Many local veterans service organizations are looking for new recruits to help them carry out missions in their communities after watching their roster numbers decline.
“We go down every year,” said Lawrence Leroy Huettner, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7760 in Portage.
Huettner estimated the post has about 100 members and its auxiliary has about the same number of people involved in it.
He and other leaders of area veterans organizations attribute falling membership to “older guys dying off” and a struggle to find younger veterans willing to join.
Signing up new members might be difficult, but it isn’t impossible.
“The other day I got two new members in their 30s,” Huettner said, “That’s young for us.”
Larry Higgins, commander of American Legion Post 180 in Highland, agrees it’s challenging to bring in younger veterans, but he has found a method that has helped recruitment with his group, which now has a roster of about 250 people.
Higgins said he’s encouraged younger veterans to join by explaining the significance of the groups. Huettner also believes more awareness of the service organizations could help bring in new recruits.
The posts help veterans during financial struggles by helping pay utility bills and purchasing groceries for them. They are able to accomplish that by raising money through breakfast fundraisers, selling poppies and other events.
The organizations also offer programs to help struggling families in the area in numerous ways, including providing food baskets and meals around Thanksgiving.
Higgins said there are scholarship opportunities and other youth programs also available through the posts.
“We try to do whatever we can,” he said.
Huettner said local organizations help veterans find employment. They also assist veterans by advocating for better benefits for them.
“It gives them a voice,” Higgins said.
Drawing members a work in progress
Another method some veterans groups are using to sign up new members is by offering a free year of membership, said Ray Chlupacek, quartermaster of the VFW Post 1130 in LaPorte.
He said that always isn’t effective, and many members don’t renew after their first year.
Although veterans groups have seen their membership numbers drop, that doesn’t mean they are all facing financial challenges.
Terry Wilson, commander of the American Legion Post 16 in Munster, said his group has held steady at around 135 members during the last several years and has been financially stable.
He said there are many posts in the area that are facing funding challenges because of a drop in membership.
American Legion Post 430 in Merrillville was among those facing some tough times recently.
The group at one time had about 400 members, but it is now down to about 140 people, said John Minchuk, a member of the post.
The organization is now operating in the black following some recent fundraisers, but it isn’t completely out of the woods, Minchuk said.
“We’re like a person working payday to payday,” he said.
Minchuk said Post 430 is hoping to improve its financial situation by attracting new members with more outreach and events.