By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Educating the public and getting actively involved in the community are two things that the Forestville Village Post No. 209 hopes to accomplish in Bristol.
For a group of at least 20 veterans, being a member of Post 209 means going back to basics, as they educate the public about the largest wartime veterans service organization worldwide, one that dates back to 1919— the American Legion.
A nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization, the American Legion supports the issues that are most important to the nation’s veterans community, backed by resolutions passed by volunteer leadership. At present, the legion has about 2.4 million members in 14,000 posts across the country, according to the nonprofit’s website.
“This is an organization that we’re very passionate about,” said Woodin, noting how many people in the community may be unaware of what the American Legion is.
Besides educating others, Post 209 also hopes to promote all of the Legion’s programs.
“We have plenty of Legion programs that we’re going to sponsor and promote anywhere from homelessness to scholarships—there’s such a wide variety of areas that the Legion covers,” said Bristol veteran Chuck Woodin, who has played a lead role in starting post 209. “Wherever the community requests our presence, we’re going to be there. It’s an organization that’s community-based.”
Post 209 member Ray LaBossiere said one program Post 209 looks forward to is the annual Oratorical Contest, which gives participants an academic speaking challenge that teaches important leadership qualities, the history of America’s laws, an understanding of the duties, responsibilities, rights and privileges of American citizenship, and the ability to think and speak clearly.
Through the contest, countless high school and home school students gain a deeper understanding of the U.S. Constitution, and hundreds of participants win scholarship awards at the Post level for their speeches that explore the meaning of the Constitution. Posts participating in the contest conduct the initial program by the end of January and will send the winner onto the district competition, which will take place in February before the state title takes place in March.
“(The) Oratorical (Contest) is a big program of the American Legion,” added Woodin.
Many of the members of Post 209 are Bristol residents and hope to stay there. In Bristol alone, there are an estimated 6,200 veterans. Woodin said Bristol veterans now have a choice when deciding which Post to join.
The idea to form a post in Forestville officially began to take flight in July. Official elections for nominated officers of the post will take place this month. At least 28 veterans are involved in Post 209 currently. The post received its temporary charter Dec. 1, and is eligible to apply for a permanent charter 90 days from issuance of the temporary one.
“The need is there—it will continue to be there,” said Tom Wood, a member of Post 209.
“We’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years.”
Post 209 hosts monthly meetings at Asbury United Methodist Church, which is located in the heart of Forestville on Church Avenue. The post plans to have meetings there until it acquires its own home in the future, which will not possess a liquor permit and will be smoke-free.
Calling Forestville a proud community, Woodin said having a post in that part of Bristol will enhance its identity greatly nationwide. Many of the post’s members already have a great deal of experience in the American Legion, said Woodin, noting how Post 209 consists of past post commanders, a senior vice commander for the district, and a district commander.
“It will definitely help out the identity of Forestville,” said Woodin, who has roots to Forestville. “Wherever we go, we’re going to have our Legion caps on that are now going to say Forestville, Conn. on them.”
Wood said veterans are not limited to joining a post that is located in the town or city they live in, as they are allowed to get involved in any Post that meets their needs and interests. Wood has been involved with the Legion for 14 years now.
“You find a Post that meets the needs or what you’re interested in,” said Wood, who lives in Southington.
Woodin hopes the post’s membership will grow, especially reaching out to younger veterans. He hopes to find out the needs of younger veterans in order to deepen their involvement.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of one-on-one with the younger veterans to find out what they want, what they’re hoping for,” said Roland Lamothe, who grew up in Forestville.
“We really need to get out there and reach out to female veterans, and that’s going to be a big goal for this Post,” added Woodin.
The Legion is based on four pillars: Americanism, national security, children and youth, and veterans affairs and rehabilitation. Members of Post 209 said they will pride themselves on following and promoting those pillars, and helping veterans in need will serve as a main objective.
“We’re there for them and wherever they need us to be,” said Post 209 member Brian
Avery. “Large or small, the community is our mission statement—we’re here for them.”
“We can help, we can talk with a younger vet, or an older vet,” said Lamothe.
“We are here in Forestville, but what we do here has an impact on everything that’s going on in the state and nation.”
Any veterans interested in joining Post 209 can contact Roland Lamothe at (860) 582-0409. The next monthly membership meeting will take place on Monday, Jan. 19, 7:30 p.m. at Asbury United Methodist Church. Doors open at 7 p.m.
For more information about the American Legion, visit www.legion.org.
Comments? Email lcapobianco@Bristol Observer.com.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO