Veterans Day at Bastion holds a special place in our community, a community of veterans and families who have experienced firsthand the sacrifices required to protect our nation’s freedom. As we honor those sacrifices, it’s important to recognize that every veteran’s experience is entirely unique, despite common threads that may bond them.
Here at Bastion, we serve a diverse range of veterans across all military branches. Whether our veterans served at home or abroad, whether their injuries are physical or mental, whether they obtained those injuries in battle or off-duty: they are veterans who deserve our respect and a safe place to call home. For the many veterans and families who call Bastion their home, our goal is to build a supportive environment where they can heal, grow, and thrive.
“It means so much to me to live alongside other veterans because we all have that commonality with being a part of a very important part of our lives,” Army and Air Force veteran Glenda Diagne said. “We learn from each other, bond with each other, and this is why I have been here since 2018.”
This Veterans Day, civilians can honor the sacrifices of our nation’s veteran population by educating themselves about the incredibly diverse range of veteran experiences, and work to challenge assumptions about the veteran community. Not all veterans come home with life-altering injuries, and many are entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders in their fields thanks to the unique skill sets they obtained during their service. Their passions and strengths, however, may not align with the work they did as a service member.
“I wish that non-veterans understood that just because you served in the military and had to do different things and shoot weapons, being timely, being super organized and neat, that isn't always something that you will do or are good at even though you had to do it in the military,” Diagne said.
For those who do live with various disabilities or medical conditions upon returning home, it’s important to understand that no two conditions look exactly alike: PTSD, for example, presents itself in many ways and its symptoms can be completely different from one veteran to another.
Veteran Susan Lutz wishes civilians would understand that military service truly impacts all areas of a service member’s life, both during and after service. While enlisted, service members gain a sense of belonging from being around others with similar assignments who are utilizing the same chow hall, living at the same bases, and going through many of the same trainings.
“When you leave the military, all of that changes,” Lutz said. “Suddenly you have to rely on yourself to juggle a job while navigating food, health insurance, and housing. It becomes more difficult to form social ties.”
Lutz said she believes Bastion has saved her life thanks to the strides she has made in her mental and overall health since joining the community.
“With Bastion, I have developed friendships and plans for the future,” Lutz said. “I am grateful every day that I wake up at Bastion.”
Our person-centered approach at Bastion connects each veteran with the resources and programming that are most relevant to their specific challenges and lived experiences. Through programs like our Bastion Ambassadors vocational training, we also work to connect our veterans with the learning opportunities that best fit their interests and skill sets.
“Living at Bastion has been both a staple and hallmark of my life. Second only to when I joined the United States Marine Corps,” veteran resident Anthony Mitchell said. Mitchell is a Bastion Ambassador himself, working as a Residential Assistant serving his fellow neighbors in the community.
Mitchell asks that civilians educate themselves on what it means to be a veteran, and how it can impact mental health. Even for those who have veteran family members, Mitchell believes you must walk a mile in a veteran’s shoes to really understand that particular veteran’s experience. Being a Bastion veteran, Mitchell is surrounded by veterans who have walked their own path of service.
“Bastion is everything to me and the people that live here are not only friends, but family and I love each and every one of them,” Mitchell said. “Always."
At Bastion, we know there are many paths to wellness. That’s why this summer, we hosted our first ever Wellness Day here on Mirabeau Avenue. Countless Bastion residents, Gentilly neighbors, and other local veterans gathered on a beautiful July day to enjoy free activities including yoga, tai chi, and meditation. Many tried a new wellness practice for the first time, like acupuncture or reiki.
“In order to raise awareness and foster community engagement, Bastion has teamed up with wellness providers and practitioners to bring support to our community,” said Community Support Manager Reion Janeau. “With mental health being equally as important as physical health, we're hoping everyone takes advantage of this wellness focused day.”
The Bastion community is supported year-round by many local practitioners that bring their services to our veterans. From art and music therapists who work with our Headway participants, to community acupuncturists that donate their time and skills to our residents each month, we are so grateful for these amazing wellness providers and their commitment to the holistic health and wellbeing of our veterans.
Our Wellness Day was made possible thanks to our sponsors, Humana Healthy Horizons Louisiana and the Almar Foundation. Their support of our mission and the veterans we serve allowed us to expand our reach and connect more veterans and New Orleanians with wellness resources.
