Woodshop gets veterans connected with each other

DEREK DANNEKER/Sun-Gazette Correspondent John Meyer, right, co-manager of The Williamsport Community Woodshop, instructs Jessica Morgan, who is making a cigar box.

On most crisp fall mornings, the whirling of machines, hammering and laughter emanate from a woodshop on Memorial Avenue and area veterans joined the clattering chorus on Saturday.

The Williamsport Community Woodshop, in the Pajama Factory, often opens it doors to veterans with the Wounded Warrior Project.

Tim Higgins, a retired corporal of the Army’s 101st Airborne, volunteers his time at both the woodshop and Veterans Affairs to coordinate events.

“I just wanted to offer a program to try to get vets to come and talk to other vets to understand what they’re going through and see if there’s anything else we can help them with,” Higgins said. “I found that you never

see any veterans that are all shut in, when you’re in the military, you have someone to watch your back at all times you know what’s going to happen and then on one day they say you’re discharged. Some of these kids, they just don’t know what to do.”

Higgins said the goal is to get veterans to come and talk to other veterans who understand what they’re going through and see if there’s anything they need help with.

“It’s just tough finding them. These guys who were in these last couple of wars are, you know, a lot of them were young when they went in, and a lot of them got really messed up,” Higgins said.

Higgins, who has been working with Ariana Evans, outreach coordinator for Wounded Warrior Project, said the program, which started a year ago, has been successful.

“The intent is find a new healthy outlet as a coping skill,” Evans said. “We also want veterans to form bonds in their community because one thing we hear from a lot of veterans is when they go home, they don’t have that same kind of comradery. We’re trying to bridge that gap.”

Veterans can work on their patience, diligence and find a new sense of pride in what they create, according to Evans. Ultimately they are working to find a new focus.

“The military, for a lot of folks, was their only focus,” Evans said. “That’s what they know and there’s a lot of structure that’s provided in the military, when you leave the military you don’t have that same sort of structure.”

John Meyer has been helping to manage the community woodshop, which is associated with Factory Works, a non-profit organization, since it opened for membership in 2013. The organization also operates a clay and photography studio, art gallery and bicycle recycling shop. Today, the community woodshop has been open a little over five years and has 50 members.

A veteran himself, Meyers said the woodshop works to bring in other veterans, who can often struggle to refocus their lives without the structure and military community in which they were once so heavily involved.

“The other thing about woodworking is that it can be therapeutic,” Meyers said.

Meyers noted many veterans he sees have been through traumatic situations.

“You find a lot of veterans who don’t want to talk about what they’ve seen over there and it’s because it’s so (expletive) gory,” Meyers said. “They’ve got all this rattling around in their mind and they need to occupy themselves to get away from that. Woodworking or working with clay or just about anything that occupies your mind kinda gets you away from some of that.”

Meyers said the advantage of having a woodshop open to all is having others with whom you can visit, share ideas and build a community. It would not be possible without generous donations from locals and others from Black and Decker, Stanley and DeWalt.

“These guys are great to me. They taught me a lot in here and right now I’m making stools for my great-grandchildren. I’m well blessed with health that I can do this at 97-years-old,” Don Koons, a WWII veteran who flew missions as a ball-turret gunner in a B-17 Bomber, said.

Jessica Morgan, who served eight years in the Army including tours in Iraq, said she loves to come to these events because it gives her a sense of comradery.

“It makes me more relaxed when people around me understand what I’ve been through, like we’ve all been through the same thing and I can let my guard down for a change because it feels like someone has my back,” Morgan said. “If you’re a vet, and you’re struggling with PTSD, seek help. Don’t be afraid to reach out, you mean something to somebody.”

Wounded Warrior Project also offers many other mental health resources through four hospitals that offer extensive outpatient care. They also offer events such as whitewater rafting, zip-lining through Project Odyssey.