Route Bay City had the opportunity to sit down with Keith Markstrom from the Bay Veterans Foundation to learn more about the organization, its mission and the organization’s newest project – an activity and makers' space for veterans in downtown Bay City.
Route: How did you come up with the idea to create the Bay Veterans Foundation?
When I returned from the Vietnam War, I had an extremely difficult time finding a job. With the difficult job market, I decided to go to college. I ended up receiving my degree at Central Michigan University. For many years, I worked as the director of the Bay Medical Foundation. It wasn’t until I retired from the Bay Medical Foundation in 2015 that I started to become more active in the veterans’ organizations across town.
Mike Jamrog and I were both Vietnam veterans. We also worked together for many years. In 2015, we worked with a group of other community members to create the Bay Veterans Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, to service veterans in the area. The board was created in the hopes of focusing efforts towards the development of a veteran’s activity center.
What is the goal behind creating the Veteran’s Activity Center?
Veterans are usually lost when they get out of the service. They’re used to disciple and regimented schedules. You come back into civilian life and you think everything is going to be the same. It doesn’t take long to realize that you’ve changed or your community has changed. Also, a lot of Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) don’t translate into civilian jobs. This can make the transition from the military workforce into the civilian workforce even more difficult. The goal of the activity center is to help ease this transition by creating a space for veterans – young and old – to find a sense of community.
When did you purchase the building, located at 1009 N Madison Avenue?
We purchased the building in 2018. We were lucky enough to be able to raise the $140,000 necessary to acquire the building.
What types of activities do you see being done in this space?
We’re still working out the programming and activities, but the building is 5,700 square feet. Ideally, we’d like for this building to serve as a space for veterans to congregate, to learn about the skilled trades, or to do hands-on makers activities – like woodworking.
Additionally, we would like the Veterans Activity Center to serve as a resource for veterans’ benefits. There are a lot of agencies that provide information regarding benefits and additional services, but they’re fragmented. We thought if we could get veterans to start coming here [to the Veterans’ Activity Center], then we can get agencies to come here and make presentations periodically. This would allow us to assist Veterans in a safe, comforting environment.
We also see our services expanding beyond the walls of the Activity Center. To date, we have also been in touch with the Boys and Girls Club about the potential to partner in a veterans mentorship program, which would allow our group to work with Boys and Girls Club kids to assemble birdhouses and other crafts.
Finally, we envision the Activity Center as a volunteer hub for assisting other veterans. If there are senior veterans who need help raking their leaves or getting their groceries, we would work with our member base to help provide that volunteer service.
How much do you anticipate fundraising for this type of project?
Our goal is to begin our capital fundraising campaign in the spring or summer of 2019. The goal is to raise about $500,000 to redevelop the space.
If community members want to get involved with the Veterans Activity Center, who do they contact?
If community members are interested in getting involved, they are encouraged to send us a message on our Facebook page.
Are there any other projects that the Bay Veterans Foundation has been a part of in town?
We’ve helped with the restoration of Battery Park after the Alice and Jack Wirt Library was built by raising approximately $160,000. In fact, we worked with Hershel Woody Williams, one of the last surviving Medal of Honor recipients of the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, to bring the Michigan Gold Star Families Memorial to Battery Park. In addition, we also manage the kiosk display in front of the Alice and Jack Wirt Library – which is currently displaying World War I artifacts.