“Humana Healthy Horizons is focused on the whole health of the communities we serve, and we were thrilled to partner with the Bastion Community of Resilience on this important event,” said Kim Williams, Director of Health Equity, Population Health, & Community Engagement for Humana Healthy Horizons Louisiana. “Through this Wellness Day, we’re providing valuable health education and connecting people to programs that improve their overall wellbeing.”
Thanks to our sponsors’ commitment to community health, we hosted dozens of local health and wellness vendors offering everything from free health screenings to nutrition education information.
The day’s festivities included some classic New Orleans culture and flair. A representative from the Backstreet Cultural Museum educated our guests about the power and tradition of Mardi Gras Indian suits. Resident and Wild Magnolias member, Marvin Belisle, brought out his own suit to speak about his role and experiences as a culture bearer and Wild Man.We had the Southern Belle Baby Dolls dancing through the event, spreading joy and celebrating wellness with our guests. The day culminated with a second line around Bastion’s residential community.
Thank you to every single wellness vendor, practitioner, healthcare worker, and guest who joined us for this incredible day! We are so grateful for the opportunity to promote holistic health and wellness in our community, and hope you will join us in the future for further wellness resources and community events.
Click here to view more photos from this special day.
Occupational therapy is a crucial component of our Headway program year round, and this month, we’re celebrating our occupational therapists to honor the incredible impact they’ve made in our community.
Here at Bastion, we have two amazing occupational therapists who approach their roles as both a career and a calling. They work in individual and group settings to help our Headway participants maximize independence and quality of life.
“When I heard about occupational therapy, it was as if they created the profession for me, because I feel so well suited to it and honestly very lucky to be a part of this profession,” Clinical Director Rachel Schwenk says. “We are the rehabilitation professionals that really focus on real life daily tasks as the intervention to maximize people's potential.”
Occupational therapist Caity Bower was drawn to the field because it allows her to be a continuous learner at any stage of her career, merging meaningful treatment interventions like play, socialization, music and art with the science of neurology and physiotherapy.
Through this holistic approach, Caity and Rachel look at the whole person to help them address both daily self care needs and higher level needs around cognition, work training, volunteer exploration, and social development.
“At its core, it’s client-centered, which I think is the best modality and treatment for veterans. And I also think it's the most ethical form of treatment,” Caity says. “When trying to create meaningful daily change in a person's life, OTs can be on the ground, in the community, and in the home.”
Occupational therapy is vital to veterans transitioning to civilian life because it helps them practice real life skills and tasks in a non-simulated setting. Through Headway, they’re also supported by their fellow participants, with peer-mentor relationships developing organically within the group. This creates a unique environment for our OTs to work with participants in innovative ways.
“Only 3% of occupational therapists work in this mental health or community type of space,” Rachel says. “And so it's a very niche practice area for an occupational therapist to be in.”
Both Rachel and Caity are proud of the success of the Headway program and the progress they have seen from participants, and are excited to be a part of Headway’s continuous growth.
“I would say that we've really created a family. And there's no better form of therapy than having the support of a family and a chosen family that we've created here,” Caity says. “It just paves the way for increased meaning in life and increased engagement in what is meaningful to a person. And we do that as a team and as a family.”
We are so grateful for Rachel and Caity’s commitment to our community’s veterans. Their energy, creativity, clinical expertise and compassion have transformed the daily lives of so many veterans at Bastion.
“I feel just immensely blessed to be part of a profession that fiercely advocates and elevates people to the best version of themselves,” Rachel says. “And I hope to be a trailblazing occupational therapist to really prove that our profession deserves a seat at the table with this population, especially in this setting.”
Spring has sprung at Bastion! From our thriving community garden to an abundance of new trees planted by generous volunteers, signs of new life are all around.
Headway participant Nick Valentino has been a leader in developing the community garden, building garden beds of various depths and sizes along with a fully functional chicken coop.
Nick’s carpentry skills combined with staff member Caity Bower’s sustainable gardening knowledge have brought new ideas and possibilities to Bastion’s outdoor spaces, while simultaneously bolstering our food program with fresh fruits, vegetables, and eggs.
“It's free for anyone to go from the neighborhood here at Bastion, they go in there, pick and cook with it themselves because there's herbs grown down there too. But also, for the cooking group that Caity and Rachel do on Fridays, they'll go and pick from the garden and incorporate that in the cooking group that they do for the guys.”
When produce is plentiful, it’s picked and put in the food pantry fridge for residents or used by our two resident chefs, Shantrise Sykes and Sylvia Magee, in their community meals.
