|Country Ridge B&B|
Four veterans from across the nation got to enjoy a visit to Opelousas this Veterans’ Day weekend for free thanks to a program known as the B&B for Vets Program. The program is now offered by 500 inns and B&Bs across the nation, but it got its start right here in Opelousas. Sonny Ray with the Country Ridge Bed and Breakfast said he started offering free rooms to veterans about eight years ago. “This was just our way of giving back to these men and women who have given so much to all of us,” Ray said. “My dad was a vet. I just wanted to do it.” Unknown to him, Kathleen Panek, co-owner of the Gillum House B&B in West Virginia started offering a similar free rooms program in 2008. Ray said the pair soon got together and began promoting the idea to others in the travel industry. As a result, the program has now expanded to take in hundreds of B&Bs and inns in the United States and Canada. Ray, who gave away all the rooms at his B&B this weekend, said the experience has been rewarding for both himself and the veterans. “They really appreciate it. They really do,” Ray said. “They are wonderful people. I’ve got to meet many extraordinary people over the last eight years.” He said the veterans come in as strangers but tend to leave as friends.
According to “Better Way To Stay,” an online service of the Professional Association of Innkeeper International, the grassroots campaign now annually provides free rooms to thousands of veterans and active duty personnel on their special day. “We conservatively estimate that more than $200,000 in free stays were offered to veterans in the U.S. alone,” reported the website. “Add that to the rooms being given away in Canada, and we think it’s possible that nearly a half million dollars’ worth of free rooms were offered to deserving veterans and service men and women over the Veterans Day weekend,” the website said.
Although the program has caught on throughout North America, Ray said it still remains largely unknown here it the state of its birth. “There are only five (B&Bs) in Louisiana that are participating — no others in this area,” Ray said.
Article published in The Opelousas Daily World