Volunteers renovate Des Plaines American Legion property
In an effort to give back to local veterans, participants in the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry's Back to Work Boot Camp and volunteers from Rivers Casino and The Home Depot descended on the local American Legion Hall, 1291 Oakwood Ave., to complete the renovation that began last year and fix water damage that was caused by the heavy rains this season.
This comes at a critical time in preparation for the Post's centennial celebration in 2020.
"Des Plaines was one of the first communities in Illinois, and the entire nation, to charter an American Legion post when it did so in 1920," said Andrea Biwer, Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce director. "It was only one year after the American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919, as a patriotic organization for veterans."
On Monday, Sept. 16, a massive workforce, including 20 veterans participating in the Back to Work Boot Camp and volunteers from Rivers Casino and The Home Depot, began working on the renovation.
"Last year, old wood paneling was removed and walls and trim were fixed and painted; wall-mounted exhibit cases were constructed and installed by the Rivers Casino facility team; and carpet squares were installed by Scharm Floor Covering of Des Plaines," said Thomas Strossner, commander of Post 36.
"This year, volunteers are making even more improvements, especially now that The Home Depot is on board and Rivers Casino is managing the process. They are enlarging the office and entryway.
"In addition, new cabinets and countertops were installed in the kitchen; new tile and partitions are being installed in the restrooms; and new ceiling tiles are being installed throughout the post headquarters, as well as repainting the entire place.
"We are very excited about this, and surprised by how much they all are doing for us," Commander Strossner said.
"Home Depot supplied the materials and the work was done by their team, volunteers from Rivers Casino, the Des Plaines Chamber's Veterans Boot Camp program veterans, the Legion and the chamber. I am so grateful that I went to a chamber After-Hours event three years ago and met Andrea Biwer, executive director of the chamber. The Des Plaines Chamber spearheaded the effort to bring us all together for this remodel project.
"Rivers Casino provided their incredible leadership to guide us through the remodel and Home Depot donated the support and supplies for all the renovations. Our American Legion Post 36 has been overwhelmed by all of the support and honor that has been shown to our veterans during this entire process," Strossner said.
Des Plaines American Legion Post 36 has approximately 225 members, about 40 of whom are active. But Strossner said that he has been recruiting younger veterans from the Boot Camp classes in order to carry the Legion into the future.
"We have had volunteers from 10 local Home Depot stores within the Central Region working on the Legion Hall renovation, and the Home Depot Foundation provided funding for the needed materials. Our Central Region Vice President Richard Goodrich is an avid supporter of veterans, so we were pleased to become involved in this effort," said Manuel Romero, Home Depot district manager.
"Volunteer work is part of Home Depot's core values to give back to the communities that support us and, specifically, to create a better environment for veterans," Romero said. "In fact, Home Depot currently employs over 35,000 American veterans across the country.
"In addition, since 2011, Home Depot has participated in 43,000 improvement projects in veterans' homes, Veterans Administration hospitals and facilities, American Legion Posts and VFW Halls across the country because we believe that all citizens of the United States are the beneficiaries of an active military," Romero added.
"We appreciate all of the help that we have received from our many sponsors and chamber members on this important project, and I am so excited we were able to bring everyone together to help out the American Legion," said Biwer.
The American Legion, which focuses on service to veterans, service members and communities, evolved from a group of war-weary World War I veterans into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States as posts sprung up across the country. It established four areas of interest and action, known as "pillars," which endure today.
"The Legion strives to do whatever it can for veterans, ranging from conducting ceremonies to helping them receive the benefits they have earned from their service," Strossner said.
Over the years, the Legion has also influenced considerable social change in America; was influential in Congress passing the G.I. Bill of Rights; won hundreds of benefits for veterans; and produced many important programs for children and youth. Locally, Post 36 supports youth, needy families and veterans.
"We think the volunteer project is a fitting way for the Boot Camp veterans to honor the American Legion's Centennial and also lend a helping hand to support other local veterans in the community," said Biwer.
This volunteer effort is part of the 10-week Veterans Back to Work Boot Camp program that began in September. The chamber's Boot Camp offers 20 veterans from all branches of the military a chance to participate in educational programs that focus on re-entering civilian life and career readiness.
All of the veterans receive mentoring from local business owners, resume advice and a package that is designed to help them in their career search. The Des Plaines Chamber Veterans Back to Work Boot Camp program concludes with a celebration/graduation event Thursday, Nov. 7.
The selected veterans, veteran mentors and corporate supporters will be invited to a special evening, where each Boot Camp Veteran will receive more than $8,000 in career enhancing gifts as a thank you for their participation. The Des Plaines Chamber Boot Camp celebration event will be held at the newly renovated American Legion in Des Plaines.
The Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry is one of the largest suburban chambers in Illinois. The chamber serves the business community of Des Plaines by providing marketing and networking opportunities, professional development and business assistance.
There are 600-member companies that are part of the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
For information, contact (847) 824-4200 or visit www.dpchamber.com.