Welcome Home Montrose to welcome more wounded veterans

MONTROSE, Colo. —  A little over a year after setting in motion a plan to make Montrose one of the most welcoming communities in the country for returning veterans, a nonprofit group here is going to bring in 30 wounded warriors from around the country to try out and weigh in on the effort.

Tim Kenney, right, laughs with former army ranger Eric Gibson at Kenney’s Toad’s Guide Shop. Gibson moved to Montrose, Colo., a town positioning itself to welcome veterans, and Kenney took him out to try fly fishing.

Welcome Home Montrose  is planning a week-long slate of mostly outdoor activities for veterans June 11-17. The week will present a smorgasboard of what this Western Slope town of 20,000 has to offer veterans who were injured in combat and have a service-related disability. They will participate in fly fishing, rafting, camping, hiking, gold panning, archery, horseback riding, Tai Chi, photography outings, treasure hunting with metal detectors and a community potluck.

The event, being called Mission No Barriers, is being carried out with donations and with participation from national veterans’ aid groups like Healing Waters and Team River Runners.

“We want them to see this is a real peaceful place to recover from the aftermath of war,” said Tim Kenney, who was wounded during a stint in Afghanistan with the Army National Guard and is helping  plan the Mission. Kenney’s story has been featured on American Homecomings.

Many of the outdoor activities will take place on Kenney’s riverfront land south of Montrose. Indoor activities will be held at the Warrior Resource Center in downtown Montrose. The center  has become a gathering place and an all-around  go-to location for veterans and their families since it opened Nov. 11.

A year prior to that, Welcome Home Montrose  was only a vision for  a Montrose businesswoman. Melanie Kline saw a television segment about a wounded veteran  who was helped by participating in rafting. She said she realized that Montrose could offer many outdoor activities in one location for veterans and that refashioning the whole community to remove any barriers for wounded veterans could make it an inviting place for them to relocate.

Her ambitious ideas —  initially viewed as a little pie-in-the-sky —  have become reality in many ways. Welcome Home Montrose opened the Warrior Resource Center and has been steadily adding programs as needs are identified. Regular luncheons are held for spouses of soldiers and monthly ceremonies are held to present veterans with hand-carved canes.

The center helps veterans find rentals and access a food bank  and offers peer counseling and job-seeking help. A new program is underway that lets veterans tell their stories and have them written down or recorded.

A program called Dream Job has brought an initial three veterans to Montrose to do apprenticeships in jobs that include teaching, greenhouse work and events organizing. Another program has local businesses signing up to offer discounts for veterans.

As the group takes on its next big project with Mission No Barriers, it is looking for donations, including outdoor equipment and gear.

Kenney said he has high hopes for that program.

“Enjoying nature and being in a community that supports you helps with all kinds of healing,” he said.

Welcome Home Montrose director Emily Smith said she is looking at the event as much more than a one-time activity.

“We’re not just looking at a week of adventure,” she said. “We’re looking at changing whole lives.”

Nancy 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 →