Amazing? Unbelievable? Spectacular? None of these words begin to describe the CreatiVets songwriting program sponsored by Operation Hat Trick at the Travis Mills Foundation retreat in Rome, Maine last week.
Let me tell you what this was all about, by telling you a little about CreatiVets and the Travis Mills Foundation.
CreatiVets’ goal is to offer opportunities for relief and healing for the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country. Its purpose is to use various forms of art, including songwriting, visual arts, music and creative writing, to help disabled veterans cope with service-related trauma.
The Travis Mills Foundation supports post 9/11 recalibrated veterans and their families through various programs that help these heroic men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation – in a safe environment.
OHT has known and supported the Travis Mills Foundation since Day One and, in the last few years, has supported CreatiVets. One day as the OHT Board was catching up on its donations, Steve Hardy, President of the Board, suggested we do a collaboration with both organizations where OHT would be the sponsor and where CreatiVets would bring veterans, songwriters/country artists, and mentors to the Travis Mills Foundation retreat for a special, unique songwriting program. And was it ever!!!!!
You see, Steve and Donna Hardy have lost 2 of their 3 sons. Josh was 17 when he died of a brain tumor. Nate, a Navy SEAL, was killed in Iraq in 2008. Both boys loved music and Josh dealt with his prognosis through his art. So, the collaboration seemed like a natural fit.
We formed a formidable team last Fall and began to plan. Finding a date where everyone was available was hard. We wanted ice to be out in Maine, and we didn’t want to interfere with the artists’ touring schedules. Finally, we landed on April 18-22.
CreatiVets was charged with finding veterans, mentors and songwriters/country artists who would spend 4 days in Maine listening to stories – that had never been told before – about their service-related trauma. Some memories had been “buried” for over 50 years – in the jungles of Vietnam. Others, more recent during deployments. So CreatiVets was responsible for sending those who would treat the veterans with the utmost care and respect. Mission accomplished.
The Travis Mills Foundation retreat was charged with doing what they do best. Offering a safe place for veterans to tell their stories. Of course, along came 5-star accommodations, a pool, magical food and an atmosphere where friends and memories were made.
Travis spent time with all of us. For those who had never met him, it was quite the treat. He told a million jokes – just like that and was a most gracious host. The staff and volunteers are simply the best – a tribute to the way everyone is treated at the retreat.
I knew it would be special, but I had NO way of knowing just how special. Our entire OHT team that attended would say the same thing. It doesn’t get much better than to watch those “lobster newbies” look at a lobster with curiosity and wonder just what they should do with it. Those of us who knew were happy to be teachers. It was quite a sight.
So they came and they mentored, wrote songs and last Thursday night, we all got treated to the best of the best and the new songs that eased some of the veterans’ long-held burdens.
The absolute highlight for me was when my new friend, Larry, who had held his stress and anxiety since the Vietnam war (OVER 50 YEARS), got emotional when his song was performed. Koz, his service dog, thought he was in distress, climbed on his lap and licked his face and ears to soothe him. Killer emotional!!!!
This experience was life changing for all – those who were mentored and those who weren’t. Thanks to everyone involved and especially to Steve Hardy for suggesting the collaboration. It’s one you can count on OHT continuing. We’re 1000% IN.
Here’s to next year’s event. The wheels are turning, and the planning is beginning. More good things to come here at OHT. Please continue to follow us!!!!