The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 31, 2009


Volunteering for veterans

With the guidance of Marcus Cohn (right), who leads a similar program at the Brockton VA hospital, Carlisle volunteers (seated left to right), Glen Urban, leader Steve Kirk and Scott Evans plan the first fl y-tying session which will be held on August 6 at the Bedford VA hospital. Recreational therapists Courtney Doelger and Leah Sullivan look on. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

Steve Kirk has long put a high priority on volunteer work, lending his efforts to social action projects and town committees alike. A year ago, with his computer consulting business running well and an interest in expanding his circles, he decided to look for something more. His wife Sue’s father, a decorated World War II veteran, had recently died in Pittsburgh, and Steve thought an appropriate way to honor his father-in-law’s life would be to devote some of his time to veterans’ affairs, knowing that the Veterans Administration had been a source of solace and aid during his father-in-law’s final years.

And he didn’t have to travel far to pursue the idea. “I knew there was a veterans’ hospital in Bedford because one of our neighbors used to volunteer there, so I went over to find out how I could get involved,” he recalled. “After I took their orientation, they assigned me to the veterans’ nursing home, which has about 160 residents and two recreational therapists.”

Veterans’ nursing home

Kirk started participating regularly in volunteer activities at the VA facility in Bedford. Sue became a volunteer eventually, as well. His first assignment was an oral history project, capturing the experiences of aging veterans on videotape. But he was tapped for less technical responsibilities as well – running bingo games, assisting with holiday meals, helping at “pet therapy” events, and often just reading or talking to some of the less mobile patients who benefited from his interest and his company. “Just having volunteers spend time there is a big deal to the men in the nursing home,” he said.

As many Carlisle friends already know, Steve is passionate about fishing, especially the deep-sea fishing he does every summer on his boat around Cape Cod. Conversations with some of the veterans made him realize that many of them loved fishing too. He gave a slide show which started a lot of discussion about past fishing experiences among the men, and Kirk began to hope that he could find a way to combine his hobby with his volunteer work. He approached the staff members at the VA hospital about how to initiate a deep-sea fishing program.

Project Healing Waters

In researching how this might work, Kirk found his way to an organization called Project Healing Waters, which was started at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. and is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty military and veterans, through fly-tying education and outings.

He spoke with a local coordinator for Project Healing Waters, who reiterated that the program is only involved with fly fishing but still encouraged Kirk to pursue the idea on his own.

Deep-sea fishing

He is currently working with several groups within the VA system to initiate the deep-sea fishing program. In the meantime, Kirk is continuing with a variety of volunteer activities at the VA including helping Project Healing Waters start a fly-tying and fishing program for the Bedford VA. He has members of Trout Unlimited and other Carlisle residents and friends from church involved as well. “It’s so close to Carlisle, and they have such a wide variety of activities that volunteers can do,” he said. Adults, teens and even Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts can all find a niche.

Benefits go both ways

Though he knows the nursing home residents warmly welcome his presence, he emphasizes that the benefits go both ways. “I’ve met a bunch of new people, both residents and other volunteers, and built a lot of new relationships. When I’m there, I benefit as much if not more than the residents. Any issues I’m dealing with in the outside world go away. It really helps me focus on the present moment and to count my blessings.”

Anyone interested in learning more about volunteering at the VA can contact Kirk by email: ∆

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