I had the opportunity last Tuesday night to visit some of the founding members of VTAC,  Veterans Therapeutic Art Center.  I sat down with Larry, Terry, Richie, and Dan at the MoonTree Studios facility (MoonTree Community Studios is a Ministry of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ) where they have been allowed to use the woodworking shop as a start up location.  The organization is going to cover a seven county area serving veterans and their families.  Their information shows that there are over 50,000 veterans in this area and they are conservatively estimating a clientele of around 150,000 when they include families.  These four men are all veterans and they shared with me some of the struggles in coming back and reintegrating into society.  They explained that many veterans tend to pull into a shell, never leaving home, and often end up resorting to the bottle to cope.  The organization is very young and just recently received their 501(c)3 designation.  Despite this they are already working in multiple venues beyond the woodworking, providing culinary arts, an art studio, music studio, multimedia computer lab, photography studio and metal sculpturing.  Currently experts in these fields are volunteering their time to provide these services.  They have hopes of expanding into auto mechanics and other hands-on fields as well.

Veteran working at VTAC site provided by MoonTree Studios
Picture borrowed from MoonTree Studios blog

They are hoping to set up facilities throughout their territory with various opportunities to draw out the veterans.  Their feeling is that by including families, family involvement will encourage the veterans themselves to participate.  They know that veterans are very independent and often introspective.  In many cases they have skills that are valuable but they have issues that prevent them from integrating into a regular workplace.  One of their other plans is to form a barter system where veterans can share their skills on a peer to peer basis.  For example they discussed the possibility of being able to have a veteran electrician do work at a home in exchange for something like accounting services if the recipient has those types of skills.  The possibilities are somewhat unlimited with that type of program so it could be a huge resource.  This is also another way to get the veterans involved in a sub-community, if not the greater community at this point, and should help them integrate back into society.   As the organization is young they do not know exactly what they will morph into but their long range plan is to expand the group into additional 7 to 8 county hubs throughout the region and eventually nationally.

They discussed with me the problems with the current veteran programs that are out there.  These programs often are available, but they are not run by veterans, so there is no connection of shared experience.  They surprised me when they told me that in these programs, even including the VA (U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs ), the personnel are rarely veterans.  Often the programs are known, but the details on how to access them are vague.  Not only will VTAC be providing their in-house services, but they also hope to be a clearing house where a veteran can come and find out about other services.  VTAC will try and connect them to someone who has been through the paperwork and other requirements to apply for help.

Image borrowed from fitslikeaglove.org websiteThey showed amazing enthusiasm and energy for getting this project off the ground.  It truly looks like they have found a need that can be answered and they have found a unique way to address it.  It will be interesting to follow their progress.  I want to wish them every success!

They are having a silent auction and open house event October 20th from 10:00 AM until 2:00 PM at MoonTree Studios.  They are hoping that this will be a way to bring veterans together and inform the community about their programs.  The auction will then be a fundraiser for the program and will include some of the furniture pieces that they have refurbished in their woodworking shop.  Mark your calendars to be there!

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