A museum dedicated to women veterans is opening in Pensacola on Wednesday as the first step in a long-term plan to make the former train station a campus connecting veterans of all kinds to jobs, training and social services.
The Monument to Women Veterans at 980 E. Heinberg St. has been a decade in the making for its founder, Michelle Caldwell, a veteran who realized there weren’t many places across the country specifically dedicated to honoring women in the military.
“We are grassroots so a lot of it is the community coming together,” Caldwell said. “We’re at a point where we can let people see we’ve got this space developed and this is phase 1, but we want to go to phase 2 and develop a training center.”
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The museum is about 3,500 square feet and is inside what was once a train depot that has been vacant since Hurricane Ivan. Caldwell worked with the city of Pensacola to lease the building for the museum and she plans to expand as funding allows to create areas like meeting spaces and training rooms.
Caldwell is working with the UWF Historic Trust and Naval Aviation Museum to fill the museum with memorabilia, but is seeking more contributions from women in the military in the area to add to the collection.
While the museum and a monument are dedicated to women in the military, Caldwell said the services and resources will be for any veteran regardless of gender identity.
“What we’re doing here addresses every need I see in the county and city, and I see it to have a huge economic impact attached to it,” she said. “They say if you build it, they’ll come, but we need to have the programming in place to address the amount of veterans that are needing help.”
Caldwell said the center will work with existing resources like technical colleges to provide training and support rather than launching their own model. An example is a drone course she said they will be operating soon that can help fill a need in construction and real estate for certified drone operators.
“Everything really ties in together,” she said. “We’re trying to take this building that was left in disarray and in such a beautiful area of the city that’s underdeveloped to create this whole campus.”
Caldwell said funding has been slow, though, so the project will roll out in stages. She said she’s working with legislators to try to secure government funding and is working to secure private donors and grants to help develop the campus.
“When we just look at what we have to offer here, what we’ve got to address the needs and the companies we have, what the military means for us, it’s the perfect place to do this,” Caldwell said.
The grand opening of the Monument to Women Veterans will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight at 980 E. Heinberg St.
Emma Kennedy can be reached at [email protected] or 850-480-6979.