Our day off in Gainesville was probably the most rewarding experience I have had this entire trip. It started with our visit with the NAMI folks.
We were welcomed with open arms. One woman relayed her experience bringing her story to the schools. This is a program used by other NAMIs nationwide, which Gainesville is trying to build.
I also had a chance to ask someone about visiting with Veterans. She immediately pulled out her phone and sent an email to two potential contacts. (More on this later.)
So after returning to the hotel, I took Uber to the V.A. Hospital. As I approached the entrance, I was befriended by a 76 year old man who was waiting for his ride home and we had a nice chat.
I finally went inside, but really didn’t know what to do next. Ultimately, I went to Starbucks for a chai tea latte and chocolate chip muffin.
The lobby was full of people waiting to be seen, so I took a seat and started up a conversation with a couple. He served in the Navy for 12 years and she served for 6 years.
The conversation turned to Ride to Awareness, and soon the circle of people waiting around us joined in. One man was from St Augustine. His wife could not come with him because she needed to stay home with their 30+ year old son, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia paranoia.
Finally, the patient’s numbers were called, and the group broke up. They had already spent a long time waiting to be seen.
It seemed like it was time to move on to my next priority for the day – a pedicure! I goggled nail salons, and located one 2.5 miles away. Off I strolled on a beautiful, sunny day. Even splurged with a Deluxe Pedicure that included sea salt!
Before I knew it, it was time to head to my next appointment. (Remember the email sent from the NAMI event?)
I received a call earlier in the day from Nancy Maas. She is a social worker for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and works at The Honors Center for Veterans. She invited me to visit the facility.
Wow! The literature she gave me describes it as “a 45-bed rehabilitation treatment program dedicated to meeting the medical and mental health needs of Veterans who are currently homeless, displaced, or at risk of homelessness. Services are tailored to fit Veterans’ recovery.”
I was blown away by this place, which is the only one of its kind! First, Nancy and I had a chance to get to know each other. This was followed by a tour.
The residents have a complete array of services to aid in their recovery. Some activities include cooking classes, gardening, music therapy (After 6 lessons, they get to keep the instrument.) They have a library with computers. Their was a recent visit by a Garden Club.
Of course, my personal favorite is a program called “Bikes 4 Vets”. Bikes that are donated are used as transportation. It turns out the woman who introduced this idea was there. They regularly have clinics on bike repair.
We made our way to the cafeteria, and Nancy introduced me to the residents. It felt wonderful to thank them for their service and to talk about the Ride. After I finished speaking, I invited them to spoke to me.
Would you believe, about 6 or 7 people came over? They were so thankful for my visit. A few had questions about the trip. One guy rides about 40 miles a day.
Looking around the room, their was so much humility mixed with honor and I could feel the love, care and respect they had for each other. You can see the determination to recover and the return of self-love and purpose.
A few residents took a few candids of me, and I think I may be in their next Newsletter. They gave me a few month’s issues to read before I left.
Again, Wow! I got to the hotel room, after joining the RTA team for dinner, and started to read their latest issue.
The residents publish the Newsletter called, The Residents Honor. The first thing you see is the mission statement.
“Our core mission is to serve the domiciliary residents and administrators by bringing the image of Veterans to a positive light as well as bringing awareness to our steps to change through the writings of residence. Our newsletter is written by residents of the DOM and residents who have transitioned out, and we are an ever-evolving newsletter. We believe in the following:
-Humor and Entertainment
-Catching people doing the right thing
-Recognition and pride
-Sense of purpose and belonging
RESIDENTS HAVE A VOICE
-Welcomes all skill levels and styles of expression
-Outlet to express respectful opinions
-Bring light to the positive image of veterans
The newsletter has pictures from activities like an annual Veterans Bass Tournament, a rained out kayaking trip which instead resulted in the residents getting valuable information from former residents who had transitioned out of the DOM, and a talent show. One man wrote that his son just informed him he was going to be a Grand Daddy of twins, and included the sonogram. Another submitted two poems he wrote. There was one who wrote about the history of Veterans Day.
The best one was called “Shout Outs”. The man spent 20 years in prison. Upon his release, he states he was lost! Since he came to the Honor Center, he is making great strides. He went on to list all the staff members who have made a difference in his life and to thank them for always going the extra mile.
He wrote that they regularly give Shout Outs during their 7:45 a.m. morning session called, Get Up and Go!
These men and women average about 3-4 months at the DOM. There is about a 85% success rate after they leave.
I wish all of you could visit this facility for yourself. It will make you want to Get Up and Go too!