(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Veterans Miracle Center of Erie has been helping local veterans since 2014. Behind the scenes, John Kowalczyk and Chuck Turner have worked tirelessly to keep the operation rolling.
It’s a place where veterans can get their emergency needs met. Kowalczyk said he saw a similar program in Albany, New York, and that inspired the local miracle center. Kowalczyk said at first he had sought somebody to spearhead a miracle center, but in the end, friends encouraged him to lead the way. So he assumed command, a team came together, and the community backed their efforts.
Turner then was called in to help get a building up to code for the center. A physical location opened in 2015. The local center is located at 1573 W. 39th St. in Erie. By the time to building was ready, Turner was in it for the long haul.
“All of the sudden, once your heart gets changed and gets touched, you’re no longer yourself. I can tell you countless stories of why it’s not surprising that it’s called ‘miracle’ center,” Turner said.
At Veterans Miracle Center of Erie, veterans can shop in a store for free. New items — clothing, home goods, toiletries, glasses, shoes — are available to the veterans who need them. While veterans are the group’s main focus, both Kowalczyk and Turner said they are able to help anybody who is in need.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve and to bring help to those who are in need. The first mission here is the veterans, but after that it is the nonprofits,” Kowalczyk said.
Turner’s focus today is installing ramps at veterans’ homes. It started with one veteran in need. Turner reached out to Facebook to see if anybody had a ramp they weren’t using, and the offers rolled in. Turner found the right ramp, drove to the donating home, removed the ramp, then drove to the veteran’s residence and installed it.
Last year, he installed eight ramps.
“This is my second or third this year, and I have two more to do — we’re going to bypass our eight from last year,” Turner said.
Earlier this year, VMCE delivered and installed a ramp for a 105-year-old WWII veteran.
The ramps are donated, but what isn’t donated has to be bought. It costs about $200 to install each ramp. If people weren’t donating ramps, each ramp would start at $2,500, Turner said. The donations are key.
“I see a lot of ramps around Erie — if they want to get rid of them, they need to give us a call. We’ll come to get them as long as they’re all aluminum,” Turner said.
Turner serves as the operations manager for Veterans Miracle Center of Erie, and Kowalczyk is director. Both agreed the community has been supportive of their efforts. Especially last year, during the pandemic. But generating revenue is always an issue.
“We are always looking at income and ways people can donate to us. As a nonprofit, we live basically on charity, and if it wasn’t for last year — last year the community really did a good job,” Turner said. “The community is finally getting behind us again, which is good.”
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VMCE hosts multiple fundraising events throughout the year — a half dozen or so golf tournaments, a bike run, a car cruise. And local businesses have kicked in donations to keep the operations moving. While being interviewed by JET 24, Turner opened an envelope and found a $2,500 donation from a new furniture business in town.
For more information or to donate, go to the Veterans Miracle Center of Erie website.