In just weeks, men and women who served the country will arrive in Montrose to become acquainted with all the outdoors has to offer — and with the services a local nonprofit has built over the years to meet their needs.
Mission: No Barriers, last held in 2015, is returning to help disabled veterans reconnect to life outside the military.
“They’re going to have the opportunity to experience all of the adventures and activities available out here, with the hope that some of them may want to move here and take advantage of all this, and, mostly, see how the community responds to veterans,” Mike Trickey, executive director of Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans, said.
“Whatever your ability or disability is to participate in these activities, we take down the barriers so they can indeed enjoy them. The other major piece is, we want their response, what types of issues they ran into, what types of barriers still exist that we need to work on, so that other folks can have the same experience without the barriers.”
Starting the week of July 17, a selected group of male veterans arrives to partake of water sports, fishing, scuba activities, treasure hunting with metal detectors, and more. Female veterans’ No Barriers is the following week. Both groups will be based at Double Diamond Ranch, owned by a local veteran.
Welcome Home’s April Heard is already running her feet off, handling logistics that include getting participants’ flights to arrive in Montrose at about the same time; coordinating with volunteers who are ensuring all meals, snacks and drinks are covered, and working with the Realtor’s association, which has established a transportation committee to ferry the veterans from the airport to Double Diamond and back.
Monetary donations, she said, have been coming in “right and left.” These will help Welcome Home pay for incidentals.
The big need right now is for people to pledge food for community potlucks; one at 4:30 p.m. July 17 and the second, at 5:30 p.m. July 24. Both will be held at Welcome Home’s Warrior Resource Center, 4 Hillcrest Plaza Way.
“We really need the community to come together to help provide the food. That’s the only one where we really have not received a response from anybody,” Heard said.
People who can help should call her immediately at 970-765-2210, so that the potlucks can be planned appropriately.
“We want the community to participate and be here, because that’s a lot of the reason behind bringing these veterans here. We want them to see how supportive our community is … how they bring them in and welcome them with open arms,” Heard said. “It’s amazing.”
She is also seeking people who can do hair and makeup for the women veterans’ Mission: No Barriers calendar photo shoot. The plan is to sell the calendar to help fund future No Barriers endeavors. People who can provide makeover services for the eight women are needed starting at 10 a.m. July 25, also at the Warrior Resource Center.
Heard welcomes those willing to donate such services as chair massages or reflexology “just to pamper them a bit,” she said.
As in the past, the Uncompahgre Treasure Club will host a treasure hunt with metal detectors for the visiting veterans. Businesses and individuals are being asked to donate items that will be given to the veterans as prizes, or items they can search for; call Heard at the above number, or stop by the Warrior Resource Center.
As well, volunteers are needed to assist during some of the planned activities; interested people should call Heard to share their availability.
Monetary donations are welcome, too.
“The big kick is transportation. That’s the cost; that’s the big fee,” said Trickey.
Multiple organizations, businesses and churches are helping out, among them, Team River Runners Montrose Chapter, Gunnison Gorge Anglers, Project Healing Waters, Blind Endeavors, Telluride Adaptive Sports and Ouray Hot Springs Pool, where a special scuba diving event will be held.
Team River Runners, Project Healing Waters and the anglers association are among those providing the fishing and water sports activities, which will take place over two days at Taviwach Park in Montrose and Pa-Co-Chu-Puk, at the Ridgway Reservoir. (A high runoff season has precluded use of the Water Sports Park for purposes of the event, which had to be planned in advance.)
In the four years since Mission: No Barriers was last held, the community has become more aware of the veteran population and its needs, Trickey said.
“They rise when necessary to support programs and services,” he said. “This certainly wouldn’t happen without the community.”
Trickey has cause to be extra-excited about this year’s mission. It roughly coincides with the first time Operation Song comes to town, to transform the stories of local veterans into music, with the help of award-winning Nashville songwriters and musicians.
Operation Song pairs up veterans and songwriters in one-on-one, daylong retreats. (See the June 6 Montrose Daily Press.) At the end of the day, the partnership produces a song unique to that veteran’s experience, which the community gets to hear at a concert.
Montrose’s selected veterans include two WWII veterans, a man and a woman.
“It’s a critical time to get their stories out. It just represents another opportunity for us to help the healing process, as it were,” Trickey said.
The Operation Song free community concert will be from 6 - 8 p.m. July 17 — the first full day of Mission: No Barriers activities — at The Bridges Golf and Country Club and Trickey wants people to come.
“Just be there at the concert to show support for the veterans who have gone through the retreat, to really show they appreciate their service,” he said.
Since learning of Operation Song, Trickey said he’s learned how powerful music therapy can be.
“That’s why I’m really excited about putting this together for our guys and gals,” he said.
The Warrior Resource Center recently launched Operation Song Colorado to raise money and bring back Operation Song here each year. Current efforts are to raise $15,000 to offset travel expenses for the songwriters and musicians. All of the funds stay local; visit OperationSongColorado.org for more information.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter at @kathMDP.