CADILLAC — Volunteers have been working to construct a 5-kilometer path just north of the Cadillac airport at Veteran’s Serving Veterans, Inc.
The path will be free for public use at its completion, scheduled for this fall. Dr. Roger Bandeen, a Vietnam era veteran and director of Vets Serving Vets, said that the path will be used by the Cadillac Area Public Schools for cross country events, be a nature walk for the public, and be open in the winter for cross-country skiing as well.
“It’s going to be universally accessible," he said. “Everything that the general public can see, our disabled veterans and our disabled public will be able to see as well."
Vets Serving Vets has many more plans for its 60 acres in addition to the 5k course. A Vietnam War memorial, an amphitheater, a pavilion, ponds, and a chapel are part of their final vision. In the meantime, they have been working on habitats for monarch butterflies and bluebirds in conjunction with the Wexford County MSU Extension.
Vets Serving Vets has already established a robust program for supporting veterans in the area. Bandeen said that their welcome center has a community food bank, handicapped accessible showers, a washer and dryer, and bathrooms. These facilities are particularly useful for homeless veterans.
"People can come in, get cleaned up, get their food, do their laundry and head out," Bandeen said. Food for veterans is distributed two times per month, on the second and fourth Thursday from 11 a.m. until noon.
Bandeen said that the organization works with Cadillac’s New Hope Shelter to shelter homeless veterans. Cadillac has recently been recognized for reaching “functional zero" for homelessness, according to Bandeen. He explained that “functional zero" doesn’t necessarily mean that every homeless veteran has a house, but they do have the option to have a roof over their head if they want one.
“Probably only a handful of rural counties in the whole country have achieved that distinction, which is a tribute to our community," Bandeen said. “I think Cadillac should be very proud of the way they recognize and take care of their veterans."
Vets Serving Vets relies on volunteers and donations to make its mission a reality. Vietnam War veteran Patrick Somerville has been volunteering for about one year and has been instrumental in constructing the 5k course. Somerville was a bulldozer mechanic in the military and has put those skills to use repairing heavy machinery used to clear trees for the path. Richard Munson who is also a Vietnam War veteran said that he has been volunteering for almost three years. For Munson, volunteering is a way of serving both veterans and the public.
“This is a way of giving back to the community," he said. “It’s a heartfelt dedication and opportunity to give back."
Bandeen said that Vets Serving Vets relies on the cooperation and generosity of partners in the area like Love INC, Home Depot, and Resurrection Life Church. However, many donations are made by individuals as well. Anyone interested in learning more about the services and vision of Vets Serving Vets can visit www.vetsservingvets.org or their Facebook pages, “Cadillac Vets Serving Vets" and “Vets Serving Vets Park Cadillac MI." Individuals interested in donating can do so online or by mailing checks to P.O. Box 266, Cadillac, MI 49601. Checks can be made payable to Veterans Serving Veterans, Inc.
“We get people thank you notes right away. We really appreciate it. They’re personal thank you notes. They’re not form letters," Bandeen said. “We love our community supporters."