El Cajon Library stages Celebrate our Military event

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The El Cajon County Library was site of a belated commemoration of Veterans Day. On Nov. 22, the Celebrate Our Military event brought together librarians, community officials and library patrons to honor and support local active-duty and retired military troops.

The Navy Seabreeze Combo entertained the audience outside the library during the early portion of the four-hour event. Hildie Kraus, branch director at the El Cajon County Library, welcomed those in attendance.

The El Cajon County Library was site of a belated commemoration of Veterans Day. On Nov. 22, the Celebrate Our Military event brought together librarians, community officials and library patrons to honor and support local active-duty and retired military troops.

The Navy Seabreeze Combo entertained the audience outside the library during the early portion of the four-hour event. Hildie Kraus, branch director at the El Cajon County Library, welcomed those in attendance.

“There are many veterans and active-duty military in our area,” she said. “My father and grandfather were veterans.”

Susan Moore, County Library deputy director, said that San Diego County is home to more than 320,000 veterans and active-duty troops, and that the library system has hosted more than 60 programs at multiple library locations to aid veterans and educate non-military members of the public about going to war. San Diego’s veteran population is the second largest in California and the third largest in the nation.

Information tables were scattered throughout the library courtyard, and staff members from organizations that deliver veterans services answered questions about their offerings and assistance. One senior veteran browsing among the tables was Dave Williams, who served in the Marine Corps for five years and was distinguished as a member of the “Frozen Chosin,” who fought in one of the most, if not the most, famous battles in Marine Corps history, at the Chosin Reservoir.

“We were the first in combat in Korea,” Williams related, “and we raised the first American flag to fly in Seoul.”

Ray Harris, who served as an assistant chaplain in the Army, held an armful of brochures and business cards. Harris plans to move to El Cajon permanently from Manhattan, and he was researching benefits and programs to assist his cross-country relocation. He has been volunteering at the Holy Trinity Chapel.

Juan Rangel is the accredited veteran service representative manning the El Cajon Library office hours for the County Veterans Services Office, currently scheduled for two half-day sessions each month. He was there for community outreach to boost awareness of the program’s existence.

“I’m happy to volunteer to be out here on weekends,” Rangel said.

He reported that the library hours are attracting more veterans seeking help, with visitors to the library hours more than doubling since the county project started in the spring. Rangel is himself a veteran who served for eight years in the Navy during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Ross Moore, a contractor with the Virtual Counselor Network, explained his organization’s companion library program. The VCN is a real-time collaboration platform for secure video conferencing and private communication about counseling services available to individuals in various population groups, which began with emphasis a few years ago on mortgages and foreclosures. The VCN is valuable for veterans living in outlying areas of San Diego County, providing easily accessible facilities in libraries so that infirm veterans are not required to travel to gain benefits earned through their military service. 

City dignitaries also appeared to greet the veterans and their supporters.

“This is an important day in El Cajon,” said Mayor Bill Wells. “We are here honoring veterans, especially our local young men and women who put on the uniform. When they return, we want them to know they’ve got a place, where they can settle down and raise children, and that veterans are going to be first in line to get jobs here in East County.”

Councilmember Tony Ambrose addressed the crowd and thanked them for being there.

Information being provided included resources specifically targeted to aid veterans. One such resource involved counseling on housing rights, with a focus on particular circumstances that a veteran might encounter, such as improper denial of tenancy in a no pets rental, for housing a trained service animal to assist with disabilities acquired from military service. Educational benefits information was available at the table featuring Grossmont Adult School classes. Financial assistance advice was being offered through the Fleet & Family Support Program.

The Southern Caregiver Resource Center’s representative was handing out literature on Operation Family Caregiver, an evidence-based training program free of charge to family members providing care for wounded veterans. SCRC is San Diego County’s leading provider of services to family caregivers.

Other programs on display included agencies linked with San Diego County’s Employment Services department, for help landing jobs. Representatives from the area veterans service organizations manned tables, inviting new veterans to join The American Legion’s El Cajon Post 303 or the Veterans of Foreign Wars “SABLE” Post 2275, which serves Santee, Alpine, Bostonia, Lakeside and El Cajon (hence, the acronym).

In the children’s section of the library, youngsters were provided paper and other craft materials to create personalized cards to be sent to active-duty service members. Friends of the El Cajon Library conducted one of the group’s periodic book sales, offering a bag for $1 to be filled with used books of the customer’s choice. These patron fundraisers for the library hold such events every three to four months.

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