Federal grant assists DREAM with veterans programs

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A local military veteran independently steers the SnowKart, one of many adaptive sit-skis DREAM Adaptive Recreation has available. (Julie Tickle photo)

Whitefish’s DREAM Adaptive will offer some new programs and expand others thanks to a $28,000 federal grant focused on creating adaptive opportunities for veterans.

The nonprofit was recently announced as a recipient of a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Adaptive Sports Grant, which provides grants across the country to support veteran mental health.

DREAM Executive Director Julie Tickle told the Pilot that the nonprofit has received the grant for the last four years and it has mostly been used to develop the nonprofit’s ski and snowboard programs.

Tickle said the grant identifies the importance of recreation as a tool for healing.

“The grant is really unique in that it’s this large pool of money that’s set aside for essentially recovering through sport. As we all know, being active helps us in so many ways, not only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well,” she said. “It’s awesome that the VA recognized that and has set aside funding for organizations to be able to support their community members.”

Democrat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who serves as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Ranking Member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, recently announced the grant along with another grant for $75,000 for Horses Spirit Healing, Inc. in Billings.

“Too many of our nation’s veterans return home from war with seen and unseen wounds, and we owe it to them to open every avenue possible for treatment and rehabilitation,” Tester said in a release. “These grants will allow us to live up to the promises we made to the brave men and women who served, by giving veterans the opportunity to pursue alternative therapies that work for them closer to home.”

DREAM last season offered three veteran ski and snowboard weekends at Whitefish Mountain Resort, with about 15 to 20 veterans participating. Tickle estimates about 30 of roughly 220 participants in DREAM programs are veterans.

Tickle said the number of veterans coming to the mountain has been growing steadily.

“The first year there were only a handful of veterans, but word has gotten out and it’s become really popular and something that not only we at DREAM look forward to putting on, but I think the veteran community has really latched on to it as well,” she said.

In addition to the ski and snowboard days, DREAM also hosts water sport days that involve paddle boarding, kayaking, rafting and wake boarding. This year’s VA grant will also cover the costs for three lead adaptive instructor training clinics in Colorado and one training conference in Oregon.

Along with the VA grant, DREAM also received $9,000 from Disabled Sports USA Warfighter, which will fund four veteran-focused water sports days.

Next summer DREAM also plans to debut its first mountain biking days for veterans, which Tickle expects to take place over two days.

The program will provide standard mountain bikes and gear, but Tickle says they’ve also picked up adaptive recumbent bikes and handcycles as well.

“I think it would pair well with our adaptive program because we want to be able to provide an adaptive piece of equipment and someone use it,” she said. “Ninety percent of the veterans we see don’t need any or need minimal adaptations, but we now have some burly adaptive handcycles and recumbent cycles that can get out and rip.”

Tickle sees plenty of satisfied people come through DREAM, and she’s encouraged by programs like the VA that make adaptive sports a priority.

“Because the VA has come up with this funding, they’re showing the importance of outdoor recreation. They’re elevating it to say, ‘We have found that outdoor recreation is a true form of therapy,’” she said. “There’s something about being immersed outside — whether you’re learning a new skill or you’re physically whooped because this activity kicked your tush, you can’t think about much else. You’re in the moment, you’re there, and I think for a lot of veterans that’s really important.”

For more information, visit www.dreamadaptive.org.

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