From Mlive.com | By: Chris Ehrmann
Returning soldiers and veterans will soon have a place in Bay City to help them transition back to civilian life and a place to keep active during the day.
Keith Markstrom, a Vietnam veteran and president of the Bay Veterans Foundation, is working with his organization and others to establish a Veteran's Makers Space and Learning Center. The goal is to have a place where they can feel safe and be with others who understand what they have gone through.
The building, located at 1009 N. Madison Ave., also will allow veterans to make things like bird houses or do things like small engine repairs to help keep them busy.
Markstrom and Mike Jamrog, a former colleague and Vietnam veteran, said they helped to found the nonprofit organization in 2015 and, even though the veterans building was their first priority, they hit the ground running with other projects in downtown like redeveloping Battery Park and establishing the Michigan Gold Star Families Memorial in Bay City.
After those two events, they finally were able to get started on purchasing the 5,700-square-foot building and start renovating it.
"The idea is camaraderie," Markstrom said. "As I said when we got out of Vietnam, you went under cover, you couldn't get a job... some come back thinking that, 'Hey I'm gonna go back to my home life and everything's going to be the same' (but) the community's changed, they have changed."
Markstrom said if they can bring veterans in for care, it could help them in that transition period from coming back from war to civilian life and he feels the Veteran Affairs agency doesn't do much to help returning soldiers.
"These kids are confused, there's still confusion as we were. In 50 years, nothing's really changed (with the VA)," Jamrog said. "In my case, I had been up for 48 hours, I just got back from a very intense environment, the only thing I want to do is get the hell out of that uniform."
Markstrom echoed similar sentiments in that he didn't know he was eligible for his VA benefits until just before he retired.
At the building, which used to be a former warehouse, bird shop, where Wings and Things was located among other places, veterans will be able to talk with colleagues and do activities.
"We know there are homeless vets in the community, here's a place they can come during the daytime and do something," Markstrom said, adding that Bay County roughly has 7,300 to 7,800 veterans.
Markstrom said they have a lot of support, including organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, Bay County Veterans Council, Bay City Commission, Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency among others.
Currently, they are working with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, which has authorized a $70,000 grant to remediate the parking lot -- which at one point had gas station pumps -- but they suggested to also test for asbestos in the building and, if there is, the grant limit might increase.
They are getting ready to renovate the building soon and have architects developing a floor plan because they will eventually gut most of the building.
"We're doing this all on volunteer effort (for cleaning up the building)," Markstrom said, adding that at some point they will have staff. "If we can get veterans in here who are having issues as well, it's gonna be easier to refer them for services."