Social center at West End Plaza would give veterans place to exhale, engage

Published 6:32 pm Thursday, January 20, 2022

SALISBURY — Kenny Hardin envisions a place where veterans of all wars and walks of life can congregate.

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 nonprofit The High Road, Inc. Since its founding last year, the nonprofit organization has helped with a number of local causes to further its mission of advocating for undervalued and underrepresented people.

The High Road, Inc. has now tacked on another goal: help military veterans, chiefly through the creation of a Veterans Social Center.

“We want to open up a place where people can come exhale and engage in camaraderie,” Hardin said.

Hardin, a former Salisbury City Council member, presented his vision for the center to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. Along with asking for their approval and continued support, Hardin requested space at West End Plaza free of charge where he can open up the center.

More specifically, Hardin asked to use the location formerly home to the Tsunami Development Literacy Program. For five years, the free program helped improve reading comprehension of ​​third- through fifth-graders graders in Rowan County. Hardin identified the spot after walking through the former mall with Commissioner Craig Pierce. Pierce said the parcel is in relatively good condition and is the right size for the Veterans Social Center.

Commissioners approved Hardin’s request, but added the caveat that potential plans for moving the Health Department to West End Plaza would have to be taken into account. A portion of West End Plaza is also going to be renovated as an agriculture and events center.

With the board’s approval, Hardin will move forward with bringing his vision to fruition.

Preliminary plans for the center include a billiards table, ping pong table, video games, tables and chairs, a booth with veterans resources and free toiletries, coffee and pastries. The center would be free for veterans. No membership, fees or dues will be required. Hardin said he’d like to introduce unstructured programming such as “story time” during which veterans would have a small spotlight to share their experiences.

By opening the center, Hardin said he hopes to help more veterans transition back to civilian life and to combat the high rates of suicide and mental health issues among former members of the military. About 20 veterans in the United States commit suicide each day, according to a report published in 2018 by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We have people who are suffering,” Hardin said. “A lot of people are suffering in silence.”

Hardin said the center will place an emphasis on engaging veterans from all “wars, conflicts and U.S. 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 veteran organizations. It would instead look to form relationships with local VFWs and American Legions along with the W. G. Hefner VA Medical Center. He would also seek to form bonds with referral agencies such as Rowan County Veterans Services. The operations of the center would be overseen by The High Road’s board of directors, which features several veterans.

Hardin didn’t provide a specific timeline for when he’d like to open the Veterans Social Center, but said he’d work at the board’s pace.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at

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