It happens in the check-out line in grocery stores, in theater lobbies, out in parks, wherever people gather. I’ve often seen total strangers walk up to men and women in military uniforms and say, “Thank you for your service.”
But what about the veterans who no longer wear those proud, identifying uniforms? At least one local organization has found a meaningful way to thank them, too, and better yet, to actually do something to help them readjust to civilian life.
The people at the YMCA of Bucks County are helping veterans ease their way back into the community with a new program.
More than 40,000 military veterans live in Bucks County, according to the U.S. Census, and many of them have struggled to adapt to civilian life after years of strife in the service.
“When we see a need in the community, we try to fulfill it,” said Zane Moore, president and CEO of the YMCA of Bucks County. “The free Wellness Program for Veterans is just one of the Pathways services we provide.” It’s also been extremely effective.
The veterans’ program, only in its second year, has already graduated close to 400 veterans, Moore said.
It offers a pathway to a healthier lifestyle, including physical activities, instruction in nutrition and, mind/body wellness as well as time for personal reflection, storytelling and the type of camaraderie veterans often miss after leaving service, according to Lisa Schwartzer, regional director of Pathways and Initiatives, at the Y’s center in Doylestown. The physical program includes yoga, Tai Chi and aquatic exercises in the fitness center.
Both Moore and Schwartzer are unusually passionate about the program and surprised and pleased with the effect it has had on local veterans. “I’m very, very lucky to be involved with this,” said Schwartzer as she recounted some of the remarks veterans have made during the program, outlining the ways it has helped them.
“This is my way to say thank you for what they’re been through,” she said.
She recalled one veteran confessing to her that the program had helped him kick his dependence on opioids. He told her he had been drug-free for an entire year. Another told her, “It keeps me straight.”
“It’s so rewarding,” Schwartzer said.
Moore said, “Lisa Schwartzer has really poured her heart into this program.”
Moore, for the past two years, has completed a special mission called Zane Walks for Bucks County Veterans. He is joined by veterans and some staff members for his trek. This year he walked from Quakertown to Fairless Hills. Schwartzer joined him for part of the way.
She said the program has been offered in the Doylestown, Newtown, Fairless Hills and Warminster branches of the Y and should be available in Quakertown by year’s end.
Veterans receive a free eight-week family membership to the YMCA and after successfully completing the program receive a free six-month adult membership. Schwartzer said, “Some of the veterans participating are females.” About one-third of the vets in the program are females. Spouses of the veterans also can take part in the program and the Y provides childcare as well to free up both parents.
Graduation is always impressive, both Moore and Schwartzer agreed. The graduates are given military challenge coins – and after that, they often attend alumni events, such as group outings to the Bucks County Playhouse.
The pair are proud to display a Senate proclamation praising the program that was signed by state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks).