A place to ease the burden

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 16:09
New welcome center opens on JBER

Military life can be difficult.

This is especially true in Alaska, where the majority of incoming servicemen and women hail from the Lower 48. Many find themselves ill prepared for the weather, the long seize of winter darkness and the hefty cost of living.

Which is where the Armed Services YMCA comes in.

The ASYMCA eases the transition from civilian life with an array of no-and low-cost programs. With ties that date back to the Civil War, the organization hosts more than 150 centers across the country.

Three can be found in Alaska, two on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and a satellite office at Ft. Wainwright that serves the Interior.

And now the D.H. Cuddy Welcome Center on JBER has a new home.

Previously located in the old Kashim Club building, the center currently occupies the site of the old dental center. It opened with a Volunteer and Donor Appreciation reception and ribbon cutting Dec. 19.  

According to Buddy Whitt, ASYMCA associate director, the old building dated back to the 1950s and had been placed on the demolition list.

Finding a new location wasn’t easy, he said. And once secured, a lot of work needed to be done. Walls and doors were knocked out, carpet installed and new paint added.

“It’s a work in progress,” Whitt said, pointing to the ceiling where a wall had stood just the week before.

Renovations are expected to be completed by February of this year.

Even without the last touch-ups, it’s a cozy place, with a living room space featuring a couch, large-screen TV and movie-theater popcorn machine.

But the center offers more than relaxation. It also provides more than 30 programs geared for junior enlisted and their families including a food pantry, combat fishing tournament and father-daughter dance. There’s even an After Five boutique, an entire room filled with dainty high heels and frilly evening dresses so that servicewoman and military wives can borrow clothes for formal functions without straining their budgets.

According to Mari Jo Imig, ASYMCA executive director, the center staff works with a lot of military family dependents.

“When their husbands are deployed, they often need help,” she said.

According to Whitt, the center serves more than 100,000 servicemen and women a year.

“What we do is fill the gap. There are always gaps,” said Lita McClain, ASYMCA marketing and PR specialist.

A good of example of this, she explained, is the shuttle, which offers door-to-door rides for a dollar.

“This allows the guys a chance to get from the barracks to the commissary when it’s 10 below,” she said.

The center also works to tempt servicemen and women out of the barracks and into the community with perks such as free tickets to UAA hockey and basketball and Alaska Aces games.

“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without our community donors,” said Larry Sutterer, ASYMCA board of management. “It’s a good organization, and our focus is always on the junior enlisted.”

Then he laughed and shook his head.

“To turn an old dental clinic into this in three months? It’s been absolutely crazy.”


Contact Cinthia Ritchie at 694-2727 or [email protected].

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