Women of the Northwest

Debbie Little-Honoring Vets and Spreading Joy: A Conversation with a Local VFW President

May 23, 2023 Jan Johnson Episode 68
Women of the Northwest
Debbie Little-Honoring Vets and Spreading Joy: A Conversation with a Local VFW President
Show Notes Transcript

Memorial Day is coming right up.
Debbie Little, president of the local VFW. She shares about her involvement and the needs of our local vets. She also is involved in many more community outreaches, one of which is the volunteer coordinator at Providence Hospital where she was able to introduce Ziggy, a therapy sheep-a-doodle to patients and staff.

Clatsop County Veterans,

VFW 10580

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[00:02] Jan: Are you looking for an inspiring listen, something to motivate you? You've come to the right place. I'm Jan Johnson, your host. Welcome to Women of the Northwest, where we have conversations with ordinary women leading extraordinary lives. Women telling their stories and sharing their passions. Motivating. Inspiring, compelling you.

[00:25] Jan: U.

[00:30] Jan: If you're a new listener, welcome. We're glad to have you here. This is episode 67. Memorial Day is coming right up. Our guest today is Debbie Little, president of the local VFW. She shares about her involvement in the needs of our local vets. She also is involved in many more community outreaches, one of which is the volunteer coordinator at Providence Hospital, where she was able to introduce Ziggy, a therapy sheep-a-doodle, to patients and staff.

[00:59] Jan: Debbie Little. Welcome to women in the Northwest. Thank you.

[01:02] Debbie: I'm excited to do this interview.

[01:05] Jan: We've been wanting to do this for a little while.

[01:07] Debbie: Yes, I'll confess I missed our first date. Glad to reschedule.

[01:14] Jan: And I'm so glad somebody else's calendar challenge like me. Definitely not a problem, because I think that comes from being a little busy sometimes.

[01:23] Debbie: I'm not a sit at home, watch TV kind of gal, so yeah, I.

[01:27] Jan: Know that kind of person.

[01:28] Debbie: Yeah. I need to learn to put more rocks on my calendar, not pebbles.

[01:33] Jan: What is a rock on your calendar?

[01:35] Debbie: Immovable like a boulder. Like a boulder. And I put in parentheses, rock so that I know it can't be moved. I tell you, my hairdresser, the young lady that does my hair, if I ever showed up on time at the right day, I am so much work for her. So I'm trying to turn her into a rock.

[01:57] Jan: Yeah. Because I don't ever want to miss my hair appointment because the next day it is so long. I can't I know.

[02:02] Debbie: And she goes above and beyond for me.

[02:05] Jan: So what kind of things are you involved in?

[02:08] Debbie: Well, let's see. I am currently the local VFW Veterans of Foreign Wars auxiliary Fort Stevens president. I was district president for several years. But in June, I will become the State of Oregon. Veterans of Foreign War auxiliary President.

[02:28] Jan: Oh, you're moving up?

[02:29] Debbie: I'm moving up. It's taken five years. This will be the 6th year I started as a guard and have moved up. And we'll be responsible for all the auxiliaries in the state of Oregon.

[02:41] Jan: Wow. What else are you doing? Let's see. Because I know just one thing is no.

[02:48] Debbie: I'm president of the Warranton Kids Inc recreation Program.

[02:53] Jan: Okay.

[02:54] Debbie: Been president for a few years. Got into that after I retired because grandkids I'm president of the Warranton Community Center Board. I got asked to do that. And it's an easy board to work with. I have great people that help me out. Actually, everything I do is easy. I have great volunteers along with me.

[03:16] Jan: Was that one of the things oh, Debbie, you'll do it?

[03:19] Debbie: Yeah, pretty much. Pretty much. And then I am vice president of the Astoria Golf and Country Club. Ladies Club.

[03:29] Jan: Okay.

[03:30] Debbie: And that pretty much takes all my time.

[03:33] Jan: I bet there's probably a few more things, like maybe yeah, you might be doing some snack snack concession stand for.

[03:43] Debbie: The auxiliary and the post. We run that during baseball and softball season. So I've watched those kids go from T ball to now some of them are graduating high school.

[03:54] Jan: So you got a little connection there.

[03:56] Debbie: Yeah, I do.

[03:57] Jan: Yeah.

