Everyone knows that Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful) is the motto of the United States Marine Corps. One could also apply Semper Servientes (Always Serving) to Marine Corps League 708. When the current Commandant, Jim Bravico, took over almost three years ago he wanted to expand the services that 708 provided. He groups them into three categories: veterans assistance; scholarship and other community service programs. They also provide affordable fun events for the community. “I felt that we should set the standards for the community when it came to service organizations,” Bravico states.
The League does this in a variety of ways. They assist veterans in obtaining their VA (Veterans Affairs) benefits by helping them navigate the red tape in applying for disability compensation and other benefits. The organization supports veterans in other ways. For example, this year they intervened to prevent three veterans from being evicted from their homes.
In another case, a man who had just been hired by a company that picks up large amounts of cash from banks and other businesses, came to their headquarters. He had to purchase uniforms and couldn’t afford that, so 708 paid for his boots and other parts of his uniform.
Each year, the members of 708 cater lunches for veterans in some of the area’s nursing homes. They will also take veterans to doctor’s appointments if they have no transportation.
Another program that Bravico is proud of is the scholarship program. At one time, only relatives of Marine Corps veterans were eligible for a scholarship. He expanded that to include all high school seniors who meet the qualifications. To be eligible for a scholarship, the student must write a 500-word essay on some aspect of American government or history.
Over the past two years they’ve given out $5000 in scholarships. The money comes from donations to their Marine Corps League Guardian Foundation. Because the Marine Corps League is a 501(c)(4) organization they are limited in how much of their donations qualify as tax deductible for their donors. The foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization. This enables them to get larger donations from major corporations and has allowed the League to expand their donor base and raise more money for their programs.
Another community service program is the Marine Corps League’s annual Toys for Tots drive. Every year during the holiday season they collect thousands of dollars-worth of toys and then give them to the children.
They helped out a Cub Scout pack that was floundering. The league offered them their building at no cost as a place to meet and helped them in other ways. They also took over the sponsorship of the men’s 55 and over softball league.
Another program the organization sponsors is the Young Marines, a group of boys and girls ages 8 to 18. Some of the goals of the Young Marines is to promote mental, moral, and physical development in its members and such principles as courage, honesty and dependability. The program also stimulates interest in and respect for the history and traditions of the United States and the Marine Corps.
Bravico believes that “the more we reach out to the community, the more people will come to 708 to see what it’s all about.” Their plan must be working because in the past year they’ve brought in 54 new members.
The third group of activities that Marine Corps League 708 is involved in are affordable and fun events for the community. Two years ago they converted the five acres behind their building into a Halloween trail. They wanted to keep entrance fee reasonable because most people can’t afford the high admission prices at the Disney or Busch Gardens events. They charged $10 per person with children under five free and have raised more than $35,000 that goes toward helping veterans and community service programs.
Then they decided to build an old western ghost town in back. They’ve constructed a railroad station, saloon, jail house and other buildings. They plan to rent the “town” out to people who want to host parties and other events.
At Christmas time the area in back of the building transforms into a Christmas Trail. Walmart donated 30,000 Christmas lights that were strung around. High school girls acted as elves and gave out candy to the kids. Even Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and the Grinch put in an appearance.
This past May, the League and the Heritage Society held a re-enactment of the American Revolution Battle of Lexington and Concord. They plan to host other historical re-enactments.
With the 4th of July coming up, 708 will be celebrating in style. It will be a fun day full of games, food, music and, of course, fireworks.
Along with these annual events, the League has other weekly and daily activities. Most are open to the public. Every Friday they have a fish fry with an alternate meal choice for those who don’t eat fish. On Tuesdays, 708 has Bingo and on Sundays there is Happy Hour from noon until 3 pm. This is just a sample of what’s going on at the League.
Although voting members of the Marine Corps League are required to be currently serving in the Marines or be a Marine veteran, anyone can join as an associate.
The Auxiliary consists of close relatives of a Marine. In addition to helping the League with its activities, they have activities of their own. For example, they put together Thanksgiving baskets for needy families and raffle baskets.
The building at 8405 Sunshine Grove Road is also available for individuals and organizations to rent for their events. In this time of division in our country, Bravico believes that all the veterans organizations should cooperate in helping veterans. Hoo-rah!
For more information on Marine Corps League 708 call 352-597-7979 or 352-556-3045. You can also log onto https://mcl708.org/ Follow them on Facebook: MCL 708 OORAH for pictures and updates on what’s going on in the organization.