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Renovations to VA living center in Queens unveiled

Major League Baseball, Mets, Bank of America contributed to project

NEW YORK -- A lot of people give lip service to the notion of paying more attention to the needs of American veterans, our veterans.

Major League Baseball and the New York Mets are among those who have done something specific with this concept. The results were unveiled on Monday at St. Albans Community Living Center, a part of the Veterans Administration Harbor Healthcare System.

MLB and the Mets donated more than $200,000 for a project that was designed to upgrade and transform an outdoor green space and recreation area at the Queens facility. The project included accessibility modifications and the addition of an enclosed patio, providing residents independent year-round access to a shared community space.

Bank of America, the official bank of Major League Baseball, has also supported this project through a $75,000 donation. More than 75 bank employees pitched in on a sweltering Monday morning to assist with the project. Scotts Miracle-Gro provided product for the project's landscaping and grounds maintenance.

A greatly improved green space is not going to change the world for American veterans. But this will be a project that will touch the lives of veterans at St. Albans. And that is how these things are built, one place at a time, one space at a time.

Anthony Soto, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, and who is a St. Albans resident, said of the altered space: "We've waited for this to happen for a long time. Compared to the space we had where nothing was, it's truly elegant. It's been a beautiful job that they did."

St. Albans Community Living Center offers health care and support services to area veterans, and serves as a home and rehabilitation facility for veterans.

The center is built upon what once was a golf course. Many individuals present at Monday's ceremonies were pleased to note that Babe Ruth had golfed there. After World War II, a U.S. Navy hospital was built on the site. The facility was turned over to the VA in 1974.

So the place has, as many similar facilities do, some years on it. Improvements are both welcome and necessary.

What most of these projects don't have is the kind of public-person star power that accompanied this new green space/recreation area into being. Among the featured speakers were Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, Mets chairman and chief executive officer Fred Wilpon, and the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.

Selig said of America's veterans: "These veterans deserve the best. They're heroes, many of whom were harmed while defending our country."

Selig noted that since 2008, Major League Baseball had committed more than $23 million to Welcome Back Veterans. This organization, to which Wilpon and the Mets have given significant support, aims to raise public awareness for veterans' issues, and has particularly stressed improving mental health programs for veterans.

The formal program on Monday was held in St. Albans Pratt Auditorium before an audience of several hundred, with Mets radio broadcaster Josh Lewin as master of ceremonies.

All of the speakers received enthusiastic applause, but the applause at Mayor Bloomberg's introduction was more like thunderous. The mayor noted those who had fought for America were responsible for the nation's continued and democratic way of life.

"We owe them a tremendous debt," Bloomberg said of veterans. "All the freedoms that we take for granted are not free. They were fought for. They were paid for with sweat and blood. ...This is still the place, when people vote with their feet, they come to the United State of America."

For Major League Baseball and the Mets, this project was part of the "Legacy" project though which MLB and the Mets will contribute more than $5 million to various community betterment projects in New York. Selig noted that since 1997, MLB has donated more than $57 million in All-Star Game-related revenues to community projects in cities that have hosted All-Star Games.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for