By: Kane – Feb. 2021
Kane felt privileged to tour Clear Path for Veterans New England to learn about the numerous ways the program assists Veterans in building upon their many strengths to create a well lived and balanced life, after honoring their country in the military. The program provides direct and indirect programs and services to members of the Veteran, Active Duty, Reserve, and Guard community as well as their families. He was pleased to meet with Vice President Donna Bulger and Peer Program Lead Brendon Bregal for his informational session and tour.
Clear Path for Veterans New England is nestled in Fort Devens in Ayer, MA in a recently purchased (2017) and rehabilitated building with lots of light and space to explore a variety of veteran interests, vocational culinary professions, wellness, and self-care opportunities. Kane thought the building was beautiful especially since there is a Dogs2Vets program for dog obedience and service dog training. These specialized programs allow the participants to bring their own pups for training, while networking and socializing with other participating veterans.
A key component of the program is peer support and wellness exploration. Participating veterans have the opportunity to meet privately with Peer Program Lead Brendan Bregal who is dedicated to helping fellow veterans find joy and wellness in the civilian world after serving their country. Kane knows that the ability to relate to your mentor is the key component in peer mentoring services. Since Brendan is a veteran himself, he is very well suited to understand the challenges veterans experience after deployments and acclimating back into civilian life.
Brendan explained that what helps the program stand out is including the veteran’s family in the programming. According to Brandan, families are welcome to enjoy meals and program activities with their participating veteran. Kane likes this idea since he enjoys hanging out with his family too. Strengthening the family unit and communication creates a supportive environment for the veteran to grow towards their life desires and goals. Family members have the opportunity to attend training workshops on what it’s like to be in the military and how to best support your loved one through specific challenges.
Since Kane wasn’t in obedience school during his visit, he toured the facility on a loose line. He was impressed by the teaching kitchen as part of the Working Warrior program with lots of room to learn culinary arts and meal preparation. Secretly when the humans were not looking, he shopped for crumbs but didn’t find anything since the floor was so clean. Next, we went into a large dining area where veterans could spend time eating together and meeting other veterans and their families.
He thought what a nice place for participants to hang out with peers who have had similar experiences in the military. He imagined people coming in to learn the varied aspects of the restaurant industry then going out to use these skills in a local restaurant. This is quite a “win win” for the veteran and the lucky business that hires them.
On our way upstairs out of the middle of nowhere a beautiful girl dog appeared. She was yellow and young, like me, and Kane truly couldn’t believe his eyes. Kane said, “I tried to be polite but kept staring at her then she started talking and I didn’t know what to say, I was feeling shy, then she was gone out the door. I didn’t mind that she talked a lot, being a man of few words.”
Hopefully some time I will see her again. I learned from Donna that she was a 6-month old Yellow Labrador Retriever and participating in the service dog training, with 5 other dogs.
Next we toured the many wellness rooms upstairs. There were specific rooms for the creative process to explore art, meditation, massage, and yoga to name a few. Kane was excited to learn that community volunteers that specialize in these areas will donate their time to provide these services. Kane is familiar with massage. He likes to have his paws massaged as a way to calm himself before bed. He also likes yoga but thinks he is a bit more interactive during class than his humans would like him to be. Still, he downward dogs better than them.
You may ask why wellness? Well research shows that mindfulness, or the ability to find the present moment allows one to experience the life they are living in the moment instead of perseverating about the past or worrying about the future. Recent trauma research shows that the brain changes from the experience of traumatic events but creativity, yoga, mindfulness and other practices may assist with helping the brain heal. As many of you know our military members as a population may experience trauma during their time in service so learning these skills is a helpful means to heal the body and mind from past experiences.
Next we went downstairs to where obedience and service dog training takes place. (Dogs2Vets) What a beautiful facility for veterans and their dogs to bond and learn how to navigate their best life together. When a participant finishes all aspects of obedience school they are eligible for their canine good citizen certificate and other dogs are working to be certified through the Service dog program. Since dogs are family, the family is also involved in the process. This program is currently up and running. Brendan let Kane sniff around the area a bit. Kane said he tried to leave his scent on a pole where the cute little yellow dog may have been, but that was shot down by the humans. Sometimes I think they read my mind, really it’s just like leaving my phone number.
Donna explained to us about The Family Force Adopt a Family Program. Kane learned that 27% of veteran families, including veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, struggle to put food on the table. For $10 dollars per month, community members may provide holiday food to local New England families. Each box contains the fixings to have a holiday meal for 4 to 6 people. If you would like to participate go to www.clearpathne.org/programs/family-force to learn how you can help. Family force programming also includes education on topics such as PTSD, Resiliency, and Healthy living. Other components of the program include community service, fundraising, and of course socializing and having fun together.
In conclusion Kane wanted to mention the program has an inviting feel to it. This was his first inside interview since becoming a columnist for the Valley Patriot. The staff is excited about their resources and a few people in the hallways said hello to him by name. He provided them with a mask kiss because he was feeling included and comfortable. If you are a veteran or community member looking to give back to a population that has done so much for our country, reach out to see how you may be of service. If you are a veteran or military member interested in learning about any of the programs you will be greeted with warmth and acceptance. How do you connect with Clear Path for Veterans New England call 978-384-8800 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kane Peaslee, Columnist the Valley Patriot, Woof! ◊