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Veteran cigar nights in full swing

Victoria Advocate - 2/25/2017

Feb. 25--Crossroads military veterans are invited to a night of cigars, barbecue and dominos at what might seem at first an unlikely venue.

A senior living community in Victoria is starting Veteran Cigar Nights as a way to bring veterans together. The first one is scheduled for March 6.

Those who attend will also be treated to beer and live music from the April Hall Band at Vitality Court.

Brandi Ramirez, solutions adviser at Vitality Senior Living, said 20 of their residents are veterans and many are military spouses.

"It gives our veteran community a chance to interact with other veterans," she said. "They get to swap old war stories. How cool is that?"

The owners of Vitality Court, formerly known as Brightwater, has worked to break away from the traditional senior living model.

"We want people to know that even as you age, you can still live," she said. "We just want to have fun."

Ramirez partnered with Mike Allen of the Crossroads Area Veteran Center, who has organized informal veteran cigar nights at area bars for more than a year.

Allen, who works as a volunteer coordinator for Military Veteran Peer Network, said organizing a cigar night is fairly simple, but makes a big difference in a veteran's life.

Recently, he received a donation of several hundred cigars from longtime Warrior's Weekend volunteer Janice Driver.

Allen said he got the idea to host a cigar night from a volunteer coordinator in Houston, and the concept is taking off.

His military buddy in Utah recently started his own veteran cigar night.

"There's no membership fees. There's no hats," Allen said. "It's just hanging out."

He said he recently met a 92-year-old WWII vet and plans to take him to Vitality Court for cigar night.

Ramirez, also a veteran, is starting a new program with Allen that they call Veterans Visiting Veterans or V3. The idea is to encourage younger veterans to get out of the house and visit with older veterans.

"One of the biggest things we have to deal with after we come back is isolation," Allen said. "Getting together with other veterans kinda starts the process of reintegration."

The Crossroads Area Veteran Center has several programs to help veterans reconnect with others from yoga to having donuts and coffee to kayaking trips.

But the cigar nights, he said, is not the place to complain about the VA.

"It's more about camaraderie," he said.

The next veteran cigar night will be at Moonshine Drinkery at 7 p.m.March 16.

The bar will serve happy hour all night with music by the Scott Taylor Band. The Fire Pit food truck will be parked outside.

"If we can get together with a cigar night surrounded by brothers and sisters," he said, "they feel safe. They feel at home."

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(c)2017 Victoria Advocate (Victoria, Texas)

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