When my veteran friends from the Lebanon VA Medical Center alerted me that there would be no more outings in this time of Covit19, I was not surprised but I was disappointed for them. Then, I began to get personal messages from them, telling me how much they needed to get out for a hike and into nature. Some were even hanging on by a dangerous thread. It made me realize even more so, that we at River House PA are doing important work for our veterans, even though it might feel minor sometimes, when you look at the vast number of suffering military.
But then I got an opportunity to help big time. A group of three of some of my favorite boys were enrolled in a fantastic veterans organic farming school at Rodale Institute. Their program was covered tuition wise by their GI Bill and they were also given a stipend for food and rent. But they needed a house. When I shared their dilemma with Todd, he told me that he and his house painting partner, Bob Scheidt, just finished working on a beautiful wood frame home outside of Kutztown, that sits up on a forested hillside and overlooks the Sacony Creek. The owner was a veteran himself. I made the connection and met the guys and took them over to see the house, and the owner. They immediately fell in love with this dream house that promised to deliver incredible peace and a connection to nature. A deck that protrudes into the rhododendron, a living room with massive glass windows for a stellar view, a new kitchen, hardwood floors, each having their own bedroom- almost too good to be true. School began at the end of March and the guys wanted to be moved in by mid-March to get settled. The owner allowed them to live there rent free the first two weeks in exchange for some work around the house. Between a 30, 40 and a 50 year old, they had a vast amount of varied skills and knowledge amongst them and could help the owner, who is not that young and not that healthy. A win/win for all.
The boys needed furniture though, so I put it out there on Facebook. People came out of the woodwork to help- a bed and mattress in Reading (Gretchen Kaag). Eight Oriental rugs of various sizes in Schuylkill Haven (Deborah Cooper) . A coffee table and a hassock in New Ringgold (Susan Mc Cartney) . And an entire house of furniture in Pine Grove (Karen Gelting) . The guys rented a UHaul and on three different occasions, traveled to these FB friend’s homes and gathered their free, gifted home furnishings. The generosity of these “strangers” was incredibly heart-warming.
The guys are settled in their new home, in their own rooms, taking turns making meals for everyone, are doing work around the property, but now their school at Rodale is on hold. I get concerned that they will run out of things to occupy them. Staying busy and focused is very important when you are trying to build new healthy habits and not be tempted to fall back into their old ways of being.
I am so proud of these veterans. I wish I could go for a hike with them, bring them dinner, but feel I should practice social distancing. They need to learn to work together and live together too. I sometimes coach them like a Mother Hen and tell them to make sure they stay on each other and call each other out if anyone starts to slip. They all promised me that they have each other’s backs.
The boys are willing to work, if anyone has a need near Kutztown. (Their home is located a few miles north off of Rt 737.) They could use an old car that is good enough just for short runs into Kutztown for supplies or getting to school once it begins. If anyone has one, let me know. (There is only one of the three veterans that has a car). Sometimes all someone needs is a leg up to help them start anew. As the Director of River House, I thoroughly enjoy working with the VA’s and bringing out veterans into nature who are enrolled in their re-hab programs. But helping these guys get a new start in their lives is really what makes me the happiest. This is the kind of work I feel most qualified to do. I know a lot of people, am connected to many and have found social media and amazing tool for helping one another in times of need. Thank you for caring. And if you have a moment, send out some good energy or a prayer for these guys, Will Wendling, Mike Gavin, and Pat Dougherty, for strength and support and continued healing in their lives. Thank you!
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