Gardening at Bastion is a skill and passion that’s being passed down generationally by resident Clarissa Moramarco, who has been part of the Bastion community for five years. Clarissa hosts twice monthly garden meetings for the children of Headway participants, and is working to include more resident kids in the future.
Clarissa has been gardening since she was 14, taking over for her father, a Navy veteran, after a heart attack prevented him from maintaining their outdoor spaces himself.
“I took over and I just started loving gardening and I love being outdoors and I like growing things I can give to people,” Clarissa says. “I also really wanted to combine the gardening with arts and crafts and cooking. So that's kind of what makes it unique.”
Clarissa likes to begin her sessions with crafts to help the kids settle down and give them time to chat and connect. On top of learning basic gardening techniques and the science behind how plants grow, the kids have also created custom plaques and plant kit containers.
“Each plant holder is as unique as the children,” Clarissa says.
Thank you to Nick, Caity, and Clarissa for promoting a culture of sustainable gardening and hands-on learning here at Bastion! And thank you to Nola Tree Project and the volunteers of SCA Health for donating your time and energy to help bring new trees and plant life to our community.
Acupuncturists Emily Cronin and Thomas McCarty provide free monthly sessions to Bastion residents
Opening our minds to new possibilities requires seeing results. That’s what happened to two local acupuncturists who now bring their knowledge and expertise to the Bastion community on a monthly basis, free of charge.
Thomas McCarty, owner of Tree of Life Acupuncture, first became passionate about helping others from watching his own mother navigate illness. He learned how to cook her a Japanese macrobiotic diet, which led to his interest in herbalism and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The tools of this practice treat the mind and body as one, a perspective that can be particularly helpful to veterans navigating both physical and mental injuries. Acupuncture can be part of this approach, serving as a powerful grounding method, and providing an immediate therapeutic effect.
“Bringing the mind into the present is a very therapeutic thing for people who may be haunted by experiences overseas or at home, wherever that might be, or whose pain may be magnified by memories,” McCarty said.
McCarty provides acupuncture to Bastion’s veterans alongside Emily Cronin, who also became passionate about the practice through early life experiences. After witnessing how acupuncture helped her mother, Cronin was drawn to the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine as a holistic way of healing.
“I thought that it was an affordable way of helping people feel better, and mitigating the excessive use of painkillers,” Cronin said. “And I just thought that in this country, that these could be great ways to help yourself and help people you love too.”
Bastion resident Susan Lutz agrees. She frequently takes advantage of the free sessions and has felt the benefits.
“I've had circulatory problems for the last few years,” said Lutz. “For example, my arms frequently fall asleep. I always feel a little better after an acupuncture session and I don't experience circulatory issues for a few days. “
McCarty and Cronin never select acupoints in advance. A session starts with questioning and identifying patterns to establish a treatment plan. This can involve targeting specific bodily networks, or checking for skin changes like tension, temperature, or tenderness before inserting needles at strategic points to relieve symptoms and correct patterns of imbalance.
“There's like a field of right answers,” Cronin said. “And then within that, you have different avenues that will get you to your end goal faster, or more directly.”
McCarty says that working with veterans at Bastion disproved his preconceived notions about the kinds of challenges veterans live with and has made him more aware of the way in which smaller wear and tear injuries can develop into major issues.
“Just individually, there's people who have such interesting stories, what they've been through and what they're into, and what they're building in their lives,” McCarty said. “And then as a community, it's just an incredible community…it's going to be the model for other places around the country.”
At Bastion, we rely on a wide variety of tools to support the healing and wellbeing of our veterans. Thanks to the skills and generosity of these two local acupuncturists, Bastion is able to offer monthly community acupuncture to our residents, completely free of cost.
The Bastion Brothers take a bow after Veterans Experience Project performance
Music can give us much more than just a catchy tune that we sing along to while driving or cleaning the house. It can help strengthen community, build inner and outer connections, and help us to heal.
That’s the idea behind Bastion’s music therapy, and it’s on full display during a recent afternoon in the Purple Heart room where a group of veterans* are working on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” lead by music therapist, Jeremy Love. Sitting in a circle, one vet plays xylophone, a vet jams on a keyboard-sounding iPad, and there is another playing harmonica with Love calling out chords and strumming a guitar.
It sounds good, and it’s kind of amazing to see and hear how quickly it comes together, but there’s also something going on underneath, perhaps subconsciously. Love, who has a master's degree in music therapy and has been working with the Bastion community for many years, draws it out with a simple question: “What do you associate with silence?”
