Ephrata VFW bucks national trend, attracts younger members

By on November 12, 2014
It was a full house at the Ephrata VFW Post 3376 the evening of Nov. 1 as the band played on.

It was a full house at the Ephrata VFW Post 3376 the evening of Nov. 1 as the band played on.

Across the nation, some Veterans of Foreign War Posts are closing up shop as memberships and funds keep dropping.
But at the Ephrata VFW, the officers and members are pushing forward and welcoming new – and younger – members, while making improvements to their building and events.
“Our country is creating more veterans every day,” said Dwayne Mackenzie, Commander of VFW Post 3376. “And we want to have them join for the camaraderie.”
“When we get the new veterans involved, good things happen,” said Mackenzie.
Many families frequent the VFW for events like taco night and wing night, every Wednesday and Thursday.
“It gets crowded and it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “The people here have a common goal of supporting veterans.”
Friday night dinners have also been brought back, said Mackenzie.
“We’re bringing back things that were popular and moving away from what wasn’t,” he explained.
Steak dinners are served on the second and fourth Friday of each month for only $12.
Memberships are available to anyone for a mere $28 per year. Non-veterans interested in joining may ask a member to sponsor them. If someone does not know a member to ask, they may simply ask an officer to be their sponsor.
VFW Post 3376 has been a non-smoking venue for the past three years, thanks to a vote by the members.
Alan Armstrong, 33, said that the enjoyable smoke-free environment is what prompted him to become a member.
Armstrong first went to the VFW with some friends to celebrate completing his reserve time in the United States Marine Corps.
The Ephrata native served in the Marines from 2007 to 2013, and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.
Armstrong said he immediately felt welcomed into the post, even as one of the younger members.
“They truly do value our input and new ideas,” he said. “The stereotype is that it is boring, and there is nothing but cranky old Vets.”
But in reality it is a great place to relax and play darts or pool, and get something to eat and drink, Armstrong said.
Sometimes the best part of a night at the VFW is the humor and wit from the older veterans, he added.
“Other rumors are that we don’t like or appreciate social members,” said Armstrong. “This is very far from the truth. We look at social members as loyal supporters of veterans and I hope that people will become aware that if it was not for our social members, this VFW might have closed its doors already.”
The camaraderie is unbeatable, and Armstrong’s vision for the post is to see it return to standing room only, with lines out the door for Friday night dinners.
“We are slowly adding weekly events and making smart changes to help our income increase,” he explained. “One of my main goals for the future is to renovate the second-floor hall, and get some bands to come play here.”
Veteran members make all of the decisions for the club – it is not run by just one person, but by a group of volunteer veterans seeking to serve their community.
“We made a conscientious decision that we want to support local organizations,” said Mackenzie.
Mackenzie served in the Air Force for 11 years, and met his wife, Amy, while they were both stationed in West Berlin.
She filled the commander position for the Ephrata VFW last year, and he took over as commander in June.
Gerald Stauffer is another younger VFW member and Ephrata native who joined Post 3376 after serving in the Army and National Guard.
“I enjoy it,” said Stauffer, who currently serves as Post Quartermaster. “It’s also a challenge to take over responsibilities of our predecessors of Post 3376. But I love the challenge, the officers, and the staff.”
Stauffer, 37, deployed twice to Iraq with the Army, and was medically discharged under honorable conditions in 2012 following a motorcycle crash.
“I joined the VFW because it supports other veterans and it’s a way for me to remain in that military brotherhood,” he explained.
Many people see the VFW as just another private club, said Stauffer.
But in contrast to private clubs, the VFW is a 100 -percent non-profit organization that supports the surrounding community.
“My hope is that our membership continues to grow, both veterans and social members alike,” said Stauffer. “The better the membership, the better we can provide support.”
The Ephrata VFW contributes to the town by heading up the annual Jack Frost Children’s Parade and hosting an annual children’s Christmas party.
Any organization seeking assistance is welcome to appeal to the VFW. Groups that the Ephrata VFW has supported most recently include the Ephrata High School Marching Unit, Boy Scouts of America, Major Dick Winters Leadership Memorial, The Arthritis Foundation, The American Diabetes Foundation, and Horizons of Northern Lancaster County.
The Patriot’s Pen Youth Essay Scholarship Contest, Voice of Democracy Youth Essay Scholarship Contest, and Scout of the Year Scholarship program are all sponsored by the Ephrata VFW.
Veteran members teach flag etiquette programs to local youth groups.
And if a local business or resident would like an American flag to display on their property, the VFW will give those out upon request, and free of charge.
Free medical equipment is available through the VFW for veterans and community members alike, said Mackenzie.
The post contributes to the Veterans Place and Beacon House, which provides local housing for homeless veterans.
Quarterly parties are hosted by the group at the Coatesville VA as a way to consistently reach out to injured veterans.
Veterans of any age who join will have access to service officers who come to the Ephrata VFW on a weekly basis to provide guidance and assistance.
They send care packages to active duty servicemen and women who are currently overseas.
And on Memorial Day and Veterans Day each year, their efforts to honor those who have served their country are reminders of the immense sacrifices so many have made for Americans to live in freedom.
Post 3376 organizes “Buddy Poppies” distribution, places American flags at the military gravesites every Memorial Day, and maintain the service flags at War Memorial Field. They also sponsor memorial wreaths at the Fort Indiantown Gap National Veterans Cemetery.

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