Recently, Stirling Development, a full-service, value-added development company specializing in master-planned communities and major land renovations, donated an additional $100,000 to the Veterans Association of North County (VANC) in San Diego County to further support and sustain its work. The donation was made during the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce Enlisted Recognition Reception held in February 22.
In 2004, Stirling — known for its work on Ocean Ranch in Oceanside — was an early supporter of VANC, stepping in to help raise money along with project management and construction oversight to provide a permanent home in Oceanside — a former jail facility — for its more than 25 dedicated veteran’s organizations. Today, that home is a 13,500-square-foot one-stop resource center where all veterans, active-duty military, and their loved ones can go for assistance with jobs, education, finances, health, wellness, and family issues.
SoCal Real Estate spoke with Dougall Agan, president and CEO of Stirling Development, and Chuck Atkinson, a former commander of the American Legion Post 146 as well as a 27-year military veteran and the impetus behind the creation of the VANC, about the development of this project and Stirling’s supportive relationship with the organization.
SoCal Real Estate: What’s the story behind this project?
Atkinson: When I was commander of American Legion Post 146 in 2004, we didn’t have a building of our own. There was no facility for veterans between Long Beach and San Diego. We bounced around from the local Elks Lodge to the Moose Lodge to anywhere they would allow us to have a meeting. We were even forced to hold a meeting on the sidewalk. The American Legion is the nation’s number-one veteran’s organization since 1919, and we had to meet on the sidewalk because we had no place go. That’s when I decided to find a home. The Oceanside City Manager Peter Weiss connected me with Dougall Agan, who said he’d like to help us out with the facility.
Dougall, how did you find out about the organization’s plight?
Agan: Our philosophy is to integrate into the community. We have always tried to support veterans. Oceanside has a tremendous portion of the population that is active or former military. As Chuck was reaching out to the City, I was doing the same to see if we could create a long-term partnership, and Peter thought we should connect. We were looking for a meaningful cause, and Chuck was looking for a solution. A former vacant facility came available. While it needed a lot of work, the solution became a beautiful collaborative opportunity to help Chuck. The location worked because it had the space for veterans to come together and maintain camaraderie.
Atkinson: Like any construction project, the costs associated with the improvements were daunting. When I signed the lease with the City, we had $300 in the bank. The cost for improvements was $1.3 million. I lost a lot of sleep wondering where the money was going to come from. Then, Dougall stepped in and said, “You need a project manager. We want to help you get on your feet.” This guy knew everything we needed: from how to select an architect to putting out RFPs for contractors and architects. We had numerous responses. They were very sympathetic and offered a lot of things they could do pro bono.
Agan: We realized we had this incredible organization with many chapters that didn’t have its communication tools established yet. We worked with Chuck to create a website and fundraising program for donations. We quickly broadened the scope and more people stepped forward to volunteer. We have a great community. Chuck’s enthusiasm is infectious, and these tools helped get his message out. It was amazing to be part of such an impactful facility and to see the energy and joy it brought.
What was your firm’s total contribution to the project?
Agan: Our total amount to date is approximately $300,000. There was a lot to be done, from project management to cost estimating to design and rehab of the existing facility.
What were the uses of the previously donated funds?
Atkinson: The upfront cost was for the construction. We took a building built in the mid-’60s and completed seismic upgrade to it before it could be turned over to us. We broke up the construction into phases. Certain veteran services were able to be provided as a result of the phase 1 improvement: training for security guards and bodyguards and transitioning for troops coming out of the military – the Career Transition Assistance Program – to help the men and women looking for jobs in teaching them how to write a resumé, how to dress and talk to an interviewer. This program helped them ease into the civilian world and get a family-wage job. After phase 1 was built, then more money came in so phase 2 and phase 3 could be built. Phase 4 was the kitchen.
Agan: As a result of Chuck’s persistence, and with his great respect and tactfulness, he got the City to realize this is something that’s not just for VANC but for the whole community. It was great for Chuck to show the City a better and higher use for what had been a vacant facility. It’s remarkable to see how many uses Chuck has created and the broader impact it’s had. This has always been a patriotic community, but now we can celebrate the vets and our love for America, thanks to Chuck’s vision.
What is the current donation being used for?
Atkinson: It will help with the educational programs, the honor garden, and some of the repair work we have to do. We have a lot of good educational programs: culinary, cybersecurity, fiber optics, paramedics and firefighters, job-search training. Last year, more than 17,000 people came here for assistance.
Are there future donations planned, and for what programs/uses would those funds be allocated?
Agan: Our organization gets numerous requests to donate to various causes. But this cause is at the heart and soul of our freedom in America. We were so excited to get involved, but we wanted to make sure it was something that was going to be sustainable. We will continue to be a loyal partner of the veterans. This is an invaluable facility for the broader community of San Diego. From our perspective, the more effort that’s applied to bringing job opportunities to veterans the better. That is where collaboration can be really impactful. We want to be an active participant in assisting VANC in properly training veterans in jobs today. There’s a broad array of skills needed, and we want to help provide those.
Atkinson: We’re always looking for new educational programs. There are thousands of troops coming out of Pendleton every month. Training from the military doesn’t prepare you for civilian life.
What are some tips for firms looking to create philanthropic partnerships with organizations?
Agan: For me, I’ve donated money to causes, but wasn’t as emotionally engaged. If you take that extra step of creating a relationship with people like Chuck who have a real vision, it’s so much more rewarding. You get so much more in return when you give in the right way. There are lots of ways to give: time, sweat equity, personnel. It’s not just about the money, but it’s the enthusiasm, the physical and emotional support. That means more to me and to our Stirling team.