The DREAM Adaptive Recreation Veteran ski and snowboard weekends at Whitefish Mountain Resort are geared to providing an outlet for stories of service and compassionate ears from those who have similar experiences while creating the opportunity to heal through playing.
“The key is that play therapy is the best therapy,” said participant Jon Devine. “I get to have the best kind of day of my life. It’s a sweet experience.”
Devine was in the Army for four years before embarking on a host of education opportunities that promote wellness. He now trains the trainers for wellness coaching and is an independent representative for Family Heritage Life. This coming fall he will be attending culinary school.
“When I left the Army I completely separated from all ties,” Devine said. “When I participate in Dream’s programs, I can relax and share about my deployment with other Vets.”
The Veteran weekends are free of charge for active duty and military Veterans with disabilities. They include lift tickets, adaptive instructors, equipment rentals and lunch. This is all made possible by a $30,000 Veterans Affairs Adaptive Sports grant through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to promote rehabilitation, quality of life and community reintegration. Three weekends are dedicated on Jan. 26 and 27, Feb. 23 and 24, and March 16 and 17. The grant also supports free individual ski and snowboard lessons through DREAM.
Hans Freeman joined DREAM Adaptive last year as a volunteer. He is a disabled veteran with 30 years of active duty service. He moved to Whitefish after shadowing a DREAM Veteran weekend.
“I ran into the most incredible people,” he said. “With all the choices the volunteers have with their free time, they choose to help children and Veterans with disabilities. They wouldn’t otherwise be able to do this.”
The Veteran weekends provide a host of positive benefits for participants.
“One minute you’re elite and then something happens and you lose your sense of purpose,” Freeman said. “What’s most important as a Veteran: comradery. When participating with Dream, I really get to listen to Veterans and they’re back in their element just like in the military. From a personal perspective, it’s given me a sense of a second calling and being a part of something bigger than myself.”
Partnering with community outreach programs is important for reaching Veterans in the Flathead Valley and beyond. The Kalispell Vet Center is one of those organizations. Veterans and reservists who deployed to combat zones can utilize the free professional counseling services. Family members also have a host of support services available to them through the Center.
“The main focus is readjustment to the community from military life and to have the support to try new things,” said Larry Cannon, Veteran Outreach Specialist at the Kalispell Vet Center. “Participants of Dream find new enjoyment and new connection. We can do only so much on the clinical side. When they get out in the community to do something, that’s where they find a way to get better. Outdoor sports provide so much for healing.”
Devine emphasized how snowboarding with Dream was the way to open him up and start healing. “I didn’t want anything to do with the Veteran community,” he continued. “But when my therapist mentioned snowboarding, that was the way to get me talking.”
“From a personal perspective,” Freeman said, “we need to focus on the positive.”
To enroll in the veteran winter sports days, email email@example.com or call 862-1817.