[03:57] Debbie: It's great. And I also work part time for the hospital, Providence Seaside.

[04:01] Jan: And what do you do there?

[04:02] Debbie: I'm the volunteer services coordinator. Go figure. Volunteers. And I'm recruiting volunteers, if you all.

[04:10] Jan: Know, which is the beauty of this. And we'll put links in the show notes to any of those things. So if you want to get hold of Debbie, you know how to do that. Yes. Or any of her organizations.

[04:23] Debbie: And I'm a member of 100 women who care in Clats Up County, which.

[04:26] Jan: Is yes, you are.

[04:27] Debbie: Really? Since I am a member of so many nonprofits, the benefit of the 100 Women is just phenomenal.

[04:35] Jan: What do you like most about that?

[04:37] Debbie: About the 100 women.

[04:38] Jan: About the 100 women giving back.

[04:42] Debbie: I've been a beneficiary through my nonprofits of this community and what they can do for people, and it's minimal, I feel. I write a check four times a year and can give back to the nonprofits that do so much for the community. And I'm seeing some nonprofits that I didn't even know we had.

[05:04] Jan: Right. And you have a little ownership as a member deciding things right.

[05:09] Debbie: And you get to hear their stories and ownership right. In helping them grow and do more for the community. And for me, it gives me a link to other nonprofits in the area that we can work hand in hand with.

[05:24] Jan: Yes. That is another benefit. You don't have to write a grant that nonprofits don't have to write a grant, which is tedious and tedious and so time consuming.

[05:34] Debbie: I wrote a grant for the I don't know if you've seen the monument in Warrington.

[05:40] Jan: Yeah.

[05:40] Debbie: Okay. I wrote a $72,000 grant for that.

[05:44] Jan: Wow.

[05:44] Debbie: And my first grant ever written. Oh, I know. I got very lucky. I took a class at the college, had an extremely gifted instructor, and part of the class was she would read your first grant and help you with it. And she said nobody ever took advantage of that. Let me tell you. She got everything I wrote, and she sent it back to me, and we were successful. And I've written some smaller grants since then, but yeah.

[06:11] Jan: That's really awesome.

[06:12] Debbie: Yeah. That was one of my prouder moments.

[06:14] Jan: Yeah. Since Memorial Day is coming up, let's talk about VFW. How did you get started in that?

[06:23] Debbie: Well, my husband is a Vietnam vet. My dad is a Korean War vet. My brother is a Desert Storm. Navy Seabee. My son is a Somalian Marine vet. My grandson is an Afghan Marine vet. And then I have numerous nieces and nephews who are in the Air Force, and I've all served overseas. So it's kind of heavy in our blood.

[06:52] Jan: Yeah. Got a little bit of a connection there. A little bit on all kinds of fronts.

[06:57] Debbie: Yes. And Bert, my husband, was a member of the VFW, and he kept at telling me, you need to join the Auxiliary. And I was still working at the time, and it was like I worked a lot of hours and I worked for the court. So kind of mind boggling. And I kept saying no, and he kept saying yes. So finally I said, okay, if I join, will you leave me alone? He said yes. And I said, I'm not doing poppies at Fred Meyer. I'm not doing that. I'm not doing any of that stuff. I will just add to their membership. Then I met a wonderful woman named Muriel Dunn who passed. But Muriel and Leroy Dunn were the charter members of the auxiliary in the post that I belonged to.

[07:43] Jan: I thought it was Muriel.

[07:44] Debbie: Did you? Yeah. So Muriel was she took away that not going to do anything away from me. And she gave me the passion, and now it's my biggest passion is the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Right. It's not the American Legion. The two are affiliated together a lot. But to be a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, you have to have served in a foreign conflict.

[08:07] Jan: I see. And so what exactly does that mean? What does give me a job description. What kind of things do you do?

[08:16] Debbie: Do I do as president or just we? And when I say we, I have a really wonderful group of volunteers that are auxiliary and post members. We do a community Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day. We serve between 350 to 400 people. We deliver to shut ins and those that can't get out. We serve to go for the homeless that come. We use the Warranton Community center. And that's one of the things we do. We feed the community for Thanksgiving. We built the monument in Warrington by the post office. We fundraise and wrote a grant and got that taken care of. We do buddy poppies at Fred Meyer. And the Buddy Poppies, the money from the Buddy Poppies goes into the relief fund, and that's when a veteran comes to us and says, they need gas, they need groceries, they need a hotel.

