American Veterans First (AVF) celebrated the Grand Re-Opening of its facilities in a new location in Riverbank on Saturday, Feb. 27 with a get together that featured a heartfelt keynote speech and presentations to and from supporters from across the community.
It’s a larger space than where they were previously located on Patterson Road, now at 6436 Oakdale Road.
They’ve carved out a corner of the Event Center building there where eContactLive has operated for several years, surrounded by ‘rolling’ walls. The reopening festivities on Saturday used the rest of the center area, and was well attended.
Keynote speaker was Josh Whitfield, a representative for state Assemblyman Heath Flora, as well as Athletic Director and girls basketball coach at Waterford High School.
He spoke as a veteran of five years as a Calvary Scout in the U.S. Army, referring many times to the debt owed those many service men and women who didn’t return from their conflicts.
Also presenting recognition was Katie Jaycox, representing 10th District Congressman Josh Harder’s office. In doing so, she pointed out that she was the offspring of two veterans of the Vietnam era. She said her mother was a nurse there, and her father served three tours.
California Assemblyman Heath Flora was also on hand, and recognized participating members of the Mid-Cal Blue Star Moms, Vietnam Veterans of America, as well as AVF. The three groups share space in the new set up.
“These organizations do so much to serve those who served our nation,” Flora said. “Thank you can never be enough.”
And he presented AVF President John Hinkel and Founder Duke Cooper with a check for $1000 to help out with expenses.
Building owner Julie Hutchings, of eContactLive, also received recognition as host of the new AVF facility.
After the festivities, refreshments were served from a mobile kitchen set up in the parking lot, just outside the front door.
In the five years that AVF has active in the community they have assisted several veterans in the area with a variety of issues. The new building on Oakdale Road has already broadened their reach and ability to offer new services to the veteran community like new counseling sessions. They have shipped packages to service men and women overseas, properly disposed of American flags, displayed how to properly fold the flag, arranged for distribution of scooters, hygiene kits, and a number of events and much more.
“This is the best event we have done,” stated Cooper about the Grand Re-Opening. “The thing that really humbled me is that I could tell that everyone was enjoying themselves and the comments and responses were absolutely great.”
Bill’s Grub Truck out of Oakdale posted up outside the new AVF facility and offered guests a few food selections at no cost.
The event was well attended with approximately 150 people that also included support from Oakdale Mayor Cherilyn Bairos, District 1 Supervisor Buck Condit, several veterans from World War II to Afghanistan and Riverbank City Councilmember, District 2, Rachel Hernandez.
“Too often, our veterans do not receive the services they need. We are so fortunate to have them providing advocacy and resources here, in Riverbank,” Hernandez said of the local organization. “The re-opening of AVF was inspiring and uplifting in a time when so many need it most.”
The National Anthem was played followed by Taps with Whitfield then presenting the keynote address. Hutchings was also given an American flag that was flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on 9/11 in 2015, presented at the event by AVF.
“The turnout was awesome,” remarked Hinkel. “I really didn’t know what to expect. You put the word out and you never know. I was really pleased. A lot of people came. It was really nice. A lot of veterans were there. Everything went well.”
AVF has remained open through the pandemic and as Hinkel noted, they are essential and have adjusted their operations but continue to help veterans.
Both Hinkel and Cooper are also appreciative of the new arrangement, sharing space and working cooperatively with Hutchings in the endeavor.
“She is a sweetheart,” said Cooper. “She is a patriot to the max and was very deserving and appreciative of the flag. It brought tears to her eyes.”
News reporter Virginia Still contributed to this story.