It’s a brisk fall morning as the leaves blow from the trees over the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center (PNC) parking lot. A few men wearing their military caps greet each other with a friendly smile and proceed into the building together. Once up on the second floor they bustle about with a dedicated sense of purpose; making coffee, putting out the baked goods, making sure each table has a tablecloth, and the flag is displayed. Its another gathering of the twice-monthly RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) Veterans’ Coffeehouse, that meets the second and fourth Thursday of the month at the PNC on Chase Street.
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A few minutes before 0900 veterans from Westerly, Stonington, Mystic, and Groton enter the welcoming atmosphere and greet each other with handshakes and hugs, the all-in-good-fun ribbing begins about each of their respective military services; Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marines.
Don is one of the RSVP volunteers who help set up the coffeehouse activities. He was in the Navy for 20 years as a nuclear-trained Machinist Mate and his highest rank was Chief (MMC(SS)). Don retired as Commander, Submarine Squadron Two’ Supply Officer in 1994 as a Lieutenant.
The coffeehouse provides a social and inviting place for veteran men and women and their spouses to meet other veterans, enjoy refreshments, hear engaging speakers, and connect with agencies that provide veterans’ services. The coffeehouse project was initiated by TVCCA (Thames Valley Council for Community Service) Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) more than six years ago with a pilot coffeehouse gathering in Windham County. Since then five more have started in Norwich, Mystic, Groton, New London, and Pawcatuck.
With Westerly just a short distance walk from its Connecticut neighbor, the coffeehouse unites both veteran communities with former military men and women from the Westerly VFW, American Legion, and Westerly Armory, attending the meetings. Dan LaPointe, Navy Vietnam veteran hosts The Veterans Hour, on Westerly’s WBLQ radio station and has been a regular attendee of the coffeehouse along with his wife Valerie who brings delicious baked goods and comes in support of Dan and his proud military experience.
At each meeting, there is a veterans service representative or social service professional that can assist veterans with VA benefits and other important resource information they might need to access health care, obtain hearing aids, or financial assistance. Another engaging feature of each coffeehouse is special presentations of awarded medals and Quilts of Valor for their service.
‘We are 99 percent of our medicine,” says Marvin Serruto, the Veterans’ Coffeehouse Coordinator and Navy veteran.
He makes this positive statement at each coffeehouse gathering after the signature Pledge of Allegiance as he refers to the importance of the meetings.
“We love gatherings, this is our social hub and we get the information out to tell people what resources are available and to make people feel comfortable,” says Marvin.
In this new grant-funded position Marvin hosts and facilitates meetings at the other five coffeehouses and passionately states “this is his dream job.”
Coffee throughout American military history has been a unifying force among Veterans, with documented statements about its significance both on the battlefield and off dating back as far as the Civil War (1861-65). Captain Robert K. Beecham recounts his military experience in the Union Army during the Civil War in a book titled As If It Were Glory:
“The power of the soldiers to endure the fatigue of the march and keep their places in the ranks was greatly enhanced by an opportunity to brew a cup of coffee by the wayside,” wrote Beecham.
More than 150 years later and a few more historical wars notched into America’s military belt and veterans are still finding common ground in meeting over a cup of joe here on the shoreline through the RSVP Veterans Coffeehouse.
Meet and socialize with other veterans. Receive information about veterans’ benefits and services.
Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, 27 Chase St. / Second & Fourth Thursday of the month / 9-11 a.m.
For more information contact Marvin Serruto / 860-425-6615 / firstname.lastname@example.org