President's Corner: Wellness Passport Aims to improve veterans' physical and mental health

On April 1st I assumed the role of United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) board president, following Eric Clement’s term. A huge thank you goes out to Eric for leading UWNEMN through 2020 and all the ups and downs the year brought. I have been on the UWNEMN board for four years, am extremely passionate about the organization and its work, and am very excited to hit the ground running as the board president.

In the past four years, I have been involved with many UWNEMN partner agencies, events, and programs, including the United for Veterans (UVF) program. I choose to be involved in UFV to honor all of those in my life who served our country, but most importantly my dad and brother who both served in the Air Force. My dad was based at the MacDill Air Force in Tampa, Fla. Though he didn’t talk much about this time in the service, I’ll never forget when he drove us around Tampa and showed us the base. It was a pretty special moment. For my brother, the Air Force served as an opportunity to leave home and see the world. 

UFV was created in 2013, and the initiative is led by a committee of local veterans, along with UWNEMN board members and staff. The committee recently created the Veterans Wellness Passport to improve physical and mental health while building community for veterans in our region. This hit home for me, as one of my college friends spent several tours in the Middle East, and I have seen the profound impact those experiences have had on her physical and emotional health. 

The UFV Wellness Passport will include free monthly activities that will take place throughout the Iron Range.  Local active duty, veterans, and members of the National Guard and Reserve are encouraged to CLICK HERE to create a free passport, get a passport number, and register for monthly activities. 

A bike ride on the Mesabi Trail starting in Chisholm is scheduled for May 11th, led by 30West Fitness and Recreation. Bikes can be provided for veterans who don’t have one or can’t transport theirs to the starting location. Fishing at Veterans on the Lake Resort in Ely is planned for June 13th and will include fishing from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm followed by a fireside fish fry!  Future events will include hiking, yoga, kayaking, water aerobics, and much more! 

What I like about the new Wellness Passport is that it provides an opportunity for veterans to come together in a safe space where they are free to share their experiences. I will never pretend to fully understand or relate to what they have gone through, but my hope is that the Wellness Passport will serve as a steppingstone to connecting veterans of all branches and generations with each other in our communities with physical wellness activities leading to a path of emotional wellness as well. 

When I think about anyone who chooses to serve our country, the first word that comes to mind is gratitude. I am grateful to those who so willingly sign up to serve and grateful for the sacrifices that they, along with their families, make on a daily basis for me to be able to enjoy so many freedoms. I hope that with the UFV Wellness Passport, local veterans are able to take time to focus on their physical and mental health, meet and befriend other local veterans, and also to realize how grateful all of us at UWNEMN are for their service.