CELEBRATING TWO VETERANS on this special day

GILBERTO CRUZ-AYALA

Some of you might remember Gilbert as the veteran in the wheelchair that always wanted to attend River House events, be they hikes or paddles. We got the other vets to push his chair over roots and through gravel on the trails, and muscled his chair down to the lakeside to lift him into a canoe. He loved being in the natural world and we made it happen for him.

Well Gilbert has made a remarkable recovery after being confided to a chair for 10 years as well as struggling with pain. He attended some intense, alternative pain release therapy and is now WALKING on his own! I don’t want to give too much away as Gilbert is one of the stars in my upcoming book, Walking Toward Peace- Veterans Healing on America’s Trails, which will be released April 2021, but I do want to celebrate Gilbert here for another reason.

Since all events were cancelled with the Lebanon VA, who Gilbert normally attended River House events with, we could not hold hikes and campfire dinners for the whole of 2020. This was making Gilbert very unhappy, for he needed his time in not only nature, but with his fellow veterans. He approached me and asked if we could do a private hike with the PTSD group that he is a member of. Gilbert reached out to all the vets, invited their spouses and their children and together, we hosted two very successful outings in the last few months.

Gilbert wasn’t sure at first that he could be a good leader and talk his fellow vets into coming out, as this group as a whole often has trust issues, especially when dealing with folks who are not in their military family, as most of us at River House are not. But Gilbert was hugely successful and managed to not only get a nice group out but they all had a great time as well! As usual, board member, Tim Minnich made the group delicious food like Louisiana gumbo.

Todd and I went to New Mexico to hike for a month during the beautiful fall season and Gilbert was wishing he could have another scheduled hike. “You can do this yourself,” I encouraged him. “They all know you and trust you (there are about 20-25 members in the PTSD group). Do a pot luck or have them all bring a sandwich for a picnic if you all want to share a meal afterwards. YOU are the glue that holds that group together, Gilbert” and he glowed with satisfaction and pride, knowing how he was helping his fellow veterans and himself at the same time.

So today on Veteran’s Day, I celebrate Gilbert, who had the courage to not only seek alternative therapy for himself, but created a way to get himself and his fellow struggling vets out into nature, even during a pandemic.  

PATRICK DOUGHERTY

We have something else to celebrate here at River House, PA- one of our veteran friends, Patrick Dougherty is enjoying phenomenal success as a Veteran Organic Farmer. He enrolled in Rodale Institute’s Farmer Veteran Program earlier in 2020, a 4-month program where he 

focused on apiary studies. Pat learned how to plant, harvest, compost, run tractors, and then gravitated towards apiary studies. Pat had never gardened before coming to Rodale, couldn’t even care for a houseplant without killing it. But at Rodale, Pat found his bliss.

For the last month now, Pat transitioned to the Pocono Organics Farm in the Pocono Mountains of PA. The owner of the raceway began the organic farm and built a home for veterans to live in while they learned and worked. Pat is working with hemp, growing vegetables, doing greenhouse work, composting, etc., and he’s discovered absolutely loves to farm. “I have begun to eat more healthfully,” he comments.

“Organic Farming feels like a calling for me. I have a big purpose in my life now, I actually love going to work. Every other job I had, I was going nowhere. I was depressed for forty years, and I never want to go back to that darkness again. This is like a dream come true.”

And Patrick, we are so, so happy for you and celebrate with you on this Veteran’s Day.

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12 thoughts on “CELEBRATING TWO VETERANS on this special day Leave a comment

  1. Awesome and thank you for highlighting 2 amazing vets today, their strength and determination to overcome and push on to the next objective!

  2. Very uplifting story. Never give up hope! Thanks to you and Todd for your dedication to our Veterans.
    Patricia and Stephen

  3. 🙋🙋🏼‍♂️👍I love how the outdoors in different ways helps our veterans. Even Frank and I still spend hours outside everyday. Thanks for sharing and save me a book ok? Jojo 😁

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. Oh my gosh. So happy for them. Peace, purpose and healing – so essential to life. Glad they found that and thanks for helping them in their healing journey. Blessings to all.

    1. Hey Margaret, You can make a donation to River House PA if you like – send a check to Cindy Ross, Director at River House, 85 Red Mtn Lane, New Ringgold, PA 17960- Thank you thank you very much!

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