Meadville service project serves as escape for veterans

Category:  News
Thursday, April 21st, 2016 at 8:46 AM
Meadville service project serves as escape for veterans  by Alan Soltys

Since 2008, the Lilac Springs Veteran Services Project in Meadville has served 138 American veterans at an experience they call a “Breakaway.”

“We provide everything,” said Tony Pedone, founder of Lilac Springs. “There is no charge to the vets.”

In April 2016, Lilac Springs is set to host another Breakaway where five veterans and their spouses will come to the location for three days to experience the place. “They come here, and things happen,” Pedone said. “It’s really cool.”

Lilac Springs is a property on Mercer Pike that is still in the process of being transformed. Currently, the property has the main home set up like a bed and breakfast, which houses the five couples, the cottage, which accommodates people who have traveled a far distance, the teahouse, which serves as the group’s hangout spot and place for meals, and the Lentando, which serves as a place to hold meetings.

“Veterans need a place to go where they can choose their own pace,” Pedone said.

“We are fighting a lot of issues,” Pedone continued. “We have seen some real success helping veterans with post traumatic stress.”

Pedone said one spouse of a veteran reported her husband talking more to her on a 45-minute trail walk than he had in six months.

Post traumatic stress affects many veterans. The American Psychiatric Association added post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ third edition (DSM-III). The APA recognizes that PTSD is a reaction to a traumatic event and is not a symptom of individual weakness.

Often, PTSD leads to hopelessness. According to a Pennsylvania Veterans Foundation Facebook post, more than 22 veterans commit suicide everyday in America.

The problems surrounding veterans reconnecting to regular society can be severe. Homelessness, affected mental health, drug and alcohol addiction and difficulty finding employment are just several of the challenges veterans face.

A prominent feature built into the property is a labyrinth where guests are encouraged to spend time walking toward the center. In the center of the labyrinth is a pile of 306 stones that represent Pennsylvania servicemen who have died in recent conflicts.

“The path to the center represents the journey of life,” Pedone said. “Along the way, there will be times of ease and obstacles as well.”

“Those who come here get a chance to see that life isn’t over,” Pedone said. “It’s liberating.”

Pedone also shared that some veterans suffer from feeling inadequate to other veteran experiences.

“One thing I see is that veterans always minimize the service they gave to their country, like if they didn’t die for their country it wasn’t enough,” Pedone said.

Barry Lobdell, a member of 298 Transportation Company from Franklin, said he was activated Sept. 20, 1990 to serve during Desert Storm.

“We hauled fuel, JA1 fuel, it was like a high grade kerosene. We supported the marines in the ground war, and they ran JA1 in their tanks and helicopters,” Lobdell said.

“I experienced a lot and saw a lot of things. One of the main routes of travel was called ‘Suicide Highway.’ You were in another world, a different culture. It wasn’t uncommon for me to lose my driver’s side mirror on a mission.”

Though traumatic, Lobdell shared that he had a lot of support upon returning home.

“When I came back it was great. There was a lot of support.”

But Lobdell also experienced some pushback for his active service.

“There was some bitterness from some Vietnam vets. They would say, ‘If you didn’t see the front line, you’re not a true veteran.’”

Lobdell continued, “The front line can’t move without people in the back bringing them what they need. Sometimes my life might have been more at risk than the front line, hauling all that fuel.”

Illustrating the point made by Pedone that veterans sometimes don’t think they’ve given enough, Lobdell said, “Sometimes I don’t feel right about it because guys come back and have a lot more problems.”

“Vets can get help here because we don’t get paid to do what we do,” Pedone said. “We just do it because it needs done.”

Alan Soltys is a Contributing Writer for The Spectator.

Tags: news, service

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