Spring 2011 Edition NJDMAVA Veterans

About NJ Veteran Journal:
The New Jersey Veteran Journal is an official publication of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and is intended to serve New Jersey's veterans, their families, friends and concerned individuals and groups. All correspondence should be sent to:

Veteran Journal Editor, NJDMAVA/PA, PO Box 340,
Trenton, NJ 08625-0340

By Mark C. Olsen, DMAVA Public Affairs

Volunteers helping Menlo residents
Ray Zawacki, right to left, Deputy Commissioner for Veterans Affairs, along with American Legion State Commander for New Jersey Robert Looby and Dave MacKinnon, Norix Furniture, pose in front of the furniture that the Legion is purchasing for the new addition at Veteran's Haven during the American Legion meeting at the War Memorial in Trenton on Dec. 4, 2010. MacKinnon is also assisting his two children with a project to provide a lamp and clock for each night table. Photo courtesy American Legion

"Originally we just wanted to furnish each bedroom."

That was the goal according to Robert Looby, the American Legion State Commander for New Jersey, when he talked about his 2010 Commander's Project to raise enough money to furnish all 44 rooms in the new addition to the existing 55-bed Veterans Haven – a transitional housing program in Winslow Township run by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

What no one expected was the outpouring that came from all the American Legion posts across the state for the residents.

It began in 2009 when ground was broken for the 44-room addition at the Veterans Haven.

Because of increased construction costs, the original amount appropriated for the furnishings was absorbed for construction and a new source was needed if the project was to be completed.

Enter the American Legion.

"Since the opening of the original facility in 1994, the American Legion, along with other veteran's service organizations have been instrumental in obtaining donations, both monetary and material and services for the facility, said Sean Van- Lew, Assistant Superintendent, Veterans Haven.

"It would cost $2,000 a room," said Looby. No easy feat during these economic times.

Then money started rolling in.

To raise awareness, Looby had a scale model of the room on display at the American Legion meeting at the War Memorial in Trenton on Dec. 4, 2010. Dave MacKinnon of Norix Furniture was also at the meeting to answer any questions that may have arisen about the set up of each room.

By that point with donations from 12 counties, Looby had raised almost $82,000 toward furnishing the addition. With another 10 counties to add to the final amount, there seemed little doubt that the veterans would be taken care of.

What happened next exceeded everyone's expectations.

Still more donations came in.

As the money arrived, it quickly became apparent that Looby's goal of furnishing the rooms would be easily met.

Looby now had to consider what else could be done for the veterans. So he reached out to VanLew and asked him what else the Legion could get.

VanLew said that the treatment lab needed furniture so Looby had that programmed into the purchase.

The money just kept coming in.

"Everytime we almost reached our goal I would ask Sean what else we could get him," said Looby.

As more money came in Looby asked VanLew what else could be purchased; VanLew said that the facility's new computer lab needed computers.

"So we got an estimate for the computer lab and the Ocean County Post is going to buy all the computers," said Looby.

That's $13,000 worth of computers.

The New Jersey American Legion Posts had taken this project to their hearts resulting in them buying all the furnishings for the new addition.

As of this writing the American Legion has raised an unprecedented $151,000 making this one of the largest single donations in support of New Jersey's veterans ever by a veterans' organization.

"We still have another four counties; so we're not done yet," said Looby.