- Associated Press - Sunday, May 28, 2017

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - Gary Fullbright never tried woodworking during his first 60 years of life.

Now, the everyday volunteer at Veterans Freedom Center in Dubuque is as familiar with a scroll saw or a spindle sander as he is the national anthem.

“I’ve been doing it for about six years now,” he said. “I never touched one before the (center) opened. It’s nice. You can just progress at your own pace.”

Fullbright isn’t alone working in the fully stocked woodworking shop inside the center. Co-founder Al Howell said about 30 veterans visit the center each day, and five to 10 of them use the shop.

The veterans make everything from ornate picture frames, birdhouses or clocks to their famous customized pens.

“I think the bolt-action pen is probably the most popular,” said Jim Wagner, the center’s other co-founder. “And the deer antler pens. We don’t sell the pens, but we’re able to take any free-will donations for them.”

The seven-year-old center does not take any federal or state money. It operates completely on fundraisers, donations and volunteers. It has no paid employees.

Wanger, 69, said the wood shop is not only good for producing raffle prizes and donations, but it serves as a place for veterans to keep their minds busy with something productive.

“Especially some of the guys with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or TBI (traumatic brain injury),” he said. “It gets their mind off everything. Plus, it shows them they can do this stuff. A lot of times they think they can’t, but they really can.”

Wagner said almost all the materials are donated from local people and businesses, so the vets can work on whatever they want free of charge. The wood shop can produce products made from oak, walnut, birch, cherry and more varieties of wood.

“One of the big things we push with the guys is, ‘Yes, you can,’” Howell said. “‘Don’t tell me you can’t. Tell me you don’t want to.’”

The center offers other opportunities for veterans to get creative, even if woodworking isn’t their thing, the Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/2qebguA ) reported.

John “Julio” Rogers is in charge of craft projects at the center.

“We get the kits in here to make wallets, belt buckles, all kinds of different things,” he said. “The whole idea is to keep them busy and keep them occupied.”

All the project kits are donated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The birdhouse and bird feeder kits are the most popular right now because of the time of year, Rogers said. The crafts, like the woodworking products, help support the center.

“They have an option,” Rogers said. “If they don’t want to take (what they make) home, then that’s stuff we use to either get donations for or take to benefits to get donations.”

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com


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