San Benito High senior Sommer Salinas grew up attending military events and she was always helping out wherever she was needed.
One day while talking to her uncle, who is the Commander in Chief for the Hollister Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9242, Salinas learned that someone was trying to put together a museum at the hall inside the Veterans Memorial Building on San Benito Street but they never completed it.
Salinas gave it some thought and then decided there had to be a way to thank the military servicewomen and men. Her next move would not only open a new place of recognition for veterans but it also earned her a Girl Scout Gold Award for her project, “Hollister Veterans of Foreign Wars Museum.”
Salinas said that her uncle looked around at the finished product and he already got a history lesson himself. Her family was picked as Military Family of the Year in 2015 during a League of United Latin American Citizens event.
“I hope that all people who enter take the time to learn at least something about a hometown veteran,” she said. “Maybe they will even find a relative because this is such a small town. I would love more items donated so we can possibly fill the whole room up.”
The museum is still not open because of the Covid-19 pandemic but Salinas hopes they can open on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. If not, she looks forward to having it open by Memorial Day, May 31, 2021.
The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest award Girl Scout Seniors and Ambassadors can earn, according to a guidebook on their website. To earn the award, each girl must complete a set of “Ambassador” or “Senior” journeys followed by a suggested minimum of 80 hours to complete the steps to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award.
Salinas took over a room that was used to teach children about military history, provide a space to read and watch movies and an area for veterans to have meetings.
The room, which looked like a storage unit, underwent a deep cleaning as Salinas tossed out unrepairable cabinets and unwanted furniture. She replaced a deteriorating TV stand, repainted cabinets and bookshelves, repaired display cases and framed photos and certificates.
Salinas knew that members of the community had donated items for display but there was no place to put them. She sorted similar items, took inventory of books and movies and organized loose photos.
She also looked up pictures of donated military medals to find out what branch of service they came from, what they were awarded for and how to properly display them.
“If I could restore the museum then maybe more people would learn about veterans,” she said. “The veterans could use the books and movies that were there for them, children could come for classes and veterans could use the open space for meetings. The room would be used as intended by the VFW.”
Salinas added a 9/11 display, showcased donated military uniforms and created a meeting space for both visiting students and VFW members.
However, Salinas did overcome a variety of obstacles due to the Covid-19 pandemic, causing her to work during odd hours and taking projects home with her to work on. She received a few small community donations but she funded the project almost entirely on her own with money saved up from a job she worked the previous year.
Most of her goals were met despite the pandemic and the funds went toward paint, labels, frames, wall art, cleaning supplies, photo cases, furniture hardware and several other items.
The most important goal for her was to display the veterans’ items, whether they be certificates, medals or uniforms. Salinas hopes that local veterans will utilize the space and she wants each visitor to leave feeling inspired having learned something new.
“I learned that I am confident and passionate when it comes to doing something that involves the veterans in my community,” she said. “I believe that the way the museum looks is the most successful part of it all. Everything came out beautifully, just the way I imagined it.”