“We all need it and deserve it. Not just people who have traumas. We’re all living in a pandemic in a violent world.” Lovella Calica, Bastion social worker
It might seem like an obvious statement, but considering the public stigma that still surrounds mental health, which can be even harsher for veterans, it’s worth repeating loudly and often. A recent Wounded Warrior Project survey found that 80 percent of wounded, ill, and injured veterans registered with WWP reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Likewise, many of Bastion’s veterans live with or have experienced PTSD, and/or other mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
So how does Bastion address these issues? Allison Tebbe, director of Bastion’s Headway Program, refers to the approach as “community as intervention.” As Tebbe explains, it refers to the powerful effect of having a close knit community like Bastion’s.
“When people feel there are others supporting them and in turn, they’re providing support, their mental health improves,” Tebbe says. “It’s those neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and things like sharing a meal.”
Headway, which is a community integration program for veterans living with TBI and other neurological conditions, is a great example of this. Participants engage in occupational therapy, art and music therapy, community outings, adaptive recreational activities, and more. Building these vocational, practical, and mental health skills is mostly done in a group setting with other veterans who understand what the other person is going through. Tebbe says that teaching mental health skills are a way for veterans to build an arsenal of tools and coping strategies.
“When they’re experiencing acute depression or anxiety, or are feeling triggered, they can pull something out of the toolkit,” Tebbe says. “If that doesn’t work, try another skill you’ve learned. It can be a long process, but we’ve seen it pay off over and over again with these veterans.”
Bastion’s social worker, Lovella Calica, also works to dispel the stigma by making group efforts more commonplace and natural. While Calica does offer traditional one-on-one counseling, she also leads a number of group sessions in mind/body skills such as TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises), writing workshops and exercise sessions.
“It’s really important for people to realize that there are many ways to feel good and it doesn’t always mean one-on-one therapy,” Calica says. “It can be yoga, TRE and many other group activities.”
When she invites a resident to participate, she makes it clear that it’s something everyone can and should do.
“I’ll say, ‘I’m working on my mental health through exercise and meditation, do you want to join me’?” Calica says.
Tebbe points out that the social isolation that many Americans now experience and is a major risk factor for suicide, is relatively new. For thousands and thousands and years, people were in greater contact, made stronger connections, and benefited from it. It really was about the power of community.
“We’re trying to recreate that model at Bastion,” Tebbe says. “It’s true community care.”
Bastion Social Worker Lovella Calica
In some ways, you could say Bastion’s social worker, Lovella Calica, had been preparing to work with our veterans and residents for more than a decade before landing at Bastion.
Calica arrived in New Orleans in the Summer of 2020 to oversee Bastion’s virtual wellness center, but she had begun working with veterans in 2004. In 2008, she founded Warrior Writers, a national writing program specifically for vets and their families.
“It’s about using art to facilitate healing, documentation, community building and expression,” Calica, who is also a writer, photographer and multimedia artist, says.
Healing and community building are two of the cornerstones of the Bastion mission, and Calica fit in immediately with the residents and staff. Before coming to Bastion, she enrolled in a master’s program in social work, which she completed in 2021, becoming Bastion’s onsite social worker. She says that her job entails a wide range of responsibilities, and is, as she puts, “different everyday, which I love.”
That makes sense considering that healing and community building can take many forms. On any given day, Calica could be doing a variety of meaningful actions including:
For Calica, all of the efforts represent what Bastion is all about, using community as an intervention tool and the value of connectivity. She says that Bastion residents are open to trying something new, and their conversations show Calica that as community member and staffer, her endeavors are valued and appreciated.
“In this work, changes aren’t always visible, but to hear about their changes and improvements is very valuable and rewarding to me,” Calica says.
Lately I've come to the conclusion that regardless of the situation, or crisis, or whatever is happening in the world, we are going to hold up our little corner of it. For the past five years that's exactly what we've been doing since we moved in our first resident at Bastion-- holding up our community, healing together, and building peace.
When I think of those we have lost along the way, I immediately think of what I could have done to save them, to keep them out of harm's way. But then I am also reminded that so many things lie beyond our control. What is in our purview, however, is our willingness to trust each other, or rebuild trust when it is broken... even if it means taking the first step.
In the spirit of those we have lost on the battlefield and at home, I am going to use my trust to restore peace and safety in my personal relationships, with my neighbors, with everyone I encounter in my work. It is mine to use and I will use it to take the first step, no matter what may come next.
All my heart,
Since Bastion’s founding, the Bob Woodruff Foundation has been an invaluable partner and supporter. Like many of our residents, Bob and Lee Woodruff know firsthand the challenges that many of our veterans face.
