Tim Kenney sticks the Welcome Home Montrose sticker on the front window of his business signifying that Toad's Guide Shop is a part of the program and will be offering discounts to veterans. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post
Tim Kenney sticks the Welcome Home Montrose sticker on the front window of his business signifying that Toad's Guide Shop is a part of the program and will be offering discounts to veterans. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

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.

Judy Boyce, 24, moved to Montrose, CO on August 14, 2012 for a six-month internship under the Dream Job Program that is a part of Welcome Home Montrose. Through the program she has the opportunity to intern at Montrose’s City Hall as an event planner, something she dreams to do full time one day. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

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.

Biniyam Kenney, 4, accompanies his dad as Tim Kenney sets skunk traps on a property in Montrose CO, Thursday September 27, 2012. Kenney is working to rebuild his trapping business after it collapsed while he was overseas. “None of my other kids were as attached to me as Bini,” Kenney says, “He’s my little buddy, he wears me out more than anybody else combined.” Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

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.

Tim and Trish poke fun at each other for being old because neither of them can thread a needle. Tim had asked Trish if she would sew a button on for him. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

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, nlofholm@denverpost.com or twitter.com/nlofholm

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About Lee Ann Colacioppo

I am the Senior Editor/News at the Denver Post. I have been at The Post sincd 1999 in a variety of positions, including city editor and investigations editor. I previously worked at The Des Moines Register, Greenville, S.C., News and Kingsport, Tenn., Times-News. I'am a Denver native and graduate of Drake University in Des Moines. View all posts by Lee Ann Colacioppo →
  • Michael

    As a Colorado Guardsmen that has been to several welcome homes and send offs, Montrose really outdoes itself.
    When the Medical company left for Afghanistan a few years ago, the people lined the streets wishing the Soldiers off. They had the whole company stand in formation in the middle of the town as a four plane fly-over flew over head. Kudos to the town of Montrose.

  • nadia

    AMERICANS TAKE NOTE OF WHAT IS HAPPENING IN MONTROSE….. this is what should be happening all over our great country. This is what America was built on….people caring for their neighbors…..communities taking charge of helping their own citizens and not relying on the government to do what they can do for themselves. Getting whole communities involved is good for everyone involved.