[09:16] Jan: They need medical bump.

[09:18] Debbie: It's a bump of some sort. So we do that. We are really active with our youth and the schools. We sponsor the Voice of Democracy, which is an essay contest for high school students.

[09:32] Jan: Okay.

[09:33] Debbie: We do Patriots Pen, which is for middle school. It's a written essay.

[09:38] Jan: Okay.

[09:39] Debbie: Those winners at the state level get paid quite a bit of money and the state winner goes to Washington, DC. And can be awarded $40,000.

[09:52] Jan: So it's worth entering.

[09:53] Debbie: It is. So we're very active. We're active with the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts. This Memorial Day on Monday, we'll have a ceremony at Fort Stevens National Cemetery, and then we will move to the post office and change out the flags as part of our Memorial Day ceremony.

[10:15] Jan: Okay.

[10:16] Debbie: We work in partnership with reefs across America. And memorial wreaths. Not Christmas wreaths. That's a big distinction, people think, but memorial wreaths we place on every veteran's grave at Fort Stevens National Cemetery.

[10:31] Jan: Okay.

[10:33] Debbie: We work with the city of Warrenton and spruce up Warranton in the Parade and Fall Festival and by manning the concession stand. Fort Stevens music festival. Fun festival. We're doing hamburgers and hot dogs this year. We have our fingers in a little bit of everything.

[10:52] Jan: So when you're doing the fundraising, what does that most of that money goes to what?

[10:57] Debbie: Most of that money goes to the relief fund to help veterans.

[11:00] Jan: Okay.

[11:01] Debbie: That's our goal. But the city gifted us a building. It's the old Hammond Library, but it needs a lot of renovation before we can use it. So we are fundraising for the renovations. We need to have the building lifted up and reinforced. The foundation needs to be reinforced. We happen to have adopted a unit from Camp Raylia, and they happen to be the engineers. It's a good partnership. They're going to come out and help with the renovations when we get there. I need to write some grants for that because that's going to be something.

[11:44] Jan: You can do a Home Depot grant or something.

[11:46] Debbie: Home Depot renovates more veterans homes. But Home Depot, we just did a whole new ramp and garage renovation for one of our veterans who can no longer he needs to use an electric wheelchair. That was, like, three weeks ago, Home Depot and the post members were out there. Yeah, we do that kind of stuff. I know it was a while back, but if you remember when the government didn't get paid.

[12:20] Jan: Right, okay. Well, when you stop and because my son yes.

[12:24] Debbie: Well, the Coast Guard, post office, Fort Clats up those are all government. So we did a big fundraiser and donated the money to each of the groups. And part of the fee to get in, I guess, if you want to call it a fee, people had to bring toilet paper, cat food or dog food or paper towels or laundry soap, any of that, and it was fantastic. And Camp Riley is a great partner for us. They never charged me for the use of the starship.

[12:58] Jan: Yeah.

[12:59] Debbie: So that's what we do.

[13:00] Jan: Yeah. What have been some obstacles to making.

[13:05] Debbie: Things work or what is I'm pretty much a bulldozer. I hate to admit it.

[13:13] Jan: You're a get or done kind of person.

[13:15] Debbie: We haven't run into a lot of obstacles. If you have a plan and you're organized in presenting your plan. And if people don't see your vision exactly as you see it, but you take what they tell you and you modify, usually your obstacle goes away. I really haven't had any so recently.

[13:40] Jan: Didn't you go to DC.

[13:41] Debbie: I did.

[13:42] Jan: Tell me about that.

[13:44] Debbie: March was the legislative conference for all across the country, and Oregon sent a delegation and we visited each of our legislators on the Capitol, on Capitol Hill. We had appointments with either the Congresspeople or their aides, went in and told them what the top bills that the Veterans of Foreign Wars were actively.

[14:11] Jan: Seeking.

[14:12] Debbie: Seeking were the most important to them.

[14:14] Jan: There's always what were some of them?

[14:16] Debbie: The sharks bill. And the sharks bill is you've heard about Camp Lejune and the attorneys that are taking money from our veterans and not really helping them with their claims.

