Community Shows Support For New Rutherford County Veterans Center Opening

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By Justin Stokes
(Originally Posted in The Murfreesboro Voice)

 

Tennesseans have a long history of serving the country’s armed forces. This proud tradition is actually what earned Tennessee the nickname “The Volunteer State.” This service tradition is alive and well today. According to the census data collected in 2018, “there were over 435,000 veterans living in Tennessee comprising about 8.5% of the state’s population.”

Sometimes these brave individuals need help themselves. This is why Murfreesboro resident Brian Norris founded the Rutherford County Veterans Community Center (RCVCC). A newly minted facility created to streamline veteran support, the center—which had its official ribbon cutting ceremony on July 15—is now ready to serve veterans in a number of ways.

This Is The city With The Most Veterans In It…
https://www.murfreesboropost.com/news/state/this-is-the-city-with-the-most-veterans-in-tennessee/article_d7ea9402-e81a-5f75-9eca-f4980ee493c6.html

Initially from New York, Brian enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1992 as a hospital corpsman (medic). Eventually becoming a naval officer, Brian taught at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“I got to the 21-year mark, and my wife decided that that was enough,” Brian tells Murfreesboro Voice. “So I retired.”

Brian and his family relocated to Middle Tennessee in 2013, moving to Mount Juliet. In 2019, Brian and his family moved to Murfreesboro after his wife got a job at the local veterans affairs (VA) hospital. Brian taught at Cumberland University as an adjunct professor until COVID hit.

With the pandemic resetting his ambitions, Brian realized that he wanted to do what he could to help his fellow veterans. He was already involved with other veteran groups in the area. Though he appreciated what these groups did for area veterans, but took issue with some of their recruitment practices. 

“Veteran groups are a lot like churches,” Brian explains. “They all want to save souls. But they don’t want the other [churches] to save that soul.”

One might think that there would be enough veterans to populate these different groups, particularly since it’s estimated that more than 30,000 veterans living in Rutherford County. But according to Brian, there are only about 2,000-2,500 veterans actively participating in the 20 veteran groups in the county.

Each of these groups represents a worthwhile resource for veterans in Rutherford County. Since they’re competing for resources and members, the help of many of these groups is only extended to their membership.

Since these groups operate independently, figuring out which ones to join or contact may be overwhelming for area veterans. Seeing their lack of connectivity as a problem, Brian decided that literally putting them under one roof could unite them. 

Thus, the idea for the RCVCC was born. 

Needed Help From an Unexpected Place

During his time with another veteran charity, Brian had spoken to Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron. 

Brian recalls, “We’re talking to him in his office. He… gets a twinkle in his eye, walks outside, and comes back with a… FedEx envelope. Inside the envelope, he pulls out a piece of paper… I guess the State of Tennessee was leasing some property somewhere. They were told that [the lessee] wasn’t going to renew their lease on January 1st and that the maintenance department was going to move into that building. That maintenance building was going to become available and that [it] would make a great veterans center. So it just was very fortuitous.”

The timing of this building’s availability was perfect for Brian. The space for the RCVCC is 60 years old, and Brian says that it required some minor maintenance to get it in working order.

“United We Stand”

Brian says, “We created a group to talk to each other… and then we got this building.”

Putting all of these different organizations in one place, Brian wants the RCVCC to be a centralized point of contact for veterans’ needs. Regardless of what an inquiring veteran may need, he wants the center to make these other veteran groups easily accessible. 

For Brian, the consistency of veteran support is critical. He’s observed that the interest in supporting veterans can cool for a number of reasons, including how long the country has been out of conflict. 

“And then, how popular was that conflict?” Brian says. He states that not all veterans earn the same community respect. One’s ability to support veterans may hinge on whether or not their political beliefs align with a particular war.

A Call to Action

The RCVCC is just getting started. Over the next year, Brian tells the Murfreesboro Voice that he expects the organization to do great things to help veterans with the next part of their journey.

“Right now, we have groups that meet here in the evenings and weekends,” he says. 

Brian is currently engaging entities like the American Jobs Center to provide onsite workshops for skills development, creating a resume, and host job fairs. He wants the RCVCC to be a touchpoint for everything a veteran could possibly need, including yoga and tai chi classes. 

The plans for the RCVCC will only be possible if other members of the community answer the organization’s call to help. Outside of a board of directors, Brian is currently the only full time person for the RCVCC. 

“We are a staff of one,” Brian jokes. “I’m looking for volunteers.”

Those wanting to get involved with the RCVCC are encouraged to reach out to Brian. For further information about the Rutherford County Veterans Community Center, visit its website and social media.