MINNEAPOLIS — A brand new Veterans Resource and Empowerment Center in south Minneapolis is a big deal in just about every way.
"The building is just under 10,000 square feet," said Tom McKenna, founder of Every Third Saturday, the veterans advocacy organization behind the new building. "The total cost was about two million dollars."
McKenna says each dollar of that investment is geared toward veterans who might find themselves in need.
He gave KARE 11 reporter Kent Erdahl a tour of the new space on Thursday, beginning with the expansive "Supply Store", which resembles a new retail clothing store, minus the price tags.
"This is a place where veterans can shop free of charge," McKenna said. "They can come in here once a month and shop for anything they want, anything they see. It's not about them taking what we've got, it's about us making sure we have what they need."
McKenna says that's the same approach that applies to every other service, and room, in the center.
"This will be a place where you can work out, we have a full fitness center upstairs," he said. "It's also a place where you can learn about the programs and services that we're offering. It's a place where veterans can meet case workers, and you can come in here and just be you, just relax. Sometimes the burdens veterans are carrying, especially if they are homeless or in great need, sometimes it's just so heavy."
McKenna, a Marine Corps veteran himself, says that heaviness is what got him into this work more than a decade ago.
"It started with a chance meeting with one homeless veteran," he said. "I had pulled over to the side of the road to say, 'What can we help you with?' I thought he would say he needed some money or something. I had $20 I was going to give him, but he said, 'I need underwear and socks. I haven't changed my underwear in a week.' It floored me, in a society this prosperous, how can that be?"
After helping the man, McKenna and his wife were inspired to keep going. They began collecting supplies and driving around the Twin Cities to help other veterans. It didn't take long for word of their mission to inspire others to help.
"All of a sudden our basement was full, our garage was full, and we ended up buying a trailer," he said.
They started bringing that trailer to the Minneapolis VA parking lot every third Saturday of the month, and soon their name, and their mission, was born.
"It just kept growing from there," McKenna said.
Five years ago Every Third Saturday expanded into their first store front, renting a space at 43rd Ave S and E 54th St. In the years that followed, they began renting the adjoining retail spaces, to launch their first Supply Store, followed by a classroom space for PTSD recovery.
"It's a five-week course," McKenna said. "Rather than having the trauma you experience hold you back, we try to help veterans realize that they can actually grow and are stronger because they made it through that trauma."
But when the organization tried to grow into yet another new space across the street a few years ago, a building inspector gave them bad news.
"We had already purchased the space and began working on the building," he said. "But the renovations we had planned were never going to work,"
Just as he was running low on money, and options, a 2019 story about Every Third Saturday in the Star Tribune inspired a call from a very generous investor.
"He asked us to come and meet him at his office," McKenna said. "Then he asked, 'What would you do if money was not the object? What would you do? It was amazing, we couldn't believe it."
A rendering based on that conversation turned into the brand new center that now stands tall next door. In addition to serving veterans, it will feature a Rick's Coffee Bar where veterans will serve customers from the neighborhood.
Kent Erdahl: "What will the coffee bar enable you to do?"
McKenna: "One, job training; two, it will hopefully produce some revenue for programs and services; three, it will bring the community and veterans together in a way. There's a certain level of understanding that is created when you bring them together and it's really cool and really pretty powerful."
Erdahl: "What would you say to that first veteran you helped, if you had a chance to tell him about what has happened since?"
McKenna: "What he said took courage, so first, I would say thank you to that veteran. Second, I would tell him that he changed countless lives."
Every Third Saturday is still in the process of moving, with plans to officially open in its new location by June 1. Rick's Coffee Bar is scheduled to open in late June.
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