Reaching out to veterans

Gold star mother Jackie Dixon opens A.J. Dixon Vets and Friends Center in Berlin, named after her son who died in Iraq.

Jackie Dixon talks about the services and resources the. A.J. Dixon Vets and Friends Center will provide for veterans, servicemen and women and their families.

Jackie Dixon has been helping the Berlin community and Camden County since 2005 when she opened the A.J. Dixon Resource Center in honor of her son, A.J., who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. The center, located on 130 White Horse Pike in Berlin Borough, provided activities such as various classes and tutoring sessions to anyone in the community.

Now, Dixon’s focus has shifted to helping veterans and their families, and she renamed the center, A.J. Dixon Vets and Friends Center. Its new mission is to provide resources for veterans, servicemen, servicewomen and their families in Camden County. The official reopening was attended by Freeholder Bill Moen and Director of the Camden County Office of Veteran Affairs Floyd White, as well as Berlin Borough Mayor Jim Bilella and members of Berlin Borough Council.

“Over the course of the last few months, our Office of Veteran Affairs has worked very closely with the Dixon family to make sure we can provide any assistance we can to veterans, because we understand that opening a facility like this can provide outreach to the 30,000-plus veterans of Camden County,” Moen said.

The center is initially open one day a week on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and provides services such as meals, clothing and haircuts. It will also host “tell your story” nights when veterans can share their personal experiences.

Additionally, Dixon will be coordinating medical, psychological and case management services through the county office of veterans affairs.

Moen said this center can provide a connection and additional outreach to veterans in certain parts of Camden County in addition to Berlin Borough that it may not reach through its services based on location, such as Berlin Township, Lindenwold and Winslow Township.

From left: Camden County Freeholder Bill Moen, Jackie Dixon and Floyd White, Director of the Camden County Office of Veteran Affairs.

Dan MacDonnell, newly-elected councilman and commander of the Berlin VFW, said the VFW has veterans from those towns and thinks it’s vital to have another place veterans can go to when the VFW isn’t open.

“At the VFW, we’re not able to be open everyday or even during the weekdays, so a drop-in center like this in Berlin Borough, even though they are starting off only open one day a week, it will be really beneficial because it might be able to help serve veterans that we’re not able to take care of at that time,” he said.

It is only open one day a week for the time being because Dixon needs volunteers.

“I met some great people who are offering their services, but I need more help,” she said. “Veterans need so much help. I’m overly excited and anxious at this point because I just know some great things are going to come out of it.”

One of Dixon’s reasons for changing gears and helping veterans is because she saw how being overseas affected A.J., and she thinks he would have had issues to deal with, such as post traumatic stress disorder.

“Because he was not able to come back, I want to help those that are maybe dealing with some of the same issues he had to deal with,” she said.

A.J.’s spirit is what motivates Dixon to push through every single day, and she said she knows he’s smiling down on her as she helps those who need it most.

“He would say, ‘Mom, great job,” Dixon said with a smile. “Just like I’m proud of him, I’m sure he’ll be proud of me for what I’m doing.”

If you are interested in volunteering at the A.J. Dixon Vets and Friends Center, email Dixon at JQ8847@gmail.com.