Veterans Social Center at West End Plaza taking shape, with grand opening planned for April

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, March 22, 2022

SALISBURY — Just two months after getting the green light from Rowan County commissioners, the concept of a social meeting place for veterans is almost a reality.

The idea was pitched by Kenny Hardin, a former Salisbury City Council member, Air Force veteran and director of the nonprofit The High Road, during the commissioners’ planning retreat in January. Hardin credits commissioner Craig Pierce in particular as the idea was born out of their discussions about what other services can be offered to veterans.

Through his nonprofit, Hardin has been working to create a social center for veterans at the West End Plaza, located at 1935 Jake Alexander Boulevard West. Located at the former site of the Tsunami Development Literacy Program near the Veterans Services area, the Veterans Social Center will welcome younger veterans and female veterans dating back from the Panama conflict in the 1980s to current-day. Hardin said he certainly doesn’t discount veterans from World War II, Vietnam and Korea, but younger veterans in particular need some attention, too.

“I want to make sure those veterans and female veterans get a little more attention with this,” he told the Post.

Additionally, only veterans will be allowed, which means no spouses or family members. Hardin prohibits political speeches and said the space needs to feel like a safe one for all vets.

Hardin has solicited monetary donations for the center, while others have donated games and pieces that will be included in the center. The floors and carpet are also donated. In the front room, veterans can enjoy pool or billiards, chess, dominoes, a giant stack of Jenga blocks, checkers and ping pong. Further inside the center is a row of movie theater-style seats with a mounted TV, a dart board and a gaming center that features an Xbox gaming console and gaming chairs. Hardin said only games like Madden 22 football, NBA2K22 and NASCAR will be allowed as shooting games can be triggering. He eventually hopes to add virtual reality to the gaming setup.

“People have been beyond generous,” Hardin said in reference to many of the donated games inside the center.

Additionally, the back room will feature a 55-gallon fish tank, a fridge, a coffee and pastry area and a dining table. Lining the walls are various military flags and dozens of uniforms across all branches. Donated display cases will feature various uniform patches, insignia and memorabilia to honor all branches. Hardin said he is working to give the center a “museum feel.”

“I want it to be like a museum. People can come in and recognize something and relate,” Hardin said. “So I’m trying to get something that relates to every branch of service even if I don’t understand it.” 

Hardin will also have an office inside the center for his nonprofit work.

Hardin said he hopes it’s not the only social center for veterans, and he wants to establish relationships with the local American Legion posts and the VA. Eventually, the center will include career connection services, and some have expressed interest in offering yoga and fitness sessions as well, he added.

Hardin also credited County Facility Manager Don Bringle for being so quick and responsive in this endeavor.

“It’s almost as if the whole county workforce has taken this on as a personal project and wants to make sure the veterans have a great facility,” Hardin said.

For now, the center is scheduled to be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. A grand opening is scheduled for 2 p.m. on April 16, in the food court area outside of the center.

Those interested in making a monetary donation can do so by mailing a money order made payable to The High Road, Inc., to P.O. Box 3101, Salisbury, N.C. 28145. Donations can be made directly to the GoFundMe campaign at www.gofundme.com/f/the-veterans-social-center or via PayPal on the nonprofit’s website at https://hardingroupllc.com/.

Hardin said he has raised almost $3,000 of his $10,000 goal but will need continued support to keep the center up and running.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

email author More by Natalie

Comments