$19.25M of West TN Veterans Home funds raised to date

Conceptual architectural drawing of the proposed veterans' home in Arlington. From the rattle of pocket change hitting a Mason jar to corporate checks so big they ought to be printed on poster board and photographed for posterity, the West Tennessee Veterans Home Project in Arlington is accepting all the generous support local residents want to give.

“This is definitely going to happen,” said Holly Swogger, president and chairman of the seven-member board for the non-profit WTVH Inc.

The vision is for a 144-bed facility that will give veterans in Shelby, Fayette and Tipton counties a nearby facility where they can get nursing and rehab therapy or even long-term care if needed. Currently there is not a veterans’ skilled nursing center within 100 miles.

The WTVH Project was born at the grassroots level and is being driven by hometown volunteers. It’s projected to cost $72 million for construction and its first year of operation.

WTVH-logoLocal funds have to hit 35 percent of that amount ($25.2 million) before 65 percent funding from the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs will kick in to complete the financing.

To date, WTVH Inc. has raised pledges and donations of about $19.25 million to date, Swogger said. That leaves them with less than $6 million to go.

“Six million is not an impossible number,” Swogger said. “Our goal is to make it by the end of this year. … By the end of 2018 or 2019, we could start breaking ground, and not a moment too soon.”

All donations are going toward the construction costs. Operational costs, such as for brochures and banners, are funded by the organization’s sales of T-shirts and other support items at local festivals and other events, Swogger said.

Volunteers pulling this project together are as different as snowflakes, but Swogger said they are united by their purpose: Serving the veterans.

“We have people as far right on the political spectrum as you go, and as far left, and everything in between. What ends up happening is American,” she said. “We’re there for one goal, and one goal only, and that’s to raise the funds to provide this benefit that these veterans have long ago earned.”

The facility will be built on about 28 acres of land formerly occupied by the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Center, near the intersection of Tennessee 385 and Interstate 40. It’s expected to generate more than 240 full-time jobs with an annual payroll of more than $7 million.

Major donors and the approximate amount of their pledges to date include:

  • State of Tennessee, $10 million
  • Plough Foundation, $2 million
  • Shelby County government, $2 million
  • The Assisi Foundation of Memphis Inc., $2 million
  • Anonymous, $1 million
  • FedEx and Fred and Diane Smith, $1 million
  • Town of Arlington, $250,000 (includes some matching funds from citizens)
  • AutoZone, $200,000
  • Shelby County Commission, $155,000
  • First Tennessee Foundation, $100,000
  • H.W. Durham Foundation Inc., $100,000
  • Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, $75,000
  • Brad and Dina Martin, $50,000
  • Charles and Mary Wurtzburger, $50,000
  • Hilliard Crews, $20,000

The organization also has amassed a money market account totaling $415,884 from small donations.

Speaking of the community support for its veterans, Swogger said, “It is so gratifying.”

The project has been blessed with more volunteers than can be named individually, and they have given untold hours of work, she said. Businesses have pitched in time and materials. Balmoral Presbyterian Church on Quince Road in Memphis allows the board to hold meetings regularly at the church, as it does for other local groups. Swogger called it “a total community effort!”

People have sent in personal checks. Neighborhoods have had garage sales and bake sales. Children have gone door to door and collected coins. One woman sent in two $1 bills in memory of her brother’s service, apologizing for not being able to give more. There have been donations from seemingly every income level.

“In this particular area, in this neck of the woods, this really means a lot to be able to give something back,” Swogger said.

“Project 100” was a big part of the fundraising. Swogger said the three counties had about 75,000 military veterans when the project began, so fundraisers asked businesses, churches, neighborhoods and various organizations to look at the veterans in their midst and consider donating $100 in honor of each of their veterans.

She also noted that people who donate in honor of a particular veteran will have that donation and the vet’s information included on an online memorial wall. Information can include the vet’s name, rank, branch of service, when served and other relevant information.

Follow updates and related events about the WTVH online at facebook.com/WestTNVeteransHome and at veterans-home.com.

A second veteran’s home of the same size is planned for around 2025, Swogger said. That may sound ambitious, but she said there are enough local veterans to make use of five such homes that size if enough federal funding were available. When both homes are built, they will be the two biggest skilled nursing facilities for veterans in the state.

The WTVH’s Facebook page listed the following upcoming fundraisers.

Nov. 5 Fundraiser: Hope Scouts

The Hope Scouts (of Hope Worldwide Memphis Chapter) will have a bake sale 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5, at Kroger, 7265 U.S. 65, Oakland. All proceeds will benefit the WTVH Project.

Nov. 6 Fundraiser: Change for Change

This campaign relies on the generosity of individuals who know the truth in this statement, “Your change can change the life of a veteran.” Citizens are asked to gather their spare pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters from their dresser tops, purses and beneath their couch cushions. Next, fill an empty prescription bottle, snack-size baggie or small plastic container with the change. Then drop it in the bin set up for collection at Arlington’s event for veterans, to be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, at Depot Square. The money will go to the WTVH Building Fund.

People who can’t make the event can drop off their donation in advance at Classic Trends in Depot Square through Nov. 5; hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

November Fundraiser: BrownDog Lodge

The BrownDog Lodge—a Memphis-area dog daycare, lodging, grooming and training business—has a special during November that will donate $5 to the WTVH Building Fund for each Dog Day Care Package sold during the month. There are two BrownDog Lodge locations:

  • Germantown Lodge, 426 S. Germantown Parkway, Cordova
  • East Memphis Lodge, 4953 Black Road, Memphis

November Fundraiser: Vets Supporting Vets

Seven area veterinarians are donating all proceeds during November from $10 pet nail trims to the WTVH Project. Confirmed participants include:

  • Arlington Animal Clinic
  • Cloverleaf Animal Clinic in Memphis
  • Eastgate Animal Clinic in Memphis
  • Raleigh Bartlett Animal Clinic in Memphis
  • Raines Road Animal Hospital in Memphis
  • Somerville Animal Hospital
  • Walnut Trace Animal Clinic in Cordova

All area veterinarians should have received two requests to take part, but people who don’t see their vets listed above can still invite their favorite pet care professionals to participate. Ask them to respond to Joyce Anderson at jefrost0503@gmail.com or call (901) 832-6873.

Fundraiser: What’s your idea?

Businesses, clubs and individuals are encouraged to create their own fundraisers. The McDonald’s restaurants in Atoka and Dyersburg donated proceeds from a couple of days’ coffee sales in 2015. The Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association has an $11,000 donation to be presented on Nov. 4.

To share your idea, call WTVH Inc. at (901) 410-0655. Swogger said to just let her know what you have planned, and she will get it assigned to the right people to provide support (such as banners, brochures, etc.).

Straightforward donations are also welcomed. People can make a one-time or recurring donation online at veterans-home.com.

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to bartlett.editor@journalinc.com.