Bob was an ABC News reporter covering the Iraq War when his armored vehicle was hit with a roadside bomb. He sustained a nearly fatal traumatic brain injury (TBI). During his recovery at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md., Lee met many families of veterans who were experiencing the impact of TBI and other hidden injuries including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression.
It was a long road to recovery, but the couple took their experience as the impetus for starting the Bob Woodruff Foundation. Today, the foundation strives to “find, fund, shape and accelerate equitable solutions that help our impacted veterans, service members, their families, and their caregivers thrive.”
Executive Director Dylan Tête is very direct about the foundation’s contributions to Bastion.
“We wouldn’t be here without the Bob Woodruff Foundation,” says Dylan. “Their initial seed funding allowed me to quit my job and work full time on the project. Later they gave us the funding to pilot Headway, our signature brain injury program, and during the pandemic, they funded our telehealth program that provided services to more than 200 people across four countries in six months. Finally, the foundation awarded another grant to pilot our food program to address food insecurity among veterans.”
On a recent sunny afternoon, Bastion hosted the Woodruffs, their son Mac and Bob Woodruff Foundation Chief Program Officer Meg Harrell. Here are a few photos from that memorable visit.
Retirement didn’t slow down Bastion resident Sylvia Magee. Magee, a proud mother of two Air Force veterans, had worked as a cook in the Jefferson and Orleans parish school systems for 38 years before retiring in 2018, but that didn’t mean giving up her love of cooking for people. And that made her a perfect match for Bastion’s resident-driven food plan.
“I never stopped,” Magee says. “Before the program, I was feeding the sick and the homeless under the bridge. When they told me about the program, I thought ‘that’s right up my alley.’”
Bastion’s food program, sponsored by the Bob Woodruff Foundation, kicked off this past June, working off the proverb If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he eats for a lifetime. One in four veterans have experienced food insecurity, which is the lack of access to healthy and nutritious food, and Bastion’s program provides residents with access to healthy fresh produce and other items and teaches them how to cook with it.
“From the beginning we wanted something sustainable for the residents,” explains Bastion Program Manager Renard Dominique. “We have a food pantry onsite, which is regularly filled with produce from Culture Aid NOLA; we have a chicken coop on the grounds and we’re planting fruit trees. It’s one thing, however, to make this food accessible, and it’s another to show folks how they can make delicious meals with it. That’s where the Bastion chefs come in.
Every other Friday, Magee and her fellow Bastion chef, Shantrise Sykes, a veteran resident and a former cook for the Louisiana National Guard, prepare dinner for the community. The dinners offer New Orleans cuisine like catfish, red beans and rice, fresh salads and other lesser known nutritious dishes like acorn squash casserole, and cooked with less sodium, half the fat and still high in taste. As residents stop by the Purple Heart Room for meal pickup, they can often also get the recipes.
Prior to the recent spike in Covid cases, the chefs were also teaching cooking classes,and Magee hopes to return to that once the pandemic numbers are more manageable. With help from other Bastion residents, the chefs have prepared a number of community-wide holiday dinners, and Magee says that they will be doing something special for Valentines Day.
“We’ll be cooking for the parents that day, so they don’t have to worry about making dinner,” says Magee. “And the kids will be giving out goodie bags to their parents, because you have to have something sweet on Valentine’s Day.”
The Crescent City Classic is back and we want YOU to join Team Bastion! With your previous support we have raised $150,000 from this prestigious race to benefit our veterans and families for which I am extremely grateful.
Together, we can continue to provide:
Our Bastion community is expanding throughout the metro area with special programs that address brain health and food insecurity, but we need your help! As a member of Team Bastion you can raise $200 or more through the Run For It Charity Registration.
Here's how to register:
If you encounter any problems with registration, we can help! Click here for assistance.
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. Don't miss out, sign up today!
Bastion's Wilbert Young and Artist/Photographer Fanny Garcia. Photo courtesy of Fanny Garcia
The cameras may be disposable, but the images captured are snapshot treasures of life in New Orleans. A group of Bastion residents and Headway members recently participated in a photo project, which became part of an exhibit at a New Orleans gallery.
Fanny Garcia, who is an artist/photographer based in Oakland, California and had previously worked with Headway members, presented a disposable camera workshop to Bastion veterans via Zoom earlier this year. Garcia thought the disposable cameras would work well because of the simple point and shoot instructions and their being lightweight, allowing the user to focus exclusively on what they’re shooting. Garcia is a US Army veteran and feels that helps her connect with Bastion community members.
“It helps build trust and comfortability,” Garcia says. “It’s really special.”
