Soldier Tim Kenney heals and helps heal with Welcome Home Montrose
Montrose, Colo. — When Army soldier Tim Kenney returned to his rural home in Montrose last year, wounded and broken down, he had no inkling that an idea taking shape in the mind of a local jeweler would turn his western Colorado community into a haven for those who had served their country.
Today, that pie-in-the-sky idea is every bit as real as the scars on Kenney’s back or the huge flag mural that now stands out in downtown Montrose.
Welcome Home Montrose has an office, a cadre of volunteers, a full slate of programs and services, long lists of helping agencies,dozens of supporting businesses and three veterans who have moved to Montrose to work in internships.
And Kenney has had a hand in it.
He has been a sounding board and resource for founder Melanie Kline as she figures out ways to make a farm field-surrounded town of around 19,000 the most welcoming place in the country for wounded veterans wanting to rebuild their lives.
Kline has peppered the 46-year-old Kenney with questions. What do wounded warriors truly need to return to some semblance of normalcy? What kind of help do family members need? How can a community most sensitively treat those suffering from PTSD? Do soldiers feel bad about accepting help?
“Melanie had the heart and the ideas. I have just been able to fill in the gaps and say ‘these are important things for you to do’,” Kenney said recently as he met with Kline and other volunteers in the Welcome Home Montrose office.
Kenney also became a supporter — as a citizen and businessman — at that meeting. He wrote a donation check for $100 and signed his name to a contract that made his fishing guide business a part of Welcome Home Montrose. A red, white and blue sticker in the window of his Toads Guide Shop identifies the Main Street business as one that will offer discounts to veterans and will also help with recreational activities for wounded veterans.
More than 30 other businesses, ranging from Home Depot to a small Affordable Cuts hair salon have also signed on. Others are being added every day. Kenney’s next chore with Welcome Home Montrose is to convince more businesses to join. With his quick-to-joke but short-fused personality, he declares to the laughter of everyone in the room, that he will become “the closer.”
While the support network is still being built, three veterans already have moved to Montrose because of the Welcome Home effort. They are working in what the organization is calling its “Dream Job” program that allows wounded veterans to work with mentors in jobs of their choosing for stipends paid for by non-profit grants.
A retired Marine sergeant, Jared Bolhuis, moved to Montrose to be a full-time volunteer with Welcome Home Montrose and created the Dream Job program. Through his military connections, he found three wounded warriors who were willing to be program “guinea pigs.”
One is working alongside a high school history teacher. Another is learning the ropes at an organic nursery and the third is helping with event planning at Montrose City Hall.
“I’ve never had an office before,” said Navy veteran Judi Boyce, who moved to Montrose from New Jersey a month ago and is currently helping to plan the town’s annual fall festival from her new city hall office.
“This truly is a community focusing on all the abilities we have rather than the disabilities,” said the 24-year-old Boyce, who has a rare brain disease called Moya Moya that causes her to suffer reoccurring strokes. It started when she was a cook on a Navy aircraft carrier.
Kenney had no such support when he came back from Afghanistan. He describes himself as “lost in the weeds.”
As a gunner in an armored vehicle, he had been wounded by roadside bomb hits. His nerves were shot, and PTSD and pain made it hard for him to reconnect with the family he had left behind — a wife and four children.
He struggled to start a guiding business so he could keep a hand in the fishing and hunting pursuits that had been part of his livelihood before he enlisted.
He is still struggling to find the old Tim. But he said it feels good to be part of helping other returning soldiers — and especially to be doing it locally. He is politically conservative and said the “old school” aspect of that is particularly appealing to him.
“This is a community taking care of citizens, not the government. Everybody expects the government to do something for them, but this is really waking people up to be part of the community solution instead,” Kenney said.
Kline is including Kenney when she said part of Welcome Home Montrose’s success is rooted in allowing those who might be feeling a bit helpless because of economic woes or psychic or physical wounds to feel the power of doing for others.
“If they can just do the littlest thing to help,” she said, “it makes a huge difference in their own life.”
“Amen,” Kenney said.
Nanncy Lofholm: 970-256-1957, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/nlofholm