Join us for a family-friendly Luncheon & Expo!
In 2023 we celebrated 6 successful years of networking with local and neighboring communities and organizations to bring the Berwyn community the best resources for the entire family. Our event is aimed at feeding our Veterans to honor their service and connect all of our community with local resources and organizations.
We are bringing our Job Fair again to our Expo this year through career services and staffing agencies ready to take your resume. We also integrated a children’s area with bounce houses and kid friendly activities.
We are looking forward to another successful year in 2024.
About the Expo
Narrated by our Vice President, Greg Hopper
My involvement with the veteran community began in June of 2014, when I signed up as a volunteer for a veteran’s event called Honor 2014 The Moving Wall. A half-sized replica of the Vietnam Wall was exhibited. It was held at the north end of Proksa Park in Berwyn, IL in August of 2014. This would become more significant than I ever thought possible.
Currently, I, along with Tony Ward, comprise a small, but ambitiously driven team that organizes and conducts all veterans’ activities for the city of Berwyn, IL. Formed in 2005 as a collective representing all veterans’ posts, its main goal was to simplify the coordination of a single event for many different organizations. It was named the Combined Veterans of Berwyn. Tony Ward Is our current Coordinator, and I am now his second in command. Our predecessors retired in January of 2016, and we were chosen to continue their work.
What I’m about to describe to you can only be described as a twist of fate. Last year, just after our 2018 Memorial Day ceremony, we were faced with a heart-wrenching decision. The dwindling veteran population had begun to affect the posts’ membership, as well as event attendance, and our own personal health issues became a factor.
We were going to prepare ourselves to move forward with either of two decisions. Either we were going to shut down completely, and go back to our normal day-to-day lives, or we were going to kick it into high gear. Call it fate, destiny, divine intervention, coincidence, or just sheer luck, our decision would quickly be made for us.
Last year in June of 2018, one of our local supporters called to pitch an idea to us. A veterans luncheon. It would be a way to gather a few veterans together to break bread and have a bit of camaraderie. The seed was planted, and we kept the possibilities open. Shortly thereafter, we met a local store marketer for City Barbeque in Berwyn. We explained the idea, and they pledged their support. So, we set up a meeting to get the ball rolling. We called the Berwyn Park District to request space, and they gladly donated the south end of Proksa Park. We decided to make the meal free for all veterans with proof of service, and a fee would be charged for non-veterans and children 12 and under. We named it the Combined Veterans Welcome Home Barbeque.
As we were visiting supporters to request donations to cover the food, one of them asked to have a booth at the event. Although this was not in the plan for the event, it was integrated. It became an veterans information expo as well as a luncheon.
In a follow-up meeting with the Berwyn Park District, the details were examined, and the decision was made that the event had outgrown the south grove of Proksa Park. It was moved to the north end. This was the same location where my veteran community involvement began four years prior during Honor 2014 The Moving Wall. Having the opportunity to organize an event in that same space was the definition of full circle. After evaluating each exhibitor on an individual basis to determine viability, we had 23 different exhibitors at the event, all bringing a service for veterans. Among them were Hines VA Hospital, Help Heal Veterans Maywood CBC, North Riverside Armed Forces Recruiting Center, Ace of Fades Berwyn (cutting vets hair for free), Pull Up Bars for Patriots, T- Mobile (50% lifetime discount for vets), Republic Bank (special rates for vets), and PAV YMCA (scholarship program for vets).
It was one of the largest and most successful events we’ve ever done. A total of 600 people, consisting of veterans, their families, and a large portion of the general community were affected by our efforts. It was the talk of the town for weeks, and veterans who had long since abandoned the veteran community showed up to participate. The live entertainment, food, and the opening motorcycle procession called Berwyn Thunder were all a huge hit.
In 2019, and for the future, we’ve changing the name to the Combined Veterans Luncheon & Expo. Its evolution warranted the change going forward. We already have over 40 exhibitors signed up, many of which were there last year.
The event’s primary purpose is to bring as many veterans together in one place as possible, to break bread, and enjoy each other’s company for a day. The event’s secondary purpose is an informational expo. We realized long ago that there is a wealth of information and resources out there for veterans, but many don’t know how to find what they need, and our exhibitors struggle to get the word out about the services they offer. The event’s tertiary purpose is the annual fundraiser for the Combined Veterans of Berwyn. Our funds help us support our local posts, as well as those who support us. We have great partnerships with local organizations, and we strive to cultivate them for the betterment of not only the veteran community, but the community as a whole.
One thing we did garnered overwhelming support. We decided that charity should be a partnership with sponsors, instead of a handout. When they help us with a donation, we advertise their business/organization on our sponsor banner and social media, showing that they helped make this event possible.. Last year, our banner was 16 feet long and 7 feet high. Total number of sponsors on the banner: 66.
Our veteran community consists largely of Vietnam veterans. It’s no secret how they were treated upon their return from war. That has had a stubbornly lasting effect on their involvement in the veteran community. Last year, we made some noise in Berwyn, and veterans who had never show their faces at an event, came to join us. We want to build on that momentum. We believe that we can change the hearts and minds of those who negatively associate the current veteran community with how they were treated. It’s a lofty goal, and some might call us crazy. But, I’m one of those who believe that those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do.
– Sponsorships Over the Years –
2024 – Pending
Why You’ll Love Us
There is never been a better time to build communities and promote engagement. Our overall goal is to provide resources to the community in a fun and friendly environment. Meet your neighbors, support Veterans, meet local businesses, and have a great time.
- Veteran-owned Famous BBQ
- Community Building
- Family-Friendly Fun
- Free Entry
- Local Exhibitors