GTPulse: Local Veterans Support Each Other with Art

I come from a family full of veterans and they couldn’t be more different from one another. My brothers, Marines, are both going to school for nursing. My grandmother who met her husband and served in the Army chose to be a homemaker. One of her daughters did the same. Another daughter pursued hospitality. Veterans’ lives look very different from the next, but we group them together to look and act the way we’ve seen them portrayed in action movies and war novels. A local group of vets in Northern Michigan are breaking the mold by displaying their artistic talent, as well as bonding with fellow vets through a group called Veterans Inspiring Veterans.

Mike Coonan is a counselor in Traverse City. He studied to go into the field after being a corpsman serving both the Navy and the Marine Corps. His passion for veterans’ health extended beyond his time working in the military. 

After working with veterans in Mobile, Alabama he moved to Traverse City where he started work at the Traverse City Vet Center.

“I did different kinds of individual and group counseling for about seven years before I got to Traverse City. I would get my groups to do more than the traditional processing of trauma. I would get them involved in activities that would promote brotherhood, camaraderie, sense of purpose, build relationships. So I did that (in Mobile) and when I came to Traverse City I had a group at the Vet Center and these are brilliant people. These are marvelous people. I suggested that we come up with some sort of project by veterans that would help other veterans.”

The project became Veterans Inspiring Veterans. Started in February 2019, the group started with eight and has grown to around 50. 

“And we have 33 who are artists. That for me is one of the most fulfilling parts of it.”

The group isn’t solely focused on veteran-created art, but it just so happened that when they wanted to put on an art show to raise money, they discovered they weren’t going to need to post a call for art.

“Two or three of the guys from the initial group were artists. One of them his art sells up to $19,000. Another guy had put on 35 art shows around town. The way it came together was remarkable.”

Like the name says, the vets inspired other vets in the group and before they knew it they had put on their first art show this past September. Because they’re not a nonprofit, hosting events can be tricky.

“Veterans Inspiring Veterans is not an organization. It’s not a nonprofit, it’s just a bunch of veterans. So, when we figured out that we wanted to raise some money it occurred to us that we would need a nonprofit for us to do that.”

Northern Michigan For Veterans, a local nonprofit helped VIV put on the event and all of the money raised went towards veterans who needed some kind of dental or medical procedure.

“Sometimes someone might not meet the criteria to fix a painful dental disease, it’s not funded by anybody, so we paid for those. We had a couple of veterans who couldn’t go to the doctor to get their medicine, or something is wrong with their car so we’ll fix that for them. That’s the project part of it.”

VIV has become exactly what Mike had hoped it would; a way for vets to bond, express themselves and support each other. The money from the art shows will continue to go back into the group to help a vet in need. Their next art show is postponed for a later date, but you can bet that it will happen. Mike takes the health and happiness of the vets he works with very seriously.

“The intention is to help as many of these veterans as I can. Working to be able to do something for a group of people I care about is quite a feeling.”

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Categories: GTPulse