Do you know how many veterans live, work, and worship in your community? The first step toward finding out might be fairly simple: Gather them together.
Several years ago, the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts began to reach out to veterans through its Building Bridges Veterans Initiative. Every Wednesday, about 45-50 veterans gather at the World War II Center in Northampton, Massachusetts, to check in, share stories, and occasionally hear from a speaker about veteran’s issues.
Rudy Graham, who cooks the meals, says, “I wanted to work with the veterans because I didn’t get to enjoy that military experience when I was in the Navy because of my injury. So I didn’t get to go to war. I was stationed where I am from in Philadelphia after I came home from boot camp. One day the Veteran Services Officer asked, ‘Would anyone want to earn some extra dollars by being a cook?’ I was like, ‘I’ll do it!’ That’s how I started cooking.”
“Now it seems like my life has come full circle. Now I am able to serve with my veterans. I think the most important thing is that we are bringing the community together. That’s the whole purpose. For one day they can be at peace, not worrying about having to jump up so that someone can sit down. They can just enjoy themselves, enjoy the food, and enjoy the company of other veterans.”
Gina Nelson, a volunteer, explained the purpose of the program. “We’re trying to be a good neighbor. We are trying to create a space. I truly believe that people do not think outside themselves if they are hungry. You have to meet those basic needs in order for that ripple effect to begin, to care about where it is that they are, to care about the community in which they are living.”
The Reverend Ali Brauner, Associate Director of Building Bridges, said, “What Building Bridges is doing with the lunches is creating an open community where people feel safe. There is something transformative that happens when you listen to someone and listen intentionally and listen to hear what they are saying and what their needs are. That’s what makes it a cohesive moment of community building as opposed to simple one more meal.”
How To Get Started
- Provide a safe physical space
- Invite supportive persons to participate
- Create networks with: other veterans, congregations, families, the community
- Provide means for storytelling: in person, in writing, in artwork, through social media