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American Legion project expanded into a fleetBy Kryn P. Westhoven, New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
Gene O'Grady, American Legion state commander for 2012-2013, second from left, is surrounded by representatives receiving the three vehicles as part of O'Grady's state commander's project. Accepting the keys are Sean Van Lew, Veterans Haven North superintendent; Boris Reissek, Vineland Veterans Memorial Home CEO and Walter Nall, Veterans Haven South superintendent. Photo by Dyana Williams, American Legion
In late July, Gene O'Grady got to see and hear how his yearlong project was helping the residents of Veterans Haven South in Winslow Township. "It was an incredible feeling," said O'Grady.
On that day, the American Legion state commander for 2012-2013 watched as the white Dodge minivan made multiple trips, transporting residents to the Veterans Administration hospital in Philadelphia and to the jobs which help these former homeless veterans return to a normal life.
After ascending to the state commander's position in June 2012, O'Grady met with the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (NJDMAVA) leadership, to see if there were any unmet needs that would be a candidate for a commander's project.
O'Grady decided to take on the challenge of replacing the older vehicles at the Veterans Memorial Home at Vineland, Veterans Haven North in Glen Gardner and Veterans Haven South.
"Providing residents of these facilities the opportunity to attend outside organizational sponsored activities, special events and appointments in a new and safer vehicle is paramount to their well-being," said O'Grady.
The Gene Team as he likes to call the 60,000 plus American Legion members raised more than $137,000 to make the team's dream a reality. The pair of vans and a handicapped accessible bus would be called "Gene's Machines" as the project got rolling.
O'Grady was concerned that Hurricane Sandy might be a fund raising bump in the road, but the Legionaries rallied to get the project completed.
Photo by Mark C. Olsen, New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
"Everybody has been so enthusiastic about the project from the donors to the recipients," said O'Grady.
"We were able to give the facilities the vehicles they needed," added O'Grady. The vans for Vets Haven North and South were different based on the needs of the veterans at those facilities.
"It was great to have all the Legionaries see what we did," said O'Grady as the keys to the vehicles were presented to NJDMAVA at the state convention in Wildwood.
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