Many programs help veterans learn skills and find jobs, but being able to work with civilians again is a big part of that process.
The fifth year of a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service Passport in Time volunteer program and HistoriCorps provides veterans and civilians with a triple threat: learn new skills, restore a historic site and work with different types of people.
“It makes this a much better experience for veterans because they are working on crews that are mixed with volunteers who are different ages and who may not have military experience,” said Jason Maloney, an Army veteran and director of the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center and Forest Lodge team leader.
The restoration project is at Forest Lodge, part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin. Forest Lodge has more than a dozen historic buildings that volunteers will help bring up to code so they can be used by the public.
“We’ve got historic preservation and heritage working out in this beautiful natural setting on a national forest,” Maloney said. “The way I like to put it is that we’re making dollars work harder because the same dollar that we’re using for veterans training is the same dollar that’s providing historic preservation to these historic buildings.”
There are four sessions running through June and July, and each crew has about 10 people, including the crew leader and supervisor. Veterans up to age 35 and students ages 18-25 can volunteer. The sessions are June 6-10, 13-17, 20-24 and June 27-July 1.
Volunteers stay in tents onsite with three meals provided each day. Veterans earn a weekly stipend of $480 as they learn such skills as window restoration, historic landscaping, foundation repair and preservation theory.
“The idea is to try and incentivize them to do the training and to open them up to another career opportunity,” said Towny Anderson, executive director at HistoriCorps.
Many of the participants haven’t done this kind of work before, Anderson said, so HistoriCorps provides supervisors who can pass the skills along in a hands-on learning environment.
Marine veteran Geoff Wilson will be volunteering with the program for the second time in a row this year.
"It's nice to feel that camaraderie again and to hear other vets' stories," he said. "For someone like me, I haven't had the chance to hang out with other veterans since I got out of the Marines in 2011."
Wilson said he also enjoyed connecting with the group as a whole.
"We had great project leads, and the Passport in Time volunteers only enriched the cheerfulness of the group," he said. "They were mostly retirees who brought wisdom and a great sense of humor."
He plans to graduate from Northland College in December with a history degree, and he said he hopes to work with youths and help them build a connection to the wilderness.
"That connection for me has helped me through a lot of dark times, and I'm sure it would help children who don't have the opportunity to experience it as well," Wilson said.
Volunteers who complete all four sessions will receive a Certificate of Achievement in Heritage Conservation and Construction from HistoriCorps. Maloney said they’re working on partnering with colleges so volunteers can receive credit toward a degree in historic preservation.
“We have veterans that pick up all sorts of skills and really help re-acclimate into the job market on the civilian side of society,” he said. “And being out in the natural setting is therapeutic for us. I always find that it calms the soul and helps one heal.”
Contact Rebecca Curry at email@example.com if you’re interested in volunteering.
Charlsy Panzino covers veterans education, employment and transition issues, as well as travel, entertainment and fitness. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.