One man tells how the song reminds him of good training days when he would play the song in his head while rucking with a full pack. Another vet doesn’t hold such fond memories. For him, the piece reminds him of the eerie and uncertain silence after a firefight. The others listen intently and offer encouragement: “It’s okay. You’ve got this.”
This isn’t an easy moment, and throughout the session the affected vet is comforted by his comrades. But it is a breakthrough, and it shows music’s transformative power to open people up when words might fail.
“What we’re trying to do with our group is to facilitate connection,” Love says. “And we’re using music as an agent of growth.”
Love is quick to point out that not all of their sessions are so intense and there’s often a lot of joy and synergy between veterans. In fact, the recent Veterans Experience Project at Gallier Hall put that on full display. Calling themselves the “Baston Brothers,” the group gathered onstage to play an original song in a Chicago Blues style with the lyrics relating what their time in the military was like and coming home.
You can hear the pride in the vets’ voices when they talk about that performance, and you can feel how playing music has brought them even closer together. And as Love points out, this therapeutic power isn’t limited only to the vets.
“Bastion is such a unique place, and I’m honored to be here,” says Love. “There have been times when I’ve been down in the dumps, and they have raised me up.”
*Due to the therapeutic nature of this article, we chose not to specifically name the veterans involved.
With the holidays over, now's a good time to start getting in shape for a good cause by becoming a runner or walker for Bastion's Crescent City Classic Team! Team Bastion is the only veterans organization that is part of the Classic's "Run for It" Charity Program, and the funds raised allow us to continue providing these services to our Vets:
Interested in becoming a Bastion sponsor for the 2023 Crescent City Classic? Check out "How to be a Bastion Sponsor."
Here's how to register for Team Bastion:
Have trouble with the registration? We can help!
As a member of Team Bastion you will receive a custom t-shirt and free pass to the finish line extravaganza for libations and high-fives with the rest of the team.
Thank You and We'll See You on Race Day!
Headway member Wilbert 'Wil' Young at Banks Street Service Station, where he does vocational training.
When it comes to brain injury recovery, neuroplasticity is one of the most critical processes and gives hope to people living with these injuries. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself throughout life, producing new connections and pathways, which means if a part of the brain becomes damaged, other parts of the brain can compensate for the injury and restore function.
One of the keys to neuroplasticity is stimulation.Headway participant, Wilbert ‘Wil’ Young, shows us what neuroplasticity and stimulation is all about.
Wil served as a mechanic in the US Army and National Guard from 1994 until 2019 until he acquired a traumatic brain injury of unknown origins. For months, Wil received treatment in a California rehabilitation hospital and was unable to communicate who he was or where he was from. Eventually he recovered enough to identify himself and was reunited with his family in New Orleans.
Despite his homecoming and reuniting with his mom, Wil was still largely uncommunicative with limited motor function. His parents found out about Bastion’s Headway program and Wil joined it in 2020. Wil began attending the group sessions and one-on-one therapy with Headway’s occupational therapist, Rachel Schwenk.
“He’s made significant strides and improvements in his brain injury recovery,” says Rachel. “He was practically nonverbal when he first arrived and now is communicative, friendly and enjoys the camaraderie of the Headway group.”
During one OT session in his Broadmoor neighborhood, Wil and Rachel combined exercise and photography, which was part of the disposable camera workshop led by photographer/artist Fanny Garcia, who is also a veteran.
Wil stands next to his award-winning photograph.
Wil’s photograph of an abandoned bus was displayed in an exhibit at the New Orleans Photo Alliance, and later won first prize in the color photography at the local Veterans Affairs’ arts festival. And just a few weeks ago after displaying the photo in another exhibit, Phelps/Dunbar purchased the photograph and it’s now permanently hanging in its law offices.
“That was fun. I liked that,” says Wil. “I feel like an artist.”
Wil is also regaining his automotive mechanic skills from his days in the service. As part of Headway’s vocational skills training, Wil and Rachel have been spending time at the Banks Street Service Station, and he has been working with owner Tommie Thurmond and the other mechanics on brake repair and other jobs.
Wil says that the experience has been kindling old memories, stimulating him to remember things he used to know, and he’s thankful that the Headway program continues helping him in his recovery.
“It’s great. It actually helps you harness your abilities and brings out the best in you.”
