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American Legion Auxiliary Unit 57's fundraiser proceeds donated to tiny home project in Bend

There is no greater feeling than the pride of overcoming adversity to achieve a goal.

Dana Speer, the president of Newberg's American Legion Auxiliary Unit 57, felt that flutter of pride when she handed a $5,000 check to Debra Godwin, the organization's state president, during a quarterly group meeting in March.

Godwin had asked the local unit in November to help her raise $10,000 to support Veterans Village, an ongoing project in Bend that provides transitional housing for homeless veterans and prepares them to reenter society.

But then Speer's unit hit a bump in the road. Their planned public banquet and auction in March fell through and Godwin figured she wouldn't receive a penny from them. COURTESY PHOTO: NEWBERG AMERICAN LEGION AUXILIARY - The Newberg American Legion Auxiliary presented a $5,000 check to Debra Godwin, the organization's state president, during a quarterly group meeting in March.

So, when Speer handed Godwin a check for half of the total amount she had requested, Godwin was speechless.

"She said, 'I'm going to have a heart attack,'" Speer recalled. "And I got the best hug ever, too."

Since then, Godwin has raised over $11,000 with time left in the fundraiser.

American Legion Auxiliary is an organization dedicated to serving veterans and their families. Composed of spouses, daughters and granddaughters of veterans, the auxiliary is just one branch of the American Legion family, but the only offshoot reserved for families and married partners.

"We're a small branch, but I think we do a good job," said Speer, who served 12 years as an Army nurse in the reserves.

When they couldn't sell enough tickets to pay to cater the banquet, Unit 57 shifted course. They canceled the caterer and set up a St. Patrick's Day-themed potluck at the senior center for American Legion members instead, along with a public raffle.

"When that (banquet) fell through, we felt we needed to say thank you to the members who worked hard," Speer said.

Local businesses also stepped up. For instance, Highline Firearms donated a rifle, which was purchased for $2,360, and the owner of Reid Rental donated $1,000.

"It just makes you feel special that someone would think that highly of (the event) to donate a sizeable chunk," Speer said.

Other businesses donated money and raffle items as well.

Godwin, who is serving a one-year term as state auxiliary president, chose Veterans Village as her President's Project.

Veterans Village started in Bend a few years ago after one particularly brutal winter killed numerous unsheltered veterans. So far, the village supports eight tiny homes, with a goal of 15.

In addition to providing transitional housing, the facility offers anything its residents might need, including laundry service, counseling, drug and alcohol addiction treatment and resources to help them find permanent housing and jobs.

Speer said the funds raised by the state auxiliary will go toward building more tiny homes.

Describing residents in Veterans Villages as often "very divorced from society," Speer said veterans are more susceptible than the general population to homelessness and addiction.

"No one understands them," she said. "And it's very hard for them to accept help, to go from a position where they for the most part took care of others and served their county. And then now they're home, they've been changed by whatever happened to them."

To cope, some veterans turn to drugs and alcohol.

"War changes a person, when you see death and you're living at a high intensity," Speer said. "You don't know who you can trust. You look at the world differently."

Even though Veterans Village has only been around for a few years, Speer said it appears to be working. She estimated that it takes two years for veterans to transition out of the program and obtain a job and permanent housing.

Knowing this, Speer said Godwin wants to create a Veterans Village in Yamhill County, due to the high number of homeless veterans living in the area.

"Bend has shown that you can transition people from homelessness to being productive members of society and finding a support group that understands where you've been and what you've been through," Speer said.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for more Unit 57 fundraising events for Veterans Village.

For instance, Unit 57 is in the processing of figuring out the best way to auction off a print from local photographer Todd Klingler.

"We obviously haven't had a lot of luck with fundraisers, so we need to find a way to reach more people with this particular donation," Speer said.

In addition to monetary donations, the village is looking for personal care items, blankets and hats for winter. All donations will be loaded on a truck this summer and taken to Veterans Village.

People interested in donating can drop off supplies during Unit 57 meetings, which take place at the Chehalem Park and Recreation District building in the Falcon Crest room on the first Thursday of every month. Meeting start times switch from 7 p.m. to 11 a.m. every other month. The next meeting, May 5, will begin at 11 a.m.

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