwaukee. Mr. Scocus [John Scocus, secretary of Veterans Affairs], the Gialamas Company, Edgewood, we all have different veterans groups, and the VA here is tremendous.

“I had a call from somebody who is a social worker and said he’d like to help, but he’s not a veteran. I said, ‘it doesn’t matter. Come on in.’ It’s fantastic and it’s great news for veterans in this community.”

Edgewood’s Family Center, which provides low-cost personal, marriage, and family counseling to Dane County residents, is one of the first agencies to move into 8025 Excelsior Dr. The intent is to offer an affordable and confidential space for veterans and their families.

Under President Dan Carey, a veteran himself, Edgewood has intensified its service to veterans. Carey emphasized that the Veterans Welcome Resource Center is not just for veterans, but is also a community resource. “There is also some meeting space if someone wants to have a small retreat for a small office or something like that,” he said. “There will be all kinds of opportunities for partnership.”

Edgewood College will co-host a women veterans health summit on March 31. The other co-host of that program is the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, which in sponsoring the new Veterans Welcome Resource Center, is simply fulfilling its mission. Kudos to Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos for his role in this and other projects.

Among the revenue streams for both Dryhootch in Milwaukee, and the new Madison veterans center, are contributions and sales revenue from an on-site coffee house. In the Milwaukee facility, those revenues help veterans cope with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance use issues, homelessness, family issues, jobs, and benefits issues.

As important as these sources of support are, the volunteer efforts of people in the community mean even more. So here’s my plea to spend some quality time, enjoy a cuppa Joe, and engage in a little payback, or perhaps the better term is pay forward, for people who served their country.

“You can volunteer right here by serving coffee and talking with the vets,” noted George Gialamas, president and CEO of the Gialamas Co. “They need someone to talk to. When they come back here, they don’t have anybody, in many cases.”

Curry indicated there are a number of ways for companies to contribute. “Some corporations have volunteers, and then on our website, we also have a listing of needed equipment,” he said. “We need coolers, so somebody may have them, or a company might like to name one of our group rooms for a veteran who worked at the company. We’re open to all ideas. We get no federal funding, so we’re able to ask for community support.”

More information about volunteering at the new Veterans Welcome Resource Center is available at www.dryhootchmadison.org, or by calling 608-234-5208.

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