BROOKSVILLE — A veterans group whose founding in Hernando County dates to the 1950s has opened the doors on a new home, thanks to the generosity of others and members' own sweat equity.
Disabled American Veterans, Hernando County Chapter 67, fell on hard times several years ago when its post home on Cortez Boulevard, west of Brooksville, was inundated with sewage, which resulted in about $100,000 in repairs and refurbishing.
"We were left with all kinds of debt," said commander Steven Grecco.
Ultimately, the chapter sold the building.
Dr. Pariksith Singh, a Spring Hill internist with local real estate holdings, offered the chapter a vacant unit he owns at 15299 Cortez Blvd., a few blocks from the DAV's former home. The DAV signed a rent-free lease for 15 years.
"He has a big heart," Grecco said of Singh.
"It was a garage for mechanics, just bare walls and a garage door," Grecco said last week from his modest executive chair in the now-fresh and welcoming gathering room at the renovated quarters.
"If you'd seen it before," pro bono general contractor Keith Voyles said, "it was a rickety tool shed."
Concrete and steel flooring had to be torn up. Termite-infested studs were removed. Plumbing, wiring, insulation and air conditioning had to be installed. Walls were erected and painted, tile was laid, and doors were hung.
Grecco, a 1950s veteran and technical sergeant in the Army Air Force and the Army, drew up the transformation plans.
"I designed it for our needs," he said.
Included are the meeting and sitting room, comfortably accommodating up to 40 people; restrooms; and private counseling rooms for each of five service officers.
"Everything's new," Grecco gestured with a smile.
Voyles, owner of Southern Charm Building and Construction Inc. of Brooksville and a former Marine, donated an estimated $10,000 in services and labor.
"It was a small thing to do," he said.
A half-dozen DAV members volunteered to work over six months to help complete the $50,000 project.
SunTrust Bank contributed 20 upholstered chairs for the sitting room.
Navy veteran and carpenter Russ Musacchia constructed donation boxes and a mock wishing well through which the organization solicits donations.
Members dug into their pockets to buy furnishings, for which they proved thrifty shoppers.
"We bought this at an auction," Grecco said of the gleaming wooden officers' table.
"We all chipped in, most of (the active 30 to 40 members) for the computers," he said. "They're not the best, but they do the job" of filing the disabled veterans' service claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Such is the DAV's mission — to help obtain rightful benefits for veterans disabled in any way and to any extent through their military service, Grecco said.
"Many don't know help is available," he said.
To ensure that the DAV keeps abreast of what's available, as well as the rules and regulations, its service officers go through training certifications annually.
"Nobody gets paid," Grecco pointed out.
While service officers staff the site from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, the commander said, "We're really on the job 24/7."
Service officers, all of whom have military-associated disabilities, include Grecco, Dave Parker, Sal Orlando, Mannie Miller and Paul Ouellette.
Chapter 67 lists about 1,500 veterans — men and women — on its membership roll, ranging in age from 25 to 95, Greco said. The majority are elderly. For those who are homebound, service officers make house calls.
It's not all about paperwork and money, however. Any veteran at any time is invited to drop in for coffee, comfort and maybe a doughnut.
"When the flags outside are flying," Greco grinned, "you know we're open."
Planning is under way for a grand opening celebration.
Contact Beth Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.