By John Deming, Atlantic News, Staff Writer
Atlantic News, Friday, February 18, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of the Atlantic News]
[Photo by John Hirtle, Atlantic News.]
HAMPTON -- When an Iraqi Veteran who had been shot in both the knee and the back entered American Legion Post #35, all that Post Commander Ralph Fatello had to offer him was a folding chair.
"We've got nothing to offer them aside from a big empty hall," says Fatello.
Trying to come up with ways to raise $75,000 to $100,000 to renovate the building and accommodate such Veterans, Fatello and company were "scratching their heads."
Then one potential opportunity for fundraising "kind of fell out of the sky onto us," Fatello said — a call from the state to discuss the prospect of leasing the hall as a temporary location for the district courthouse. The court's current site has been deemed unsafe, unhealthy and not up to code.
"It'd be nice if we could work it out in a way that would benefit both of us," he said. "Nothing's been finalized."
Fatello said he wants the Legion Hall to be a place where Veterans can hang out and be comfortable — the way things used to be.
"[After World War II] Veterans' posts were thriving, everywhere; it was just the nature of the beast," he says. "Now with this global war on terror there are so many people coming and going. We need to offer these guys something."
Town Manager James Barrington said he'd like to see the court remain in town, and that the Legion Hall might address some of the concerns that were voiced about the other potential sites.
Barrington suggested that with the Legion's remodeling and fundraising, it's a good opportunity.
"There are a lot of young Vets now returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and some of them were having a difficult time relating to the American Legion," he says. "They tend to think of it as for the old-timers, yet it's for Veterans of all ages."
Fatello aims to make it a comfortable place with couches, a pool table, a television and conversation — which could conceivably help cross the age gap.
"When you think of a place Vets hang out, it should be a comfortable atmosphere where they can relate to what they've just been through," he says.
Those at the American Legion typically don't go to the hall until the evening anyway, so if it is chosen as a location, it could be used as a court by day and a Legion Hall by night, according to Fatello.
"During the day [right now] it just kind of sits there," he says.
Still, the prospect of using the hall for the court is still at the discussion phase, as two locations in Seabrook are still being considered.
"I don't know if any of this is going to pan out," Fatello says.
Either way, the Legion has already had some fundraising efforts, including a plasma TV raffle during the holiday season. Fatello plans to raise the money and try to renovate the building no matter what — but if the state leased the building, it would certainly help.
"It would be a shot in the arm for us," he says.