After the workshop, participants went into their neighborhoods and communities to shoot photos. The results were impressive, and through her connections with New Orleans Photo Alliance, Garcia had the photos showcased in the “Disposable Camera Project” which ran at the alliance’s gallery for the first two weeks of April. At the exhibit opening, many of our vets including Wilbert Young, Jeannie Morin, Dennis Delhom, Benjamin LeBoeuf and Marvin Belisle, were proudly standing by their framed work and answering questions.
Garcia hopes to return to Bastion soon to teach another photo workshop on light painting.
The Bastion team along with our partners from Southeast Louisiana Building & Construction Trades Council and Deidre “Dee” Hall from Dee’s Coffee recently unveiled our new coffee cart. Due to the pandemic, the cart's design and construction took longer than usual, but as Bastion Founder and Executive Director Dylan Tête pointed out, it was worth the wait.
"We've been dreaming about this day for a long time. This is the culmination of a purpose to bring people together, build community and build skills. And it's right here in the Purple Heart Room in the center of Bastion," said Tête.
The trades council donated the cart, which was built by Vulk Fabrication. The cart will be used for vocational skills training by our veterans in the Headway Program. Headway's Occupational Therapist Rachel Schwenk and OT LSU Intern Julia Brantley will be leading trainings along with barista/coffee shop owner Hall, who also helped with the cart's design .
With the military being one of the most trusted institutions in the country during these divisive times and with the lessons we have learned from how our brothers and sisters were treated when they returned from Vietnam, we as veterans are accustomed to being thanked for our service. As Veterans Day approaches each year, the veteran community is bombarded with freebies and discounts from all manner of consumer establishments in addition to the cacophony of thank-yous.
But for many of us, these expressions of appreciation ring hollow. They come across as banal platitudes that don’t mean anything when so many of us still struggle with the challenges of reintegration. We get frustrated or angry because civilians “just don’t understand”. And why would they? Only a small percentage of Americans have served in the military, and fewer and fewer people have friends or family members who served. So even if folks want to be supportive, many just don’t know how.
It’s not just me. According to a recent poll by the Cohen Veterans Network highlighted in this Newsweek article, almost half of the veterans surveyed were uncomfortable being thanked for their service. The article went on to give tips to civilians about how to interact with veterans in more meaningful ways. While these tips are useful to civilians who want to show their appreciation on Veterans Day, how civilians show their appreciation is not something we can control. However, we can control how we respond.
A few years back, I heard Clint Bruce, a Naval Academy alumnus who went on to serve as a Navy SEAL, speak at a Veterans Day at the National WWII Museum. In his speech, he shared how he started responding to “thank you for your service” with a sincere “you were worth it.”
Since the end of the draft, most of us joined the military to be part of something bigger than ourselves, which can be easy to forget when our service ends. For me, responding to “Thank you for your service” with “you were worth it” immediately helps connect me to the reason that I volunteered to serve in the first place. It also creates an opening to talk about my service in a more meaningful way with people who have not served.
Over time, I reflected on the call to action at the end Bruce’s speech. Like other veterans who have lost friends – whether it was in combat, training accidents or suicide after service – I have often felt guilty about still being here. But the lesson that finally started to sink is that while I really do believe that the civilians that I know and love were worth any sacrifices I might have made, those who did not make it back thought that we veterans were worth that sacrifice. What do we do with that?
Our task as veterans who are still alive and breathing is to live lives worthy of those sacrifices. We have the skills, training and experience to make our communities better by continuing to lead and serve. If you are not sure where to start, check out The Mission Continues, Team RWB, and Team Rubicon - three national organizations with a local presence that make it possible for veterans to connect with others and help strengthen their communities from the ground up. But continued service doesn’t have to be with a veterans organization.
Go out and find the needs in your community that match your skills and passion. Connect to your neighbors and others in your community. And when someone thanks you for your service today, smile and tell them that they were worth it. Then, remember that you are, too.
We are always excited to hear from our former residents and are proud of the amazing things they are doing in service to others! This post features two U.S. Army veterans who were among the first residents at Bastion in New Orleans.
"At Bastion, I met my neighbors, attended weekly social events, and interacted with the community as a disabled military veteran. I truly felt accepted there and no longer felt like a green apple compared to some other experiences I've had since leaving the army. I no longer felt isolated and was able to engage in meaningful conversations on a daily basis due to the similarities we all shared! Today, I counsel veterans struggling with addiction and contribute to veterans group discussions to continually heal, grow, and evolve from trauma."
U.S. Army, OIF
"Bastion has had a profound impact on my life. As an Iraq war veteran, I struggled with PTSD and found it difficult to reintegrate into civilian life. I cannot give the people at Bastion enough credit for helping me stabilize, reintegrate and ultimately experience post-traumatic growth. I am currently working on an anti-child trafficking initiative called A Day of Freedom and finishing my degree. Without Bastion, I would not be where I am today. Thank you!"