“This place is a Godsend”: Dubuque’s Veteran’s Freedom Center reopens for the first time since pandemic shutdown
DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - The Veteran’s Freedom Center in Dubuque opened its doors for the first time on Thursday since the pandemic forced it to shut down last year.
According to Terry Shaffer, one of the veterans who frequents the center, staying away for a whole year was quite the challenge.
“I missed a lot of the camaraderie that comes along,” he said. “That is what we missed: the connection that we do have.”
The Freedom Center has served around 8,000 veterans each year. Veteran Billy Gray said it is more than just a place where they can come and hang out and have fun. He said it is a place where they find peace by connecting with people who have gone through similar life experiences.
“I am more comfortable around people here than I am outside, because they understand me and I understand them,” Gray said.
But now they get to come back.
“This morning, my wife said to me, ‘What are you going to do today?’,” veteran Dave Neuhaus said. “I looked at my watch and it was 8 o’clock and I said, ‘Well, in another hour I can go back home again.”
Jim Wagner, who co-founded the center, said this is precisely what the center means for some of the veterans: a second home.
“I am really excited and last night I do not even think I slept much,” he confessed.
Wagner said it would not have been possible to reopen the center without the help of the volunteers, who are a part of the family as the veterans. One of those volunteers is Katy Yahnke.
“I love these guys, I tell them that,” she said. “And whatever I can do to help, whether it is putting stuff away, making a meal, yelling at somebody, which I do on a regular basis, I look forward to coming down here.”
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