At Veterans Breakfast Club there is a saying, “Every veteran has a story, and each one should be heard.”

On April 21, close to 200 locals echoed this sentiment as they gathered at the Heinz History Center in support of the Veterans Breakfast Club.  Their gala, Veteran Voices, is the signature fundraiser in support of their vision – to capture, preserve, and share the experiences of Pittsburgh area veterans of all branches of service and eras, including peace and war-time service.

Each man and woman who offered life’s most vital years in service to our country has sacrificed their health and welfare for our freedoms.  They are our protectors, defenders, warfighters, peacemakers and peacekeepers. “These veterans are all around us, and each has a story to tell, no matter where or how they served. All you need to do is ask,” says Todd DePastino, Executive Director for the Veterans Breakfast Club. “That’s why we created the Veterans Breakfast Club: to get veterans together with their families, friend, and neighbors and have the vets share stories of their service.”

The Veterans Breakfast Club is a local nonprofit founded in 2008 whose mission is to create communities of listening around veterans and their stories so that this living history is never forgotten.  Their initiative, Veterans Voices of Pittsburgh, captures these stories and presents them in audio, video and written form.  Each venue produces a different experience and makes interviews available through a variety of platforms from mobile devices and social media, to the web and in print. Content is also being archived at the Heinz History Center with photographs and documents.

Their mission is critical because in recent years, we have the smallest proportion of our population EVER having served in time of war.  Less than .5 percent of the population served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars compared to more than 12% during World War II.  Just look at our government as an example.  In 1975, 70 percent of members in Congress had some military experience, today just 20 percent do and only a handful of their children are in uniform. Couple that with the rate as which WW II vets are passing away and there is a critical window in capturing this history.  The preservation of these stories for future generations is imperative but to watch vets tell their story and see their emotion will help future generations make a connection.

The Veterans Breakfast Club holds 40 breakfast events at various locations throughout Western Pennsylvania.  There are no membership dues or requirements to join and everyone, including non-veterans, is welcome to join. Breakfasts begin at 8:30am, and the program starts at 9:00am.

“You never know what you’re going to hear,” DePastino explains. “Some of the stories are funny, some are heartbreaking, but they all are important because they are our history.”

Last year, over 3,500 people attended Veterans Breakfast Club events.  “They come to listen and to learn, to share, to heal, and to say thank you to those who’ve served,” says DePastino.  Their popularity continues to grow with each passing month, which should come as no surprise to organizations that serve our veterans.  Southwestern Pennsylvania is home to more than 260,000 veterans and their families (including 8,000 children), one of the largest concentrations of veterans in our country.

“Funds raised will help us continue the Veterans Breakfast Club meetings and the Veterans Voices projects,” states DePastino. “Anyone interested in helping preserve the memories of our veterans and supporting our programs is invited to attend any of our Breakfast Club meetings.  Every veteran has a story. Consider attending and hearing some. “I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.”