An assortment of photos taken by Veterans was mistaken by the audience as an art show.
To the outside eye, the photos are of nature and scenic views, but for the Veterans, it was so much more.
Christina L. Jones, Center of Recovery Education (CORE) Peer Support Specialist, works alongside the Veterans. She saw the growth firsthand. “Photography has allowed this group of Veterans to see the world differently,” she said.
CORE helped to bring art in the hands of the Veterans through the lens of a camera. Each snapshot helped Veterans to find out just who they are.
“It has been a really great experience! Veterans are taking photography outside of the group. They are even taking it as far as purchasing their own cameras,” said Jones.
Before taking on the challenge, Veterans remained in their sanctuaries, staying indoors and shut away from the world. Now, every day brings a new adventure.
“The camera slows down the world for me so that I can focus,” said Jennifer, a Navy Veteran. “It settles me to where I do not feel so anxious. I was never able to just breathe, now I can appreciate things in a different light. My body is now willing to work with me. It has taught me to keep trying.”
To find their voice again was never once imagined by Veterans. Now the photos do all the talking.
“I am able to do things that I would not have done before,” said Robin Collier, an Air Force Veteran. “This program has brought me to places that I would have not gone to. Photography brought a good feeling in me. There is always help out there, I found it here in this program and it has made all the difference to me.”
Daring to leave their homes to go anywhere without hesitation has been a huge accomplishment. Large crowds and noise was once forbidden, but now, no matter the environment, Veterans explore the world as they choose.
Robin Robinson, an Army Veteran, has found art improves her social habits. “Photography has taught me acceptance,” she said. “I must focus and try to get the best shot. Whatever that outcome may be I have to accept it.”
Doing what was never fathomed for Robinson, she said, “Photography has got me out of my hole. Photography has helped me. I take my camera with me everywhere I go now.”
Embarking on journeys, leaving darkness behind, and putting each foot forward to brighter days has the group of Veterans standing taller than ever before.
Similar to the service, Joel Delgado, Army Veteran, takes what the program has taught him to the field.
“The CORE program has given me a tool box,” he said. “I now have a bunch of tools to manage my anger, PTSD, and communication skills.”
The nontraditional therapy steps outside of the doctor’s office to show Veterans the opportunities that lie in their surroundings. “This is more than just pills,” Delgado said. “Here, we have learned all the skills and take it even further to apply the skills. They teach and show you how.”
Beginning with zero drive, to now having energy to ride horses and explore local sites, each day brings something new for Delgado.
“I started with no hope, I didn’t have anything, Veterans will know what I am talking about. This program is my hope. I took the opportunity, so should other Veterans,” he said.
Photography allowed the Veterans to see the world through a different lens, but it ultimately gave them a second chance.
Andrea N. Madrazo is a public affairs specialist at Orlando VA.