It’s fair to say that Kathleen Panek, owner and innkeeper at Gillum House in Shinnston, WV, has had her hand in providing thousands of rooms to deserving veterans and active military over the past 11 years. As founder of the B&Bs for Vets program, now going into its 11th year, she’s steered the growth of the program which gives free B&B stays to veterans on or around Veteran’s Day from one inn in West Virginia to thousands of inns and B&Bs participating globally. Humble and dedicated, Kathleen says “Other than my kids and grandkids, this is the thing in my life I am most proud of. The fact that we have managed to keep it alive all these years is wonderful.”
The B&Bs for Vets program started in 2008 when Kathleen offered a free room to any deserving veteran who might need a B&B escape to celebrate Veteran’s Day. “I remember reading somewhere about someone giving a room away to a veteran,” said Kathleen. “I decided I could do that, so in November 2008, I posted a free room for vets on my website. A young man in the Navy booked it. Instead of coming alone, he brought his wife and baby,” she finished. Little did Kathleen know that this would be the first of thousands of rooms given away in the B&Bs for Vets movement that would build over the following decade.
Seeing the potential for other B&Bs to become involved, in 2010 Kathleen worked tirelessly to recruit other B&Bs in West Virginia to offer rooms to deserving military and their spouses over Veteran’s Day. Working with fellow tech-savvy innkeepers at the Thomas Shepherd Inn, a basic spreadsheet website was set up to support the program and Kathleen and fellow West Virginia innkeepers recruited more inns and B&Bs to offer rooms. Once the Associated Press got wind of the offer of free rooms for veterans and publicized it that year, the program exploded. By November 11, 2010, there were 900 B&Bs in the USA, 11 in Canada, two in Mexico, and one each in Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Paris, France, and Namibia offering up free rooms for deserving veterans. Kathleen and the innkeepers at the Thomas Sheppard Inn decided it was time to turn the program over to a tech-savvy committee. In 2012 the Association of Independent Hospitality Professionals (AIHP) took over the planning, promotion and management of the program, but always with Kathleen at the helm of the coordinating committee. The program continues to be supported by both AIHP, state B&B associations, and industry associations like bnbfinder today.
In the following years, BBCanada, a B&B Directory and association in Canada, and BedPosts, a UK-based B&B Directory, have joined Kathleen’s efforts to provide hundreds of stays to deserving veterans. The BnbsforVets.org website has grown from a simple spreadsheet to an easy-to-search list of B&Bs and inns providing free rooms at Veteran’s Day plus year-round offers to active military and veterans, maintained by Deb Dapson of Copper Moon Media.
“I developed and helped to grow the B&Bs for Vets program to thank those who’ve served our country in the one small way that we as innkeepers can. I have had many couples stay at Gillum House over the years through this program, and the thing I find most humbling is that here I am trying to say thank you to them, and they are falling all over themselves thanking me,” she told bnbfinder.
Kathleen also feels strongly that the B&Bs for Vets program should applaud the unsung heroes too. “This was to also thank the forgotten hero, the person no one ever thinks to thank for their Service – the Spouse!” she offered. This year, Kathleen will open one of her suites to a family who could not find a babysitter, so Mom, Dad and the kids will all be celebrated on Veteran’s Day with a complimentary stay at Gillum House this year.
“We innkeepers get a feeling of satisfaction from this that cannot be described. It is also a joy to show our Veterans MY West Virginia and provide a tangible thank you to veterans and their families.
Any B&B or inn can participate in B&Bs for Vets, and Kathleen encourages all innkeepers to get involved. Innkeepers simply need to off one complimentary room available totally free of charge for 1 night on Nov 10 OR Nov 11. Innkeepers are certainly encouraged to offer more than one room. Many inns follow Kathleen’s lead and open the entire inn to a free night stay for veterans on November 10th or 11th. Participating inns are listed on https://www.bandbsforvets.org. Veteran’s must make reservations at a participating B&B with a credit card to hold the room. All cancellation policies apply. Innkeepers should visit https://www.bandbsforvets.org/innkeeper-information/ for full information on signing up to give away a free room to a deserving veteran.