HAMLET — Roughly 80 veterans packed the Cole Auditorium Thursday to share a meal, and each others’ company, at the Senior Veteran’s Event.
The event was a chance to give thanks to the veterans, as well as provide opportunities for them to get connected with veterans groups and resources on how to get the services they need such as Veterans Affairs and Social Services, according to Jacqueline Welch, executive director of Richmond County Aging Services, who organized the event.
“[Aging Services] put on this event to bring veterans together and give something back,” said Dennis Holloway, a director with the North Carolina Baptist Men and communication liaison for AMVETS Post 316. “Most of them don’t do anything but sit around at home, they don’t have an active lifestyle and this gets them to where they all come together and they can all talk about their service.”
Richmond County Aging Services has provided these events for the last two years, and they try to hold three events a year, according to Welch. The events had previously been held at the Senior Center, but Welch said the program has grown so much that they needed to use Cole Auditorium.
“It really gives them somewhere to go where they can see other people who are going through the same process they are,” said Holloway, himself a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Lunch was provided by Freedom Baptist Church Brotherhood, 10-10-10 Ministries and Purdue Foods, with Richmond Senior High School JROTC cadets helping serve the food.
“I like to see the church packed out but I’d rather see people out during the week, serving the Lord,” said Ronnie McLean, senior pastor for Freedom Baptist Church.
Jasmine Ratliff, a senior at Richmond High and one of the cadets serving the food, said she enjoyed the opportunity to meet veterans.
“It’s pretty cool because you get to ask them about their experience and what they went through,” said Ratliff, who hopes to become an officer after college.
While the veterans ate, the Chris Sorrell Project, a band made up of Chris Sorrell, a retired police officer, and Neil Ray, who served in the Air Force from 1975-79, played covers of “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne and “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others.
They were invited by Tess Holtzapfel, president of Community Patriot Arts Center, which provides veterans with various artistic outlets for their experiences. Ray said that the band had been picking up momentum since working with Holtzapfel in May.
Both men are lifelong musicians, though with different trades. Sorrell started playing guitar when he was 12 years old and Ray was first published as a poet when he was in third grade, now playing percussion. Sorrell said his years in law enforcement left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, and with his band he hopes to raise awareness about the experiences of police officers who can often be forgotten among those who’s service has left lasting damage.
“This is me pursuing my creative outlet, writing music and using the project as a forum to help Tess out with the veterans,” Sorrell said. “Because I’m retired police, my heart is kind of in that direction, too, so with the project I’m trying to…focus on getting people’s attention towards the fact that law enforcement gets forgotten a lot.”
Also with Holtzapfel was Justin Spears, a 12-year veteran who spent seven-and-a-half of those years in combat overseas. Spears said he picked up painting only about eight months ago after a few years out of the service, though you wouldn’t be able to tell that from looking at his work which was on display at the event.
“I wasn’t sure what to do with myself and it gave me a way to help relax,” Spears said. “There’s a peace that you get when you’re creating.”
Spears said that he was taking his paintings to a local coffee shop to showcase them when he was introduced to Holtzapfel. Since then he has started to see more and more veterans dealing with the weight of their service through artistic means.
“When I first started I didn’t have a community — that’s what Tess and the Patriot Arts Center did,” Spears said. “They’re opening me up to the community and allowing me to help people.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674.
From left, members of AMVETS Post 316 Johnny Patrick, Dennis Holloway, Johnny Autry and Lacy Shepherd fold the American flag at the Senior Veteran’s event on Thursday at the Cole Auditorium.
Richmond Senior High School JROTC cadets Khalaja Parker, right, and Jasmine Ratliff serve food to attendees at the Senior Veteran’s event on Thursday at the Cole Auditorium.