In August of 2015 I read the special issue of Quaker Journal about veteran suicide and was appalled. I asked several members of the Wilmington Friends Meeting to join me in seeing what we could do about that problem in Delaware, and several did. Their efforts led to the organization of the Interfaith Veterans’ Workgroup. Here’s the latest IVW update:
We’re a 501C3! Thanks to IVW member, Rob Goldberg, who helped us file the legal papers, IVW is now a 501C3 organization. We have opened a bank account and our treasurer, Ted Garrison, is checking on a deadline for filing an annual required form for our non-taxable status.
IVW can now teleconference! Tom has acquired a Zoom account for his website business, so IVW will now be able to offer online access for meetings and webinars. The account can handle as many as 100 participants using either video or telephone connections. Although IVW is a Delaware organization, this technology gives IVW the ability to connect with colleagues far and wide who have similar interests and skills to share.
We’re growing at Facebook. IVW’s FaceBook group now has 101 members. See: https://www.facebook.com/
groups/237928829966077. Most are local, but a few are out-of-staters interested in what we’re doing for and with veterans in the First State. You will find many helpful articles there about post traumatic stress, moral injury, and helping veterans use their warrior wisdom for peacemaking.
We’re getting fit and enjoying the outdoors. IVW member, Jack Sanders has led weekly hikes throughout the winter and spring, come rain or shine. Not only vets have participated, but also Tom’s wife, and Christian and Muslim friends from various congregations. A special thanks to Andre Dagenais, a leader in the Wilmington Trail Club, for frustrating Jack’s best efforts to get us lost. We’ve enjoyed hikes in White Clay Creek Preserve, Fair Hill Park, and Brandyine Park. Also a lovely kayaking afternoon on the Sassafras River, thanks to the hospitality of Jack’s brother.
We’re connecting to other trauma researchers. Tom has joined the steering committee of Trauma Matters Delaware, a coalition of therapists and other health professionals who are researching best practices for trauma treatment. Tom wears two hats on the committee, representing veterans and communities of faith. Tom has also joined the Veterans Suicide Prevention Committee which meets at the National Guard Headquarters monthly. They have asked him to lead a break-out group on moral injury at the Veterans’ Summit, to be held on September 11th.
We’re looking forward to using art. A member of Pacem in Terris, Dr. Robert Abel, will be working with IVW to organize a veterans’ art exhibit paralleling the youth art exhibit which Pacem has organized for the last two years. A teacher at the Wilmington Friends School has offered materials and space for working. Vets needn’t have any art experience to participate. We don’t expect this project to take shape until late August.
We’re using writing for healing. The IVW writers group is planning a meeting to be held at the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. Another writers’ group is forming among returning citizens of New Beginnings-Next Step, a peer-led group that meets weekly at the Wilmington Friends Meeting House. Tom is exploring whether members of these two writers’ groups might want to meet together at least occasionally because they are both using writing for self-expression and healing, and some veterans and returning citizens share common challenges, such as dealing with anger, maintaining close relationships, and recovery from addiction.
We’re into meditation. An IVW member, Shannon Ayres, who teaches mindfulness meditation to elementary school children at Mount Pleasant School,has introduced Tom to Dr. Jenna Tedesco, who is training veterans to be teachers of mindfulness meditation. A class of eleven students will graduate soon and several will be looking for local teaching opportunities. This is a win-win: Veterans will help their communities and that work will give them a peacemaking purpose, a way to deal with a stressful and painful past. Dr. Tedesco’s class is considering using space at IVW’s headquarters, the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, for their continuing education.
Why do IVW members hike? Why have we found meditation helpful in our own journey home from war? Why do we work through communities of faith? A scientific book about what stress does to children’s developing brains tells why. Tom highly recommends Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris’s book, The Deepest Well. At the end of it she writes that there are six activities that help people who have been repeatedly stressed to develop resiliency. They are: 1) get adequate sleep 2) get good nutrition 3) get regular exercise 4) meditate 5) receive mental health treatment when you need it, and 6) find a supportive community. IVW is working on several of these. You don’t have to be a counselor to help veterans come home and stay safe. If you have discovered for yourself the value of these basic healing activities, you can be part of a solution for increasing veterans’ resiliency. In fact, anyone’s. And that’s really good news!