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Program accessibility means success or failure for veterans


Jan. 31, 2014
<b>Smith & Wesson made two $5,000 donations in support of local programs for veterans. The Springfield Vet Center, 95A Ashley Ave., West Springfield, was one of the recipients. Pictured left to right: Arlyn Wyman, vice president of The Friends of the Springfield Vet Center; John Hendricks, Army veteran, with his dog Minnie; Leigh Conant, Readjustment Counseling Therapist at the center; and Stanley Gajda, team leader at the Vet Center.</b> <br>Reminder Publications photo by Carley Dangona

Smith & Wesson made two $5,000 donations in support of local programs for veterans. The Springfield Vet Center, 95A Ashley Ave., West Springfield, was one of the recipients. Pictured left to right: Arlyn Wyman, vice president of The Friends of the Springfield Vet Center; John Hendricks, Army veteran, with his dog Minnie; Leigh Conant, Readjustment Counseling Therapist at the center; and Stanley Gajda, team leader at the Vet Center.
Reminder Publications photo by Carley Dangona

By Carley Dangona

carley@thereminder.com

SPRINGFIELD – With support from local companies, veterans’ programs are able to offer continued support and programs to veterans – opportunities that could mean the difference between life and death.

On Jan. 27, Smith & Wesson continued its support of veterans with separate donations to Friends of the Springfield Vet Center (FSVC) in West Springfield and the Friends of Ward 8 Inc. that work in partnership with the Northampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Each received a $5,000 donation. Thirty percent of Smith & Wesson employees are veterans.

The FSVC will use the money to continue its program at the Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Holyoke. The Friends of Ward 8 will purchase of curriculum materials and camera equipment for its Phototherapy class with the funds.

“The war at home is hell,” John Hendricks, an Army veteran and equine program participant said. “It’s an ongoing battle [for benefits].” He has utilized services at the Vet Center since 2004. “I’d be at the veterans’ cemetery right now,” he said, stressing the value of the resources the center offers. He stated that the center is “more comfortable” than a veterans’ hospital because the same staff is available and veterans can “get to know people.”

According to Leigh Conant, Readjustment Counseling Therapist at the center, the equine program teaches veterans to interact with and care for horses and to become aware of the minute intricacies of the animals’ behavior and personalities. As a result, they become more aware of their own feelings and actions, learning to acclimate themselves back into society.

“The sense of self-awareness they gain helps them regulate their emotions,” Conant said, citing trust as the most important skill veterans gain from the program. She explained that by placing participants in an unfamiliar situation, they learn how to reach out for help when they are unable to manage situations they are dealing with.

Conant stated there is already a waiting list for the program, which is due in part to the fact that only four veterans participate in the class at a time. The goal is to host multiple sessions throughout this year. Eventually, the center hopes to implement additional phases that would expand the veterans’ horse handling skills from grooming to riding at a canter.

Hendricks said prior to the class he had only been on horseback twice in his life. After taking part in the program, he would not hesitate to sign up for a more advance phase. “They’re a beast of an animal,” he said in regards to the size and strength of horses, but enjoyed the program a great deal.”

He said the experience made him more aware of how people can take trivial matters too seriously.

“It’s very important that we can help veterans in any way possible,” Arlyn Wyman, a Vietnam War veteran and vice president of the FSVC, said. “The money left over will be used towards the purchase of a flag pole for the Springfield Vet Center.”

Stanley Gajda, an Army veteran and team leader at the Springfield Vet Center, said, “It’s great to have friends such as Smith & Wesson to fill in the gaps for funding needs.” He explained the Springfield Vet Center works with veterans as far away as the Berkshires, Pittsfield, Athol and Enfield, Conn.

The Springfield Vet Center was originally located on Main Street in Springfield, but moved to its new location at 95A Ashley Ave. in West Springfield in July of 2013.

The larger facility provided three separate rooms to conduct support groups as well as more office space to better care for the increasing amount of combat veterans in the area. The services veterans receive are free of charge, offered for life and remain confidential.

Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, military sexual trauma, bereavement counseling and many more services are available at the center. Veterans in need of assistance can call 737-5167 or toll free at 855-259-1758. Gajda stated that half of the staff is veterans themselves and everyone has a personal connection to veterans.

The FSVC is a 501(c)(3) that meets weekly on Thursdays and seeks veterans to volunteer their time to help their fellow comrades. Those interested in joining should contact the Vet Center.

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