SALISBURY — Kenny Hardin envisions a place where veterans of all wars and walks of life can come together.
Thanks to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, Hardin is one step closer to making that dream a reality.
Hardin, an Air Force veteran and former city councilman, is the executive director of the nonprofit organization The High Road, Inc. Since its inception last year, the nonprofit has helped with a number of local causes in its mission to advocate for undervalued and underrepresented people.
The High Road, Inc. has now achieved another goal: to help military veterans, primarily through the establishment of a Veterans Social Center.
“We want to open a place where people can exhale and form camaraderie,” Hardin said.
Hardin, a former member of Salisbury City Council, presented his vision for the center to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. In addition to asking for their approval and continued support, Hardin applied for a free space in West End Plaza where he can open the downtown area.
More specifically, Hardin asked to use the location that used to be the home of the Tsunami Development Literacy Program. For five years, the free program helped improve reading comprehension among third through fifth graders in Rowan County. Hardin identified the spot after walking through the former shopping center with Commissioner Craig Pierce. Pierce said the package is in relatively good condition and the right size for the Veterans Social Center.
The commissioners approved Hardin’s request, but added that potential plans for moving the health department to West End Plaza should be considered. Part of West End Plaza is also being renovated as an agricultural and entertainment center.
With board approval, Hardin will continue to make his vision a reality.
Preliminary plans for the center include a pool table, ping pong table, video games, tables and chairs, a stall with veteran resources and complimentary toiletries, coffee, and pastries. The center would be free for veterans. No membership, dues or dues are required. Hardin said he would like to introduce unstructured programming, such as “story time” in which veterans would have a small spotlight to share their experiences.
By opening the center, Hardin said he hopes to help more veterans return to civilian life and combat the high suicide rate and mental health problem among former servicemen. According to a 2018 report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 20 veterans in the United States commit suicide every day.
“We have people who are suffering,” Hardin said. “Many people suffer in silence.”
Hardin said the center will emphasize involving veterans from all “wars, conflicts and US interventions,” including the Gulf War, Desert Storm and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hardin also wants to focus on engaging the female veteran community.
Hardin said he doesn’t want the center to compete with other veterans’ organizations. It would instead establish relationships with local VFWs and American Legions along with WG Hefner VA Medical Center. He would also try to establish ties with referral agencies such as Rowan County Veterans Services. The center’s operations would be overseen by The High Road’s board of directors, which is made up of several veterans.
Hardin did not provide a specific timeline for when he would like to open the Veterans Social Center, but said he would work at the pace of the board.