OPERATION “WE CARE”
Wagner amongst conversations with the garage gang veteran’s, discovered immediately that at times, veterans "fell through the bureaucratic cracks. It seemed that no one was taking care of them," he said. Wagner reacted, and along with fellow veterans Tom Parsley and Darryl Wiegand, Operation “We Care” was established. Operation “We Care” was initially established to provide mobile medical equipment to all veterans “in need” to improve their current quality of life. Pleas for specific help were expressed to the community, new and used wheelchairs, walkers, and mobility scooters, came rolling in. Today, Operation "We Care," has blossomed into a program that supports those veterans and / or veteran’s families that have special needs whereby all other means of assistance is not available or has been exhausted. It provides financial and other supportive service to our veterans. Some examples of such support has been assisting homeless veterans and families, financial aid for rent and mortgage payments, transportation assistance, pharmaceutical products, home utility cost assistance, food, clothing and blankets. We also continue to provide re-wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and mobility scooters to the veteran in need. Operation “We Care” is now an integral part of outreach at the Veterans Freedom Center.
THE VETERANS FREEDOM CENTER
As more and more vets were drawn to share the heaviness of their burdens, the numbers and the need exceeded the available meeting space the garage provided. Noting the friendships, respect for each other and the enjoyment of each other’s company, the thought came about to Jim Wagner and Al Rowell of why not starting a center open to all honorably discharged military veterans to do the same and offer even more? There was a 900 square foot building space available for rent around the corner from the garage at 19th & Washington St. The rent was considered achievable but the main part of the building that would become the overall center for all proposed activities needed a total facelift. In January 2011, Jim & Al decided to rent the building and the Veterans Freedom Center at 1897 Washington St. in Dubuque was founded.
The initial rent payments, expenses, labor and materials to refurbish this building came directly “out of pocket” from those “garage gang
veterans” who were dedicated in making this Center a veterans homestead. Once the word was out, the local businesses and community immediately began to show support by providing needed materials and cash donations.
In the first year of existence, the Veterans Freedom Center flourished with veteran participation and remarkable financial community support.
Only one year later, due to the Veterans Freedom Center’s popularity amongst veterans and the community, the center began experiencing growing pains. The Veterans Freedom Center moved and opened its current location on Kerper Boulevard in January, 2012. The new center occupies 3,000 square feet, three times more the space initially rented at the Washington St. location.
Today, the Veteran’s Freedom Center meets the needs of all military active duty, reserve and Honorably Discharged military veterans past
and present. We offer a place to interact with fellow veterans, network together and provide the camaraderie that all have shared while proudly serving their country. We create close interpersonal relationships with our veterans. For those in need of assistance financially, physically or mentally we have the resource information to pass along to the veteran accordingly. The center also offers a woodworking shop, scroll sawing, an exercise room, and arts and craft opportunities. Leisure activities such as pool, darts, cards, television, music, and computer usage are also accessible to our veterans. These are at no cost to the veteran.
The cost of operating supplies and expenses such as building rent, utilities, and activity items are of and will always be a significant challenge.
We are a total non-profit organization and facility. All of our staff members are non-paid volunteers. Operating funds for our Veteran’s Freedom
Center and “Operation We Care” are obtained solely from community fundraisers, individual, private, and business donations, and eligible grant awards. We receive neither federal or state governmental funding nor assistance.
A DREAM COME TRUE
From its evolution, thanks to many generous individual and business donors, local community support foundations, and the foresight of Wagner and Rowell, the Veterans Freedom Center exists today as a place of goodwill and brotherhood amongst our military veterans.