How might we foster a more empathetic transition back into the community for returning veterans?
Through the design thinking process and extensive empathy work, the Veterans Project team interviewed veterans from different branches of service and a variety of post-service careers. These interviews ranged from speaking with a veteran’s affairs administrator about services and benefits for returning vets to engaging with members of programs such as the Wyakin Warriors Foundation and Team Red, White and Blue.
The group learned that there are many issues that returning veterans may face including loss of routine and support, loss of community, depression and suicide, difficulty finding work based on military skills, and difficulty integrating back into civilian life. After much discussion, the One Stone team realized they wanted to focus on bridging the gap between veterans and civilians.
The project resulted in several unique engagements with the veteran community:
1) Wyakin Warrior Guardian Ball – Dec 5, 2015 – The Veterans Project team supported and volunteered at the Ball honoring veterans who achieved success through the foundation.
2) Run As One – Apr 16, 2016 – The Veterans Project team united with veterans in a run honoring those who lost their lives to suicide as well as led activities for families of veterans. A mural, created by the group in collaboration with Two Birds, displayed the state of Idaho and the prompt, “I am a Veteran/Civilian, but I am also a….” This prompt was an effort to unite veterans and civilians by having them participate to create a piece of artwork together. By moving past labels, participants celebrated the beauty of their wholeness and complexity.
3) Veterans’ Garden – The Veterans Project team worked with veterans to design and plant a 4×10 ft garden box at the Caldwell Veterans Memorial Garden. Complete with beautiful plants and flowers with a big arch over the top, the final design of the garden was aimed to actively engage veterans by offering them an opportunity to add to the garden. Veterans visiting the garden are invited to finish the phrase, “A word I want to live by is…” by writing their selected word on a painted turquoise or purple (suicide awareness colors) rock. The visiting veterans can then place their rock in the garden’s One Stone river bed as a collective sign of hope.
While this wasn’t a traditional One Stone project with a specific recipient, the students engaged with different veterans throughout the various components of the project and felt like they made a difference in bridging the gap between the veteran and civilian communities. On a personal level, the One Stone students gained a deep understanding of the challenges that veterans face.
In Their Own Words
“My experience with the Veterans Project was truly an exercise in empathy. We worked with a community that often feels alienated by civilians, so having the opportunity to connect with and understand Idaho veterans was extremely valuable.”
“The Veterans Project allowed me to learn and empathize with a group of people whose life is very different than my own. Hearing their stories showed me the struggles of people who have done so much for our country.”
Following the establishment of the Veterans Project garden box, One Stone received a follow-up call from the director of the garden saying, “The box has been getting so much response lately- it is awesome, inspiring, and just downright cool!”