Bolingbrook VFW Post boasts 420 percent hike in membership
While many VFWs struggle for members, Bolingbrook’s is flourishing
BOLINGBROOK – Summer is “busy season” for the Bolingbrook-based Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 5917.
Led by Commander Robert Adame, Adjutant Herschel Nelson, Quarter Master Brian Juergensmeyer, and Past Commander and Illinois State Recruiter George Foy, the local band of brothers has recruited 127 new members since July 1.
It was only three years ago that VFW Post 5917 had 122 members; but, thanks to a few new recruiting tactics and revised event planning, the group has seen a remarkable 420 percent increase in three years, bringing their membership total to 521 veterans.
“We are not getting any younger,” said Foy, a career U.S. Army soldier who amassed more than 30 years of service and completed tours in Cambodia, Central and South America, the Middle East and Bosnia. “But there are plenty of young soldiers – veterans who are arriving home from service daily.”
About one million U.S. World War II veterans – most of whom are at least 80 years old – will be alive by the beginning of 2014, but the population of WWII vets is decreasing by 1,000 every day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Similarly, only 7 million Vietnam veterans remain in the United States, according the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Prior to 2010, few members of VFW Post 5917 were younger than 30 and the recruitment numbers were stagnant, Foy said.
The Bolingbrook VFW officers then agreed to amplify recruiting tactics. What started as a VFW information table at local events soon spiraled into a recruitment team, several community service outtings, scholarship funds, food and clothing drives, fundraisers and holiday parties.
“The goal was to project the VFW to the community,” Nelson said. “While only veterans can join the VFW, our work and service benefits Bolingbrook and the surrounding community. We are always coming up with new ideas – new clothing drives, school supply drives, working with Boy Scouts, and holiday parades and parties.”
Their work has not gone unnoticed. During the 2013 VFW National Convention, Post 5917 took home several awards, including honors that recognized their newsletter, their work with the Boy Scouts of America, the local poppy program and a first place recruiting designation.
“People in the state wonder how this recruitment boom has happening since we don’t have a permanent post to hold meetings and events,” Adame said, explaining that the Bolingbrook VFW only operates out of a shared office space at 201B Canterbury Lane.
“It’s because we have made a concerted effort to attract younger members. We get them involved right away, we make them feel welcomed. We accept anyone that has served in a war, and we have even thrown a few welcome home parties when these young soldiers returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
VFW Post 5719 is not showing signs of slowing down.
Last weekend, Foy and fellow recruiters traveled to Springfield, setting their recruiting sights on the Illinois State Fair. Meanwhile, Nelson and Adame stayed in Bolingbrook, planning a back to school fundraiser and preparing for the upcoming Pathways and Veterans Day parades.
“We just do,” Nelson said. “We help people, we help each other, we serve the Bolingbrook community. That’s what we do.”