Bastion Groundbreaking in 2016
Ten years is a long time, and since its founding in 2012, Bastion Community of Resilience has accomplished quite a bit, but we’re not resting on our laurels. Bastion is working on the next ten years to ensure all local veterans transitioning out of military service have the tools they need to succeed in civilian life.
Dylan Tête, an Iraq War Veteran with a master’s degree in public health, first arrived in New Orleans in 2005 after leaving Iraq and the US Army. Married and a new father, he struggled with the transition to civilian life and Dylan realized that many veterans, especially those with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and other conditions, were also struggling when they came home.
“There was a gap in the continuum of care for warriors who need lifelong rehabilitative care,” Dylan says. “Outpatient care after hospitalization wasn’t enough.” (something he observed upon his visits to Walter Reed, the Center for the Intrepid, and the VA’s polytrauma hub in Virginia).
What warriors and families needed the most was a supportive community of neighbors that could cure persistent loneliness and optimize social reintegration. So Dylan traveled to Hope Meadows in Illinois to learn more about their specialized neighborhood of care that used “intentional neighboring” as a primary intervention for foster youth and adoptive families. Dylan worked with Brenda Eheart, the founder of Hope Meadows, to adapt their model for a military population.
Bastion was born.
Bastion under construction 2016-17
Bastion broke ground on its first phase--38 apartments and a community center on a 5-acre campus located in New Orleans in 2016 and by 2018, it added 20 additional apartments for a total of 58. Primarily focused on veterans and families transitioning from military service to civilian life, Bastion is a thriving community, where residents benefit from the experience of helping others, promoting wellbeing and life satisfaction. The Bastion approach restores families, reduces stress at home, and expands social networks to strengthen resilience.
Celebrating full occupancy of Phase One
Dylan has more plans for Bastion.
“No veteran in the New Orleans area who is transitioning out of military service should fall through the cracks, and no one should struggle alone,” Dylan says.
Bastion will lead the effort in this goal by becoming a backbone organization in Southeast Louisiana and linking other veteran organizations together to create collective impact. Bastion will also promote health and wellbeing in the Gentilly neighborhood through its third phase: a wellness center that will serve military families in the metro area as well as the general public.
“I want Gentilly to be a thriving place for young families and our elders who have contributed so much to this neighborhood, and I think that can happen,” Dylan says, referring to the wellness center.
Since its founding 10 years ago, Bastion has been about helping people and communities become healthier. It’s a model that should be replicated throughout the country with Bastion communities in every major American city. And that’s exactly what the organization is working toward in the next ten years.
Help Bastion celebrate its 10-year anniversary on Veterans Day, November 11 with the “Veterans Experience Project” from 10am-6pm at Gallier Hall.
Heidi and Darius
Isolation and the loneliness that accompanies it can be difficult for anyone, and is especially hard on veterans. At Bastion, we use the power of community to help solve issues and that can be a powerful cure for isolation and loneliness. Consider our newest resident, Darius Sampey.
Sampey enlisted in the Army when he was 17, and had to wait until he turned 18 before reporting to basic training. While he was in boot camp, however, he suffered a tragic incident and became profoundly deaf, ending his military career in less than 60 days.
“I had at least 45 years of service planned,” Sampey says.
He knew he would have to change his plans, so Sampey got cochlear implants and enrolled at Tulane University. While there, he volunteered in the university’s Rotaract club, which is part of a global nonprofit focused on young people providing service to their communities.
“That’s when I first became familiar with Bastion even before it was built,” Sampey says.
Sampey graduated from Tulane in 2016 with a double major in international relations and history. Completing college had been difficult, however, because he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is an inflammatory disease of the intestines. In a great deal of pain and rapidly losing weight, Sampey finished his senior year from a hospital bed.
To manage the Crohn’s, Sampey, who is on full disability, takes medications, which cause a great deal of fatigue and make it difficult to socialize. He felt isolated in his apartment--he did get a service dog, Heidi, who has been his constant companion for six years--when a friend mentioned Bastion to him.
“It’s not easy making friends these days, and I was looking for a new place,” Sampey says.
It’s been a little more than a month since Sampey moved in. He’s participated in some of the Headway events, including a field trip to the immersive Van Gogh exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art. He’s made a close friend, Jason Causey, who also lives here, and Sampey mentions those everyday things that living in a close knit community can mean.
“Here [at Bastion] everything is more open, literally,” Sampey says. “Somedays the vets will hang out at the picnic tables, hanging with our dogs. It feels pretty good.”