LIHU‘E — Mary Kay Hertog, commander at the Kaua‘i Veterans Center, was excited to hear the good news.
“(I was) ecstatic and relieved,” Hertog said. “The award notification came out in early July, and it just happened to be my birthday that very day. It was the best birthday gift ever.”
The Kaua‘i Veterans Council in Lihu’e was recently awarded a $62,660 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Grant from the county to help keep the Kaua‘i Veterans Center open to the public during this pandemic. The grant will be used to bring back furloughed maintenance technician Tony Blass and to reinstate events coordinator Aida Cruz to full pay.
Hertog said the council had to cut expenses to the bone and because monthly bills like insurance, utilizes, loan payments, routine and emergency maintenance continue.
“We were bleeding out and on life support because 90% of our revenue stream comes from any money we make renting the Center and its classrooms to our Kaua‘i residents,” Hertog said. “When that dried up we were faced with potentially shutting the facility, which is pretty emotional to us veterans.”
Hertog said the grant is also being used to pay utilizes (sewer, internet, phone) from March to December, as well as pay for a pest control contract and cleaning contact where the entire building is sanitized on a weekly basis with BioSpray D2 solution. KVC received the grant in July and project they will wrap things up before the Dec. 30 deadline.
“We anticipate wrapping up everything by Nov. 30,” Hertog said.
According to Hertog, in 2018, KVC had to do a major repair on the roof, and even though the county generously gave them a grant for a good part of it, it had to take out a $100,000 loan and fund the rest of it with rental revenue.
“Finally the grant is paying our monthly accountant’s bill and roof loan payment.”
KVC has confirmed its not working with other non-profits while it gets back on its feet, however, they have made their center available to churches, including New Hope Lihu‘e and the Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank (KIFB), should KVC want to use it as a food distribution location.
Hertog said the Veterans Council’s goal is to keep the center open for veterans and Kaua‘i residents.
“We hope to be able to continue to host events, even if they are smaller in capacity, to pay our bills,” Hertog said. “The revenue we generate also goes to annual scholarships to top JROTC seniors at Kapa‘a and Waimea high schools.”
Hertog said the various veterans’ organizations help fund these scholarships as well as giving donations to (nonprofits) in need like the Salvation Army and KIFB.
“We want to be able to continue giving back to our community as they have given to us veterans,” Hertog said.
KVC named the project “Save the Kauai Veterans Center,” that will get the two employees back to 20 to 30 hours a week.
“But in reality, both Tony and Aida work more hours when the need is there, and we have events going,” Hertog said. “They are amazing and both go above and beyond what we pay them.”
According to Hertog, besides paying off their backdated monthly expenses and getting back on par with their payroll, KVC will be using the grant to purchase more cleaning supplies during the installation of light sensors in the class and meeting rooms and bathrooms.
Hertog said KVC will also be installing hands-free toilet flushers and sink faucets to minimize people from having to touch anything.
“We are open for business, albeit in a much smaller capacity,” Hertog said.
The Kaua‘i Veterans Council officers include Kim Blaum, Senior Vice Commander; Bart Thomas, Junior Vice Commander; Russell Maeda, Treasurer; Charlene Dorsey, Adjutant, and Dave Hall, Chair of their Management Committee.
The center was built between 1992-1993 and is home to many veteran organizations.
“It’s home to our chapters and posts that represent the Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign War, Kaua‘i Veterans Club, Korean War Veterans, U.S. Marine Corps League and the Military Order of the Purple Heart,” Hertog said.
According to Hertog, the center is on private property and belongs to the veterans of Kaua‘i, but is open to be rented to the public for events.
Hertog said, in 2019 they hosted 316 events in their main hall for church services, memorial services, graduations, birthday, anniversaries, and holiday parties.
“The KVC is an affordable alternative to what a family would have to pay for a hotel conference room or ballroom,” Hertog said. “We have a 400 person capacity but we also rent our smaller classrooms that can hold 35-45 people.
Besides hosting events, KVC has Memorandums of Agreements (MOA) with the Red Cross to use the Veterans Center as a backup emergency evacuation shelter, and KVC has another MOA with the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court to use the Center as a safe haven gathering place in case the courthouse and its employees have to be evacuated.
“The center is more than just a building used by Kaua‘i’s veterans and residents,” Hertog said. “It’s our home, our gathering place, where veterans of all ages, backgrounds, services, and from different conflicts and wars can talk story, find common ground as well as camaraderie and comfort.”