A year ago, Kingston Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1088 was dark and the building was on the market.
Like so many other VFWs, the post struggled to attract younger blood to keep the place running.
As veterans in leadership roles dwindled and no one showed interest in replacing them, many assumed it was over.
"It was up for sale. The sign was there. Kingston was going to lose it,” recalled John Berrini, a 40-year-old Army veteran.
Determined to keep the post alive for younger and older generations of veterans, Berrini stepped forward to take over as quartermaster.
Army veteran Derrick Heins, 50, agreed to become commander.
The post reopened last August and has since thrived with a full slate of about a dozen officers.
Its home on Route 125 was taken off the market, improvements were made to the building and grounds, features were added to draw new veterans, and plaques with the names of deceased members were dusted off and are hanging on the walls near the entrance once again.
With membership up 126%, the post is now receiving national recognition for its successful recruiting efforts.
"A lot of the activities and a lot of the stuff we’re doing, we’re just getting more participation from the younger crowd. The older members are just happy to see the place alive and doing something,” said Heins, a Plaistow resident.
Berrini and other members are trying to combat the stereotype of a VFW post as a dimly lit, smoke-filled bar where a small group of older veterans trade war stories.
Kingston VFW officials said the biggest problem facing VFW leadership is that they’re not finding ways to transition from World War II, Korea and Vietnam vets to service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan war era.
"We might just be the last dog standing because we were able to make the transition from WWII guys to the current,” Berrini said.
Since the reopening, six large-screen TVs have been added to the walls along with new pool tables destined for league use, more dartboards, and Keno. Berrini said the post would like to offer poker nights as well.
Concerts are being held in the rented hall on Saturdays to generate revenue.
The post even added four taps to offer more than just bottled beer.
Members are also finding unique ways to raise money.
The post recently launched a gun raffle that Berrini hopes will be a success and help pay off some debt.
Some 2,500 raffle tickets are expected to be sold at $25 each for 30 guns in a legal fundraiser.
Newton Air Force veteran Steve Costa, 71, and his family donated time and materials totaling more than $16,000 to renovate the basement kitchen, which had holes in the ceiling and other problems. The improvements included a new floor, freshly painted cabinets and plumbing upgrades.
"We do the best with what we’ve got,” Costa said.
Berrini also installed two computers for use by any veterans who don’t have internet access at home and may need to look up resources or file for unemployment.
The parking lot was improved and bushes were ripped out around the front of the building to improve curb appeal.
Mike Morin, a 37-year-old Marine from Newton who served in Iraq, joined the reopened post, looking for a watering hole and camaraderie.
"I love it here, and it’s right around the corner,” said Morin, who is now a trustee and serves on the post’s house committee.
A working father of a young child, Morin said that getting younger veterans who are busy with work and family to join is challenging, but he’s hopeful the post will succeed.
Bar manager Kelly Emmett was hired when the post reopened. She worked at the Salem VFW until its building was sold.
"I like working for the VFW. Business is picking up,” she said.