World War II Club leaders recruit younger veterans 

  • Connor Kowalski, 10, smells a sample of ice cream while participating in the ice cream taste test at the “Hello Summer” event, put on by the American Legion Auxiliary and the World War II club in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • At left, George Butler, 10, of Chicopee plays games with his grandmother, Sylvia Procopio, of South Deerfield, at the Hello Summer event put on by the American Legion Auxiliary and the World War II Club in Northampton.

  • Jen Rex, manager at the World War II Club, serves Maxine Kowalski, 20, and Connor Kowalski, 10, ice cream samples for an ice cream taste test at the “Hello Summer” event, put on by the American Legion Auxiliary and the World War II club in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Maxine Kowalski, 20, and Connor Kowalski, 10, participate in the ice cream taste test at the “Hello Summer” event, put on by the American Legion Auxiliary and the World War II club in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

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    Front, Anna Nahmias, of Greenfield, Marc Bourgeois, of Ludlow, and Gary "Poppi" Merritt play Apples To Apples with friends at the “Hello Summer” event, put on by the American Legion Auxiliary and the World War II Club in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

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    Gary "Poppi" Merritt plays Apples To Apples with his daughter, Laura Merritt and other friends, at the “Hello Summer” event put on by the American Legion Auxiliary and the World War II Club in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Connor Kowalski, 10, tastes a sample of ice cream while participating in the ice cream taste test at the Hello Summer event put on by the American Legion Auxiliary and the World War II Club in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Connor Kowalski, 10, participating in the ice cream taste test at the “Hello Summer” event put on by the American Legion Auxiliary and the World War II club in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dan Start, of Hatfield, participating in the ice cream taste test at the “Hello Summer” event put on by the American Legion Auxiliary and the World War II club in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

@JackSuntrup
Published: 6/25/2017 9:29:48 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Inside the World War II Club on Conz Street, about 25 people gathered Sunday to kick off summer in a family-friendly way — and show going to veteran halls doesn’t have to revolve around the bar.

Veterans, kids, spouses and others taste-tested local ice cream (Herrell’s, JB’s Ice Cream Factory, Bart’s Ice Cream and Mt. Tom Ice Cream). They played Monopoly and card games. There was a raffle. And those who came drank soda and ate lunch. 

The point for this event? To get younger veterans involved in veteran programs locally.

 “We’re working up towards being more open and friendly and more inviting,” said Dan Start, a member of the American Legion Post 224 in Easthampton. “But it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

Start, 49, and his wife, Amy Mathison-Start, 48, both of Hatfield, are on a quest to attract younger veterans — typically those under 50 — into halls they may consider dingy and intimidating.

Mathison-Start said the Easthampton chapter is 300 veterans strong, but about two-thirds of those members served during the Vietnam era or before.

One of the ways to make American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars halls more relevant, they say, is to use those halls to help vets address ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There’s other important things with these returning vets,” Mathison-Start said, noting Start, her husband, was diagnosed with Gulf War syndrome. “Where can they go if they have symptoms? If they have feelings?”

And post-traumatic stress disorder?

“Why shouldn’t they have a meeting, you know, a PTSD support group, at the legion?” Start, an Army veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, asked.

Cue David Sutton, the president and founder of One Call Away, a support network for local veterans. Sutton, 54, of Southwick, an Army veteran who served from 1980 to 1983, said veterans coming back from World War I and II had their own issues to discuss when they came back from war, a reason veteran halls came into existence in the first place.

“Nowadays these guys need to have some place to go also,” Sutton said. “They need to be able to take what they’ve been through, come back here and be with those who have done the same thing.

“It doesn’t always necessarily have to revolve around getting drunk,” he said. 

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in 2014, an average of 20 veterans died of suicide each day.

Another aspect to make the veteran halls more relevant is helping families grappling with a loved one with PTSD — sometimes as simple as hosting family events such as the one Sunday.

“One of the things that happen when they suffer from PTSD is they detach,” Sutton said. “I go off to battle, I come back, and I’ve changed. I’m different.”

Mathison-Start, president of the Easthampton legion’s auxillary, said she, her husband and others are planning family-friendly events for later this summer and early fall, but did not yet have dates nailed down.

The One Call Away organization is hosting its Second Annual Bike Ride and Barbecue from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on July 22 at Whalley Park in Southwick.

Another opportunity for vets to be with family: Veterans will receive free admission, and family members will receive 50 percent discount tickets, at Six Flags New England July 2, 3 and 4.

One Call Away can be reached at 413-478-7748. 

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.

 




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