As a salute to its volunteer efforts, a local veterans group has been named the Vietnam Veterans of America Georgia State Council's chapter of the year.
"I was totally surprised when they announced it," said Chapter 970 President Wayne Watkins. "I've submitted for this every year since we formed. It's typically awarded to the larger, metro chapters."
Chartered in fall 2005, the club has grown to nearly 80 members from Dawson and Lumpkin counties. More than half of the membership is involved in the group's numerous volunteer and fundraising efforts.
The award was presented to the club during the annual state conference June 16 in Macon.
"It's key for us to give back where we live," Watkins said.
In addition to assisting in veteran activities throughout the communities, the group raises funds for organizations such as RIC Rack, KARE for Kids, NOA and the Rainbow Children's Home, among others.
"We can't lavish thousands of dollars. I wish we could, but $300 or $400 here and there, I know they all appreciate it," Watkins said.
The club also provides scholarships to graduating seniors in both counties.
"The scholarships are, by far, the chapter's crown jewel," he said. "We had it at $500 for just one when we first formed the chapter. Now we're up to $1,000 for two scholarships."
The group holds monthly business meetings and weekly informal breakfast gatherings.
"We're all the about the same age, we speak the language and we enjoy being together," said charter member Thomas "Gunny" Moore.
For Moore, joining the group was like therapy.
"I was never a joiner," he said. "And coming back from Vietnam, I wasn't treated wonderfully by the VFW or the American Legion, so I stayed away from the veteran organizations."
He was working at the county courthouse when Watkins approached him about forming the chapter.
Moore was elected vice president at the first meeting.
"All these folks, they're family. They've become family to me," he said.
This is the second time in consecutive years local chapter members have been honored at the state conference.
In 2011, Dave Hildebrand of Dahlonega was named Georgia's Vietnam Veteran of the Year.