Voices for Veterans Stand Down organizer John Braasch, left, listens as AARP representative Doug Shadel speaks before presenting Braasch a certificate of appreciation for being a nominee for AARP’s Andrus Award for Community Service before Thursday’s stand-down at the Clallam County Fairgrounds in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Voices for Veterans Stand Down organizer John Braasch, left, listens as AARP representative Doug Shadel speaks before presenting Braasch a certificate of appreciation for being a nominee for AARP’s Andrus Award for Community Service before Thursday’s stand-down at the Clallam County Fairgrounds in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

AARP recognizes Voices for Veterans head in Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — When the conversation veers, Voices for Veterans President John Braasch restores its focus to veterans, said Doug Shadel, the state director for AARP.

“He has this laser focus on helping people,” Shadel said.

Braasch’s tendency to divert the limelight played out at an award ceremony early Thursday morning when Shadel presented Braasch with a pin and certificate of appreciation, recognizing his nomination for the 2017 AARP Washington Award for Community Service. He was selected as the runner-up for the state volunteer award.

The AARP also donated $500 to Voices for Veterans.

“All of the world’s problems would be solved if we had useful citizens, and John Braasch epitomizes a useful citizen,” Shadel said as he handed Braasch the certificate. “Congratulations.”

The ceremony at the Clallam County Fairgrounds lasted all of two minutes before Braasch leapt into the day’s focus: veterans coming to Port Angeles’ Stand Down, which began at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The stand-down, which takes place across the North Olympic Peninsula each year, congregates providers of housing assistance, medical and dental screening, employment services, free clothing and bedding, outdoor equipment, veterinary care, benefits counseling and legal aid, among others.

Braasch prayed, led the Pledge of Allegiance and then instructed the Port Angeles volunteers gathered around, “Take your time. Be patient. Love the veterans like your brother or sister. This is a family reunion.”

Shadel traveled from Seattle with several other AARP representatives to meet Braasch himself. He marveled at Braasch’s authenticity.

“There’s no pretense to this guy,” Shadel said. “He’s all about veterans and the pure desire to help people.”

Out of dozens and dozens of nominations, Shadel said, Braasch’s rose to the top.

“I think the Voices for Veterans was an example of one guy taking action against a problem in the world,” Shadel said. “He filed this nonprofit himself.”

In 2004, the former submarine command master chief set out to form Voices for Veterans, which came into being after its first successful stand-down.

Volunteer Phyllis Hopfner described Braasch as the “glue” that holds the nonprofit together.

“I think if John wasn’t here — well, I don’t see anyone ready to do what he does,” Hopfner said.

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Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].

U.S. Navy veteran Ken Thela of Forks, left, shows delight in receiving a free pair of glasses from Sequim Valley Lions Club member Lee Martin during Thursday’s Voices for Veterans Stand Down at the Clallam County Fairgrounds in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

U.S. Navy veteran Ken Thela of Forks, left, shows delight in receiving a free pair of glasses from Sequim Valley Lions Club member Lee Martin during Thursday’s Voices for Veterans Stand Down at the Clallam County Fairgrounds in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

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