New Castle County will help dedicate the country’s first site of the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative, modeled after a post-World War II program to train veterans, especially those with disabilities, in the profession of watch repair, County Executive Thomas P. Gordon announced Wednesday.
A public dedication ceremony will be held at 2 p.m., Monday, Nov. 7, at the county-owned site, a former paramedic station by southbound DuPont Highway (U.S. 13) just north of Main Street, Odessa. For GPS, its address is 307 N. Sixth St., Odessa, DE 19730.
“We are honored to have solved the location problem for this nationally unique nonprofit, so it can get started providing training and good jobs for those who sacrificed the most serving our country,” Gordon said. “New Castle County soon will have our country’s only technical training facility focusing on veterans with disabilities. They deserve this.”
More than two years ago, the group announced a goal of opening in a former elementary school building in southern Delaware, but that fell through. In November 2014, Richard and Geri Money of Middletown gave the program 4 acres of commercially zoned land and the site plan won unanimous approval from Middletown Town Council.
“That was really incredible and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the Moneys’ generosity,” said Sam Cannan, a longtime master watchmaker who cofounded the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative and chairs its board.
But with millions to raise for the Middletown site construction, Cannan kept looking for a place where the program could start before that facility’s completion.
That’s where New Castle County came in. Gordon agreed to lease the program the long-vacant building near the heart of Odessa, with a 10-year lease at $1 a year and option for renewal.
“This is really exciting,” said Rick Hofmann, a veteran with disability, who says he hopes to be in the first group the program trains. “It’s a tremendous opportunity, so needed.”
Veterans who complete training will have “instant employment,” Cannan said, citing a massive need for watchmakers. There are fewer than 3,000 nationwide and more than 4,000 more needed just to meet current demand created by a global revival of mechanical watches.
“These jobs can start at about $85,000 a year,” Cannan added, and veterans will not be charged any fees for training. “They don’t pay anything and the VA doesn’t pay anything and all the instructors are unpaid volunteers.”
The program already has commitments from a few luxury watch companies to handle their repairs – and is looking for willing jewelers as well.
The Bulova Watch Co.’s program after World War II was a huge success, but closed before the company was sold decades later. Cannan reached out to the Bulova family, which happily gave its blessing for him to create the Veterans Watchmaker Initiative on the operational model of the original Bulova School. “They were just thrilled that it wouldn’t be lost to history,” Cannan said Wednesday.
Among those who will benefit the most, he said, are veterans who have become isolated due to severe or disfiguring disabilities. “And more than jobs, this will provide a community where veterans will be comfortable and feel valued,” he said, adding, “because they are. They will have friends, people who care and people who understand what they went through, what they’re going through.”
As the initiative gets established and generates repair contracts, Cannan said fundraising will focus on the Middletown facility, tentatively called The Technical Center at Moneys’ Farm.
The Veterans Watchmaker Initiative, established with legal assistance provided pro bono, has federal certification as a 501(c)(3) organization, making donations tax-deductible. Donations are welcomed in checks payable to The Veterans Watchmaker Initiative Inc. at P.O. Box 329, Little Creek, DE 19961.
Tax-deductible contributions also may be made securely under “Donation page” at www.veteranswatchmakerinitiative.org, the nonprofit’s site where more information is posted. Information also is available at www.facebook.com/veteranswatchmakerinitiative.