HAZARD—Every year there are at least a half dozen different ceremonies to celebrate the men and women who have fought for the freedoms and rights of those living in the United States; however, it seems that oftentimes these same people are forgotten or neglected in day-to-day life. A program started by local county clerks to ensure the little things these men and women want and need to live a normal and happy life are not forgotten has spread across the state in recent months.
Perry County Clerk Haven King said he and the county clerks in Letcher and Leslie counties have been selling homemade birdhouses for a number of years, but the program has just recently been picked up statewide.
“We like to figure out little things that we can do for them. We’ve put down flooring and some special chairs and exercise equipment and TVs … just things that makes their life better,” he said. “We want them (the centers) to be able to have the money for them (the veterans) to do that, and they’re able to do that through the sale of these birdhouses.”
He said the clerks created a foundation, “Hope for Veterans,” into which the birdhouse money goes for the explicit purpose of directly benefiting the residents of long-term care veterans’ centers in the state.
“We decide where that money goes,” Letcher County Clerk Winston Meade said. “We try to give to all the people. It has to be spent on the residents, not just go out there and add to the building or something. The veterans have to get the money directly.”
King said the birdhouse program was started in Letcher County by Meade and his retired father-in-law Arnold Lee Watson in 2008.
“His father-in-law … has been building these things; he’s probably built probably 95-98 percent of them. I mean we’re talking thousands he’s built,” King said.
Meade said Watson began building the houses five years ago, not because he thought it would be so lucrative for the centers, but simply because he was curious about the houses themselves.
“I was at a clerks meeting and they had an auction to raise money for the veterans and I bought a birdhouse. My father-in-law and myself sat down and looked at it, took it apart and he said, ‘I can do that’,” Meade explained.
Meade said he, his son, and Watson began making the houses, made like a normal birdhouse except with a recycled Kentucky license plate bent for the roof, and setting them in the clerks’ offices to sell for $20 each with the intention of raising more donations for the veterans.
“The first year we did it we put it in the HAVE (Help a Veteran Everyday) program and the veterans’ trust fund and got aggravated because when we asked for something (for the centers) they told us they had to vote on it, and it was money we had raised. So, we started this fund so we could have more control of it.”
The clerks’ offices collect recycled plates in their counties and are sent plates from across the state. King said the plates not used for the houses are sold to recycling centers and that money is put into the funds donated to the centers.
“These are license plates that a lot of places just put them in the garbage or something, but we recycle them,” King said. “Any of the special plates is usually what we like (to use).”
Meade said he was not sure exactly how much money had been raised or how many birdhouses had been made, but was sure it was more than he and Watson had ever expected when the project began.
“This year alone on the birdhouses we have raised $60,000 plus, and that’s throughout the state. Last year it was $39,000, so you’re seeing $100,000 right there in just two years,” Meade said.
Though Watson does not receive any compensation for his work on the birdhouses, Meade said he does not want it and that a thank you is enough for him. In 2010, some of the birdhouses were entered in the crafts division at the Kentucky State Fair where Watson and Meade took 3rd place; this year, Watson received both the Kentucky State Congressional and Senate Citation of Merit awards for his work with the houses.
“He’s got all kinds of honors for doing it and that’s all he gets out of it is somebody saying thank you,” Meade said. “He works it like a job. He works like five or six days a week, daylight until dark … and it’s just worked out perfect for him.”
King said now the Leslie County Clerk has begun selling kits for the houses so anyone interested in building one on their own can.
“I just appreciate the people that, we call it a donation, I appreciate the people that buy those and it’s just a big, big plus,” he said.