Under leadership of Maria Hamlin, Nutley VFW goes from nearly closing to model post

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The Nutley Veterans of Foreign Wars has undergone a renaissance of sorts over the last few years and under Commander Maria Hamlin, the post’s first-ever female leader, it has seen unprecedented expansion and growth. And so, as Veterans Day approaches, we bring you this story in Q&A format with Hamlin, whose post recently went from nearly closing to being chosen as an All-State and All-American post.

Kevin Canessa: Tell me what it means to be chosen to be All-State and All-American? Is it a difficult  process? 

Maria Hamlin: In order to be chosen for All-State and All-American, a post must meet or exceed program requirements set out by the VFW. The process is not an easy one as there are many factors involved to meet each programs requirements. Included in that is membership, community service activities, work and partnerships with other organizations and of course, our community scholarship and programs such as Patriots Pen, Voice of Democracy and the Smart Maher Teachers awards programs.

KC: Tell us about some of the newer things the post is doing over the last few years.

MH: We’ve added Americanism ceremonies such as POW recognition day and Flag Day — including flag retirement ceremonies.

We have implemented a Trunk or Treat program, which is a safe way for our community’s children to trick or treat. I started that program at the Nutley Police Department when I was a detective and it was important for me to bring it here to the VFW as well.

We also collect food and clothing during our Veterans drive in November and December which is distributed to vets throughout the state at VA hospitals and facilities. We’ve also host toy drives for children and veterans’ children in need.

We’ve also partnered with the Garden State Girls Motorcycle riding club on a touch a trike event. At this event, our community can come out and sit on Trike-style motorcycles, play some carnival games, have some food and enjoy spending time with two great organizations.

We’ve (also) brought new events such as Paint and Sip and food truck events to our post and community.

We’ve worked to improve the building and the grounds with help from some major partners such as Home Depot, who built an amazing outdoor patio for our veterans during COVID; and GAF roofing and PB roofing who replaced our roof for us as part of their community give back program. We’ve also been able to replace all of our ceiling tiles thanks to the generous donation of James Alonso State farm.

Our memorial are was redone thanks to Cifelli and Son and a Nutley Rotary project led by Dorothy Huey and John Monaco.

KC: I should know this, but are you the commander? How did you get involved with the VFW? Tell us about your own service (Military, Nutley PD, etc.)

MH: I am the Commander and was elected as the first female Commander in 2021. Our terms are one year, so I was re-elected this past April. I’ve been a member for a while now, and previously held the office of adjutant. Once I retired, I was able to dedicate all of my time to helping to turn this post around and as a result of our hard work, we received both All-State and All-American honors this year.

KC: What should people who may not know the Veterans of Foreign Wars know about the VFW?

MH: The VFW is a non-profit veterans service organization comprised of eligible veterans and military service members from the active, Guard and Reserve forces. Our purpose is to serve our veterans and our community.

KC: How does Nutleys post stand out? Sing your own praises here.

MH: We were recently told that our post was in danger of being shut down just a few years ago because we were not fulfilling the requirements set forth by our state and national offices. Additionally, lots of folks didn’t even know we had a VFW in town.

Our goal last year was to become more active in the community, to ensure we were fulfilling our programming and to help as many veterans and their families as we could. We worked very hard and we’re recognized both at the state and national VFW level. Our community members now know we are here, we are present and we are ready, willing and able to help both our community and all veterans in need.

We are not a bar/watering hole. We are here to do real work for our veterans and our community!

Editor’s note: Hamlin was also chosen as the Grand Marshal for the Memorial Day Parade and her daughter sang a beautiful rendition of the National anthem.

KC: What else should folks know about the Nutley VFW?

MH: We could not have accomplished everything we did in the past year without the love, help and support of our community and many businesses both small and large that assisted us. Most of our veterans have been around for quite some time and are unable to do the things they used to do at our post. It is the responsibility of the younger generation of veterans to take a step forward and really embrace the duty and responsibility of keeping our VFW active in not only our community, but also throughout the nation.

We still have challenges ahead of us. We need to continue to recruit members into our organization so we can continue to help all veterans.

We also have a very old and neglected parking lot that needs attention. It’s been cost prohibitive for us as a non-profit organization to properly repave the lot. We are going to try to explore some grants; however, if that doesn’t pan out, we may need to rely on our community supporters to help us.

We are currently running a legacy brick fundraiser to help raise funds for our parking lot area as well as other projects that need to be accomplished on our building and property.

If you are interested in helping, visit bit.ly/nutleyvfw.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.