Connecticut post facing possible closure of building stages six-digit fundraising effort

Connecticut post facing possible closure of building stages six-digit fundraising effort

Bolton-Kasica-Patterson Post 68 in Berlin, Ct., was charted in 1920. Around 27 years later, its membership built a facility to call home. But that facility was in danger of possibly closing down a few years ago. The roof needed severe repairs, and the post was out of money.

But after what amounted to close to a two-year fundraising effort, the post has a repaired roof and a little bit of money left over to make the day-to-day operations and any future repairs a little easier. And it’s because of a complete American Legion Family effort, along with support from the community, that allowed Post 68 to raise nearly $130,000 during that span.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Vince Triglia, who has served as post commander for 13 years and has been a member for 23. “We were kind of living paycheck to paycheck. We do have a canteen, but once COVID hit, obviously all operations were shut down. And that nearly killed us. We had literally no income. I thought this was it, that we were going to have to give everything up but our charter.

“But we made it through. We really sort of defied the odds. We’re not exactly rolling in dough, but … we went from not having anything in our pockets to having something at least to fall back on for that just in case, rainy day type of thing.”

Triglia said that before the pandemic hit, the Town of Berlin received funding to provide grants for façade upgrades throughout the community – one of which was designated for Post 68. The only condition was that the grant would pay for half of the cost of the upgrade, while the post would cover the other half.

“The bottom line was, we had no money,” Triglia said. “Through the years there was regular wear and tear. And we didn’t have the money (to match the grant), so we got bypassed on that.”

Triglia said a veteran who served on the Berlin Economic Development Commission started to help the post get local contractors to help with low-cost/no-cost maintenance. “But our biggest problem was that we were having roof problems,” he said. “Any heavy rainfall and we would take in as much as two to four inches of water.”

At that point, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 68, Karen Mortensen Cote, led a unit effort that took the lead on fundraising efforts. “Her backstory was that she had done fundraising … and these ladies put together all kinds of fundraisers, from dances to comedy shows, car shows to dinners,” he said. “There was a whole list of that they did and assisted us with. We did it as a Legion Family, and she kind of spearheaded it.”

Word of the fundraising effort spread through local media outlets, as well as social media.

“The guy who did our roof, he’s from the southern part of the state, and he heard our story,” Triglia said. “And he happened to be a Marine. He contacted me, and he gave us a sweet deal.”

With the cost of the roof repair taking up a large brunt of the money raised, the post has benefited from its members, some of whom are tradesmen and have been able to do additional repairs necessary.

“Everything else we’re doing – the façade upgrades – are all done by sweat equity and whatever cash we have to buy materials,” Triglia said. “We’ve been able to save a lot. And if it wasn’t for the sweat equity of it, we’d be broke again, because the cost of labor is through the roof. So, we’ve been very fortunate in that way.”

Triglia said the post also has benefited from local government leaders, who have used their network connections to get construction experts to assist with efforts at a reduced cost, including a landscaping project this summer that won’t cost the post a cent. He’s also thankful to the around 300 people who donated during the fundraiser.

“There were a lot of elements to this whole thing, and it grew to where it was almost overwhelming,” he said. “But that’s appreciated.”

The community support didn’t come without some public relations work first. Triglia said the post had developed a poor reputation within the community, being seen as only a bar where occasional trouble took place. “It took us awhile to get out of that stigma of what people thought we were,” he said. “But once we started getting back into the (Legion) programs … we sponsor the Boy Scouts. We do scholarships again. That made a difference.”

The post’s actually made it to the American Legion World Series in 2009 but had since dropped off; Triglia said the post has recently started sponsoring a baseball team again.

Rebuilding the post’s image also included Triglia and a few other members go “post-hopping”, where the group would visit other Connecticut Legion posts to see what they were doing and to reintroduce Post 68.

“It was just a whole group of people that cared enough,” Triglia said. “I promised my older guys … I would never shut that building down. They built that specific to them. And so far, we’re not shutting the building down. It’s still a struggle. But it’s a lot easier knowing there’s the support between the town, individuals, private companies in our town that have really given us the boost that we needed to be where we’re at.”