[14:30] Jan: Okay.

[14:31] Debbie: They're asking astronomical binders fees and then they want to take the money from continuous up to more than 33%. And so it used to be against the law and they couldn't do that. And then the law changed and the VFW was asking that it go back into effect, and it is on the floor cutting the VA budget. Don't do that. If you don't want to pay for the veterans, quit making veterans. Don't go to war.

[15:02] Jan: Yeah.

[15:03] Debbie: And that's what it comes down to.

[15:05] Jan: Simple solution. It is.

[15:06] Debbie: It's pretty simple when you just put it in black and white. So that was another one.

[15:11] Jan: What other bills were they then?

[15:13] Debbie: Let's see. I'm trying to remember some of the others. The VA bill was the biggest. There's a small handful of veterans in the United States that didn't retire at a full 20 years because they were disabled. They got injured.

[15:31] Jan: Right.

[15:31] Debbie: So they couldn't but they won't let them take their VA benefit and their retirement. If you're retired, you have a retirement you put into it. So there's that bill, too, that they get what they earned.

[15:45] Jan: Right.

[15:45] Debbie: And so they were telling them they couldn't double dip. But the widows tax was another bill that happened previously, not this year. And also in Washington DC. We had the Parade of Winners, which was the 50 winners. Actually, it was 54 winners because we have some areas where we have Veterans of Foreign Wars and Auxiliaries, the kids from the high school that won their essays for each state. And they are all announced and they're escorted by the commander and the president of the state to the stage. And you do a big dinner. They get to spend a week in Washington DC.

[16:24] Jan: It was and some kids that probably haven't even been on a plane before.

[16:29] Debbie: Exactly. So it was very exciting.

[16:32] Jan: That is exciting.

[16:33] Debbie: It was.

[16:34] Jan: Any stories you could share about some of the veterans? Let's see.

[16:39] Debbie: Well, I can tell you. Leroy dunn. Everybody knows Leroy. He was everybody's bus driver.

[16:45] Jan: Right.

[16:46] Debbie: I know he drove bus for my husband who's in his seventy s now. So I don't even want to know how that works exactly.

[16:52] Jan: Maybe your husband always in high school or something, I don't know.

[16:56] Debbie: But Leroy was in the army and he is the epitome of a veteran that gives back and doesn't take. He and Muriel started the post in auxiliary here and just having a love for country and a devotion to his other soldiers. My husband is a Vietnam vet. He was in the Navy and he has that same passion and he transferred that to me somehow. Yeah, everybody jesus.

[17:35] Jan: I know a gal that could help on this.

[17:39] Debbie: I know we just see so many veterans. Of course our organization is full of veterans and we have lady veterans who are in the auxiliary because they didn't serve overseas, but they are still veterans. Madora Barr is one of our lady veterans.

[18:01] Jan: What are your thoughts on veterans that are homeless? Do you feel like somehow I think that should be taken care of?

[18:13] Debbie: Well, this is my personal I believe some are homeless by choice and others by circumstance. And I don't think we do enough for those that are by circumstance. I don't think that we are utilizing the benefits that we have to reach out and touch the veterans that need the help. Some will willingly come in and if we could find a place for them to stay beyond a voucher for three days at a hotel, that solves nothing other than getting them out of the weather for a short period of time. And that's why membership in the VFW is so important, because you have strength in numbers when it comes to voting and legislation and that's how your voice is heard. And the trips like to Washington DC. To advocate for the veterans. But there's a lot we can do at the local and the state level. There's the new homeless, I should know, but I didn't read the bill that the governor signed that all the municipalities have to have a plan in place for the homeless. And I'm not sure what the city of Warrenson is going to do or the county of Klatsip at this point, but I know that there's many more veterans here than what the population thinks. And they don't ask for help. They don't.

[19:49] Jan: So what would you see as a practical way that the community could help?

[19:55] Debbie: I think that if we had a warming center, soup kitchen, and I know we're not big, I know we're not Portland, we don't have the capabilities or the facility, but we truly need that. But we also need to get over the stigma of homeless and everybody in a neighborhood saying not here, next to me. And that's probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks I think, that the municipalities and the counties have to deal with. So how many of them would actually come in and stay? I don't know. But building our new post, taking the building that the city gifted to us. We're hoping when we can open it to have it open during the day, provide meals. Not necessarily. It's not big enough to have a sleeping facility, but we can feed people. We have a place for them to use the restroom, clean up and just have some conversation with other veterans. Veterans.

