The government has done a great job proving just how terrible they are at actually taking care of people, especially veterans. We all know that true solutions don't come from the top down - they come from individuals. Welcome Home Montrose is a true grassroots group that wants to turn Montrose, CO into a support system for veterans to come home, heal, and transition back into society. Hopefully, they can be a model for other towns across the country. The people who volunteer at Welcome Home Montrose are tired of admiring the problem, and are actively looking to do something to change it.
The program was conceived by Melanie Kline, a local businesswoman who saw a gap in services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs and what veterans needed to truly return to their community after active duty.
"Well, the right thing is for the members of the community, any community, and it started in Montrose, to be able to reach out and create like a bridge that would be helpful for those that are leaving military life and entering civilian life so that they can be more successful and have an opportunity to thrive," Kline said.
"I think that the truth is the VA takes really good care of them physically and their training and that kind of thing and then doesn’t give a lot of help for integrating back with your family, back with your children, into a community where you’re going to be a community member," she added.
One way that Welcome Home Montrose helps veterans integrate back into the community is through their Dream Pilot Program. The website explains: "The Dream Job Pilot Program is a living feasibility study, creating job training through mentorships in a safe no-fail environment for medically retired service members while they guide our efforts to create a No Barriers community for their specific needs.
"People come out of the military, and they often have a G.I. Bill, an opportunity for education, but the dropout rate in college is really high. What the Dream Job program [veterans] try it, live it for six months with someone whose life is that career. Follow them around, let them tell you, let you see if you’re really going to like it before you spend your G.I. Bill, before you sit down in a classroom with people who don’t have anything in common with you or know where you’ve been. Make sure that you have that will to do it. Make sure it’s really going to work for you," Melanie explained.
Judi Boyce is one of the veterans who has been lucky enough to have gone through Welcome Home Montrose's Dream Job Program.
Boyce said, "I fall under the forgotten ill category of Wounded Warriors, being a female and not being injured in combat. I had been overseas and had started having issues where my arm and leg were going numb and thought it was a pinched nerve, and about six months after that I ended up having a stroke and was told I had a very rare brain disease that the only way to fix it was brain surgery. So I’ve undergone two brain surgeries, the second one in which I had to learn to walk all over again."
From a young age, she always wanted to be a cook, a party planner, or a photographer. Welcome Home Montrose was able to help get Boyce an apprenticeship at City Hall, where she was able to help with local event planning.
"I helped plan a picnic for the city hall workers and their families and stuff, and I love kids. I enjoy working with kids. I was a camp counselor and everything before I joined the military, so I kind of made sure that I was put in charge of helping out with kids games and kind of I know a lot of teambuilding things, but we had a blast with that," Boyce said.
"I had spent seven years in foster care from the age of 7 to 14, and the only person that was steady with everything was my CASA worker, and I was approached about them doing a dodgeball game to raise awareness and money for both CASA and the Boys and Girls Club," she said.
How can you help Welcome Home Montrose?
"Take a look at what we’re doing and understand that it’s not rocket science and that something just like what we’re doing could happen easily in their community and get in touch with us and learn how to do that," Melanie said.
As for donations, Welcome Home Montrose prefers to look to the local community rather than the government. In fact, they turned down an offer for a million dollars that came from the government.
"When you keep it organic, and you keep it in the community, the money you do raise is more personal. There’s more involvement from the local community. And any individual or any businessperson needs to meet the veterans so they understand why they want to help," said Kirk Hartman, a board member on Welcome Home Montrose and a local businessman.