Cambridge Veterans’ Services office hosted its first annual Veterans’ Appreciation Day event on Nov. 11.
The events represents an important focus on veterans and their families, was open to the public and incorporated many different types of activities. The director, Neil MacInnes Barker, created the unique event with his amazing staff members, Jeremy Haladorff and Siobhan Stoney, in order to fulfill his dream of creating an inclusive celebration focused on community health and great food.
The celebration event wouldn’t have taken place without the assistance of several volunteers and many donations from local businesses and restaurants. The cooperation and support of the Cambridge Police Department and the Cambridge Fire Department were invaluable.
MacInnes Barker recently completed his first year as the director of the VSO and felt very strongly that the veterans of Cambridge and their families deserved a traditional ceremony. Through his leadership, the VSO has been making great strides in improving the lives of the most vulnerable veterans of our city. Steadily, after a year of service with the VSO, Neil and his staff have added to the services available to the veterans of Cambridge.
MacInnes Barker has always thought the city of Cambridge could do more for its veterans rather than just signing them up for city and federal services.
In an interview with MacInnes Barker, he explained it was his aim to treat the problem holistically and not just fix veterans’ paperwork for them. Although it often forms the backbone of the office’s services, filling out paperwork and waiting for help to come wasn’t serving veterans in an inclusive manner.
These brave men and women had put their lives on the line to give us the safety and freedoms we enjoy in our everyday lives.
MacInnes Barker mentioned to me that he was an Air Force veteran himself at one point, and this had made him more empathetic to the struggles veterans face when returning to civilian life. Because of the hurry-up-and-wait nature of the Veterans’ Services office in general, many of the most vulnerable veterans were lonely and sometimes fell through the cracks. This contributed to many of their mental health or physical problems, which most veterans have after returning from deployment overseas. Therefore, the constituents of the city made a continuous effort to offer meals and workshops on a six-week rotating basis.
To house all these new services available to the veterans, a new space was developed to expand the office of the Veterans’ Services. It has been named the Veterans’ Lights Recreation Center (VLRC). This space will follow the principles of a trauma-informed space. “Trauma-informed” means the services will be adapted to the needs of traumatized people, and a physically and emotionally safe environment will be ensured.
The department intends to ensure that the VLRC exists as a space for renewal, healing and community support. The original space was too small and overlapped with other confidential services and was administered by the same staff. Therefore, a large space was constructed, which means the two necessary services no longer overlap.
A special space now exists for recreational activities such as quiet relaxation, reading, study, meditation or discussions. The second purpose of this safe setting is health and life-skills programming.
Workshops are also being developed to support and heal our veterans, especially those who struggle with PTSD and PDR post-deployment reintegration.
There are now five workshops in place to benefit veterans and their families’ needs.
- Stress management for a successful transition.
- A writing workshop to enhance skill sets, expression of thoughts and therapeutic writing.
- Outreach to families of service members and the veterans of Cambridge. This will bring together families of veterans to discuss life problems affecting the whole family.
- The art of deliberate upliftment. These classes involve emotional development via channelling thoughts and emotions in a positive direction, thereby improving veterans’ understanding of themselves.
- Successful implementation of a healthy lifestyle. This mostly involves learning mind-body composition, strength and wellness, not to mention eating healthily in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The office will also be implementing one of the more important services for the benefit of our veterans, and that is a recovery workshop based on addiction therapy. Group therapy involves developing tools to stay sober and drug-free while surviving in the Cambridge community and on the streets. Counseling is also available on a one-to-one basis, and lectures are given on dealing with drugs and alcohol for veterans in the throes of addiction and to help the families of addicted veteran.