[20:58] Jan: Is that location inhabited? Yeah.

[21:03] Debbie: Probably not. It's not ideal, but it is what you have. It is what we have. I don't know if we could work with rideshare, cab companies. The transit is up in the air right now.

[21:18] Jan: Another subject.

[21:19] Debbie: Yeah. I have no idea where that is going. But we want to give a home to veterans that they can come in. Veterans don't want to talk to other people. Sometimes they want to talk to veterans.

[21:30] Jan: Right.

[21:30] Debbie: But they don't all have a place to congregate. And that's our goal.

[21:34] Jan: Yeah. The place together.

[21:36] Debbie: To be together, have a meal, gather.

[21:40] Jan: Yeah. Okay. All right. Now, moving back to a different subject. Earlier you were telling me about dogs in the hospital. Tell me a little bit about that.

[21:58] Debbie: It's called pet therapy. And Providence, all of their hospitals have a program. Ours is called angel on a Leash named after the first dog we had. Her name was angel.

[22:10] Jan: Okay.

[22:11] Debbie: So it's angel on a leash. Obviously, it got stopped during COVID Right. Yesterday I had the opportunity to introduce Kathy who is the volunteer in Ziggy who is her therapy dog. He is a sheepa doodle, an English sheepdog and a standard sized poodle. He's big and fluffy, and I gave him his inaugural tour of the hospital. And the caregivers were just ecstatic, I bet. We went into Med surge. We went into the emergency department and the lab and the clinics and everywhere.

[22:51] Jan: I would guess that Ziggy needed to be trained. Well, he did.

[22:55] Debbie: He has two paths. We partner with Pet partners? It's a national program.

[23:01] Jan: Okay.

[23:02] Debbie: And there's training. There's a local trainer. I'm still getting to know this. I haven't been the volunteer coordinator for very long. We're bringing this program back. But I can tell you that if you have a dog that you think would be a good therapy animal the hospital offers a full scholarship for the training.

[23:22] Jan: Oh, really?

[23:22] Debbie: Yes. And they pay dog scholarship? Yeah, it's a doggy scholarship, but it pays for the training. We hold classes between Columbia Memorial and Providence. They have to be evaluated. They have to be non snapping, non drilling. I don't know about that. But he had a muzzle or a lead. It wasn't a muzzle. I can't remember what they called it, but everybody was so excited. I knocked on their doors and said, I have the therapy. Come in, everybody. So I'm hoping to get more therapy dogs because they can only come every other week.

[24:06] Jan: Yeah, that would be good. In assisted living and other places.

[24:10] Debbie: Actually, she's going to go to the rehab center in Gerhardt, because that's part of Providence, and then Elder Place, which is the senior daycare.

[24:18] Jan: Okay. Yeah.

[24:19] Debbie: And so I'm hoping to get approval through Elder Place for them to have Ziggy come, too, because I think that's and he will go around the hospital and through the lobbies and the clinic waiting areas. He can't go into patient rooms yet, but that doesn't mean that mobile patients can't come out.

[24:38] Jan: Can't come out.

[24:39] Debbie: Can't come out. So, yeah, it was fun.

[24:41] Jan: Oh, that's really neat.

[24:43] Debbie: I was very popular yesterday.

[24:45] Jan: Yeah, I bet you were. Well, yeah.

[24:47] Debbie: Well, Kathy and I kind of you? Yeah, Kathy and I took a backseat.

[24:50] Jan: To Ziggy, but you're out. But that was okay because you got the pride of, like, look what I did this. I did this. And bringing smiles of people's faces. What's better than that, right? Yeah. Okay, Debbie, thank you so much. This has been fun.

[25:08] Debbie: It has been fun. Dan, I so much appreciate it. Yeah, I can't wait to see on the 24th for 100 Women.

[25:13] Jan: That's right. Okay. Thank you.

[25:19] Jan: If you enjoyed this or any other of my podcast episodes, it would be amazing if you would take a few minutes to leave a review so others can find it. Transcripts are available on my website@janjohnson.com. Please join me again next week.