Forty nine women gathered at Giants Ridge this month for healing, relaxation, and relationship-building. The women were all veterans, ranging in age from 34 to 78, and for some of them it was the first time they had met with other female veterans and shared their experiences.
“This was a life changing event for me,” one participant shared after the retreat. “Meeting these women who have gone through similar issues has taught me I am not alone. I found my tribe!”
The weekend-long retreat was free to local women veterans and included programs like “Recording our History” by Pippi Mayfield of Veterans Memorial Hall and “Central Minnesota Remembers Vietnam” with retired Major John Donovan. It also included activities like yoga, metal bracelet stamping, and pallet painting. The retreat also included a presentation of the colors, a veteran benefit panel, and exercise opportunities. The weekend concluded with keynote speaker Irmadene Hanson who spoke on magnifying influence through leadership.
The retreat – and other veterans’ programming – is a result of a Wilder Study taken on behalf of the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) in 2014. The survey indicated critical service gaps for area veterans; the UWNEMN created its United for Veterans program accordingly.
United for Veterans services include a crisis fund for veterans and service members experiencing unique hardship, free help for mental health issues, the development of a Veterans Resource Center on the Hibbing Community College Campus, the creation of a veterans’ resource guide, grants for local veteran service organizations and providers, a Crisis Pack program, a United for Veterans home in Hibbing that offers transitional housing, and retreats like this most recent women’s retreat.
This was the second women’s retreat, and participation has grown from 32 in 2018 to 49 in 2019. The women who participated have formed a community and now meet monthly for dinner as a group on their own, volunteer throughout the region, and travel to other activities for veterans throughout the state.
“A veteran service provider told our planning committee two years ago that if we could get 10 female veterans together in a room it would be a success,” said UWNEMN Community Impact and Engagement Director Erin Shay. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome of this grass roots effort and anticipate the number of female veterans attending from our region will continue to grow each year.”
A United for Veterans cash raffle was held this month at Tom & Jerry’s in Chisholm and raised more than $16,000 to support veterans’ programs, including the retreat. Donations specific to the United for Veterans program can be made online at www.unitedwaynemn.org/united-veterans.