AVON PARK — American Legion Post 69 in Avon Park hosted its ‘Assisting Our Veterans’ Exposition on a very warm Saturday, March 13.

“This event is focused on the needs of our local veterans,” said Larry Roberts, American Legion Department of Florida Entitlements Chairman and the VetRelief Chairman. “We want to make sure we get them the information and services they need.”

There was a lot to see and do at the Expo. The Veteran’s Benefit Fair had about 50 vendors with benefit information, a silent auction, 50/50 raffle, door prizes, food vendors and crafts.

Challenge 22: Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Initiative was a one-mile walk to raise awareness of the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day.

PROJECT: VetRelief was focused on veteran suicide prevention as well. A very important phone number is the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, press 1.

The opening ceremony was hosted by Roberts. The Post Chaplin read a moving poem titled “I Wish I Would Have Met You,” followed by a prayer and a slide presentation.

It took many volunteers to make this event happen under the direction of Roberts. Additional assistance came from The Sebring and Avon Park High School Jr. ROTC Air Force members.

The K9 Veterans Day Celebration allowed people to interact with the Highlands County K9 unit, K9 Line, K9 Partners for Patriots and Wolfhounds Legacy. March 13 was K9 Veterans Day.

“All of the fees collected for the Car & Bike Show go directly to VetRelief,” said Mike Halsey, Commander of the Avon Park Sons of the American Legion. “We’re awarding trophies for Best of Show and 2nd place for cars and bikes.”

American Legion Post 24 Kirby Stewart, out of Bradenton, was represented by Ed Padilla, co-district services officer. “Our AL Riders is a major charity that supports VetRelief. We help veterans file claims for injuries, assist when they are in financial crisis, need housing, are affected by COVID and much more. We’re still working with active claims for Agent Orange, Burn Pit and Blue Water.”

There were quite a few vendors and included Highlands County Veterans Services, US Department of Veterans Affairs, SOF Missions, Wolfhounds Legacy, K9 Line, The Florida American Legion, Neptune Society, Neuroleumen, United Healthcare, Humana, Young Living Essential Oils, Bike Repair and Concerned Veterans for America.

Commander David Fearnley, with Ridge Chapter 49 of the DAV Highlands County, was talking to veterans about joining their group. Help is available to disabled veterans through this organization.

The FD4V, Freedom Drivers 4 Veterans, are hosting their ninth annual Golf Tournament on Saturday, Nov. 13 at The Bluffs golf course in Zolfo Springs. Brenda Stewart and Judy Trier were in the booth providing information.

Jack Maliszewski with Wolfhounds Legacy talked about the organization. “We started about five years ago and placed seven dogs. In 2020 we placed 44. It takes nine months for the dog and vet to be ready. These are service dogs for them. The dogs are exposed to music events, elevators, shopping malls, airports, so they are used to loud noises and crowds. They are trained down in the Cape Coral area.”

Amanda Macias (Community Relations Coordinator) was providing information on Comfort Keepers home care. Tammie Meeks (Professional Relations Representative) and Chaplin Juan Unda-Azua were assisting people looking for information on Good Shepherd Hospice.

Jim Ramos, Past Deputy Commander with the Florida American Legion, was there to tell the story of the American Legion. “The organization was started in 1919, so we’re 102 years old. We’re looking for veterans of all ages, all services who served from 12/7/1941 through now. We also have our auxiliary for spouses and the Sons of the American Legion.”