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VFW Post 12065 puts on Family Freedom Festival

October 23, 2017

Fred and Patricia Wesley had a busy Saturday.

The husband-and-wife team led efforts on behalf of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12065’s first ever Family Freedom Festival, which ran Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. in the Cyr-Gates Community Center, in City Park.

“Our goal was to present all of the programs and services available to veterans, and for their families and their youth,” said Fred Wesley, a national recruiter for the VFW. “We wanted to give the community an opportunity to come and see what is available and what isn’t available, from the treatment of veteran’s illnesses to educational benefits. We have people here from the VA, from other groups,” he said. “And it’s also just an opportunity to come meet veterans, or for veterans to meet each other and talk.”

Several tables were set up and manned by representatives from different organizations, offering guidance and information on community health, veterans health, scholarship information and more. There was also a patriotic arts and crafts stand, where children colored in the American flag and drew portraits of eagles.

Visitors signed in at a table near the festival’s entrance and received a card. After traveling to each table they received a stamp; once every table had been marked off on a visitor’s card, they could enter their card into a raffle for a brand new Roadmaster bike, which stood atop a table at the head of the festival, festooned in glittering, patriotic pageantry.

“It’s set up to make sure everyone sees what is available,” said Wesley.

Wesley’s wife, Patricia, said she’s been involved with the VFW as long as they’ve been married.

“He (Fred Wesley) is a Vietnam vet. I found out what they go through, and I’ve been a veterans’ advocate ever since. And not just for him but for all veterans. It’s just not right, that they’d go off to fight in a foreign country then come back home and still have to fight for the benefits they were promised,” she said. “And I’ll say — no one does more for our veterans than this organization.”

Gaston Dupas, a former Post Commander and now Post Quartermaster for Post 12065, was manning an information booth on veterans health benefits at Saturday’s festival. Over the course of 20 years of active duty, Dupas has served in Bosnia, Iraq and Korea, and as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan.

“We sponsor programs like this to try to create an awareness of the veterans in our community, and also an awareness among the veterans of the community about what assistance is available to them,” he said. “A lot don’t know what’s available — especially what’s available for their families and for youth.”

Judging by the gaggle of children dancing around the tables and coloring in flags at the arts and crafts table, the VFW is achieving its goals.