When soldiers return from their tour of duty they often come home to family and spouse far different from when they left.
They carry with them the emotional stress of having faced death. Sometimes they have physical scares, but often the scares run deeper. The clinical term is Post Traumatic Stress. Some personalities can adjust to life away from battle. For those who don’t, their life is filled with anger, loneliness and desperation.
In more urban areas and near large military bases there is access to veteran services but in rural area these citizen soldiers and their families have far less resources.
Now there is hope in four-legged form.
Whispering Oaks Equine Center just eight miles south of Hayward, Wisconsin was a highly successful venture that decided to close up shop to accommodate a higher purpose. They wanted to do something for our returning soldiers and for kids in trouble either from drugs or other issues. They opened their facilities as “Horse Spirit” a 501(c)3 nonprofit expressly for people in need.
Lenny Sheehan and his wife started in 2009 helping kids with issues by exposing them to the unconditional acceptance of horses. The horses helped the kids coping with their problems.
Sheehan wanted to do something for returning soldiers and their families, so in 2014 he opened up the facility to their care. From those early beginnings they have served 150 vets and 200 kids.
The process begins with families consulting their veteran’s service officer. From there they are enrolled in a six-week session at no cost. The program pairs them up with horses at the center. At first it is just getting acquainted. They don’t ride them right away.
One of the early sessions involve the vet working with them on challenging events like using the horse to play checkers moving their horses from slot to slot. According to Sheehan, the soldiers pent up anger goes away within minutes of meeting their horse. Once a bond is made the soldier moves on to more challenging activities.
Sheehan reported that one vet was really depressed and within minutes of the interaction of the horses, he was totally turned around. He added that the horses feel anger and stress, and vets must learn how to control their energy and emotions before the horses will accept them.
The goal of Horse Spirit is to help more and more soldiers who are having problems adjusting to civilian life.
Not only soldiers, but their families also benefit, because the returning vet’s family has adjustments that are different from the warrior. Those family members are offered a similar and separate session, all at no cost.
The support sessions are all funded from individual donations and grants. One such financial source is coming from the Masons of Keystone Lodge No. 263, Hayward; Acacia Itasca Lodge No. 329, Superior; and Superior Lodge 236. At a recent joint installation of officers, Deputy Grand Master L. Arby Humphrey talked about the Grand Masters Appeal to help veterans suffering from PTSD and asked Keystone Junior Warden Paul Wharton to talk about Horse Spirit. The Brothers were presented with an opportunity to donate to the Grand Masters appeal and responded with $350 collected that evening.
Bro. Wharton, himself a veteran Army Colonel, moved to Northern Wisconsin in 2012 and had boarded his horses at Whispering Oaks. His wife, a local social worker, as well as local volunteers, now help operate the program. A dozen volunteer members have been through the program themselves, he says.
So how do they know this process works? Each participant is given a quality of life inventory when they first start their six week session and again after completion. Then again in 6 months. Out of 75 vets, only one did not have measurable improvement. That individual suffered traumatic head injuries and has had severe problems.
Wisconsin Masonic Foundation steps up
After hearing about the Horse Spirit program and of the generous support for the program coming for the Masons in NW Wisconsin, Grand Master Hensiak requested the Wisconsin Masonic Foundation to direct a portion of the funds collected thus far from his annual appeal to Horse Spirit. The Wisconsin Masonic Foundation recognized the benefit of helping returning soldiers and their families and responded with a $2,500 donation to Horse Spirit. That donation will pay for two classes and will fund 12 to 20 vets or their family members. Past Grand Master Frank Struble and Lady Wendy have donated two horses and feed to the program.
The joint effort of the Masons through the Masonic Foundation and individual donations are truly making a difference is soldiers’ lives.
So why should you donate?
Brother Wharton said, “These are the best of the best”. They sacrifice more than anyone else and many of them are Masons.
Thus far the Grand Masters appeal to help Veterans and their families who suffer from PTSD has collected approximately $15,000. A number of other worthwhile veteran’s programs have been identified. All programs that are being recommended for support are located in Wisconsin. It is hoped that we as Masons will be able to step up to fund several more programs and make a significant difference helping our heroes.
Those wishing to make contributions to the Grand Master’s Appeal can use the clip form on page 4 of this issue of the Journal or go to the Grand Lodge Website at www.wimasons.org or contact Erika Miller at [email protected] or call 262-965-2200.