Oftentimes veterans in our society go unnoticed or forgotten, even as some of them beg for change on the street corner. With 21.8 million vets as of 2014, the group makes up 6.8 percent of the country’s population. “We are a large demographic in this country,” Paul Damon says.
Damon, a Navy veteran originally from Texas, is the co-founder of Holistic Veterans, a local nonprofit rehabilitating vets as it helps them reconnect with themselves and their community through natural medicine and holistic practices like yoga.
This year, Holistic Veterans celebrates its second annual Community Healing Project from 5 to 9 p.m. on Veteran’s Day, Friday, Nov. 11. The event is moving from the downtown Veteran’s Hall, which hosted last year’s event, to the more spacious Museum of Art & History. With various experts in Eastern medicine, the symposium shares a message with veterans—as well as the greater community—that healing can mean improving one’s life in ways that go beyond just Western medicine.
“The idea came about when a lot of veterans began asking me what ‘holistic’ is or even means,” Damon says. “So, I began to call around to various practitioners I knew and got a list of people who would be willing to give the veterans a test drive.”
In the last year and a half, Holistic Veterans, which received nonprofit status in January, has hosted educational workshops on everything from proper nutrition and cooking classes to how to make tinctures. Next year, leaders plan on introducing new courses on survival skills, archery and more.
The group will also host a wellness clinic on Nov. 7 at Cabrillo, as part of Veterans Awareness Week. The clinic will focus on serving veteran students and staff by educating them about what Holistic Veterans offers. The organization is also working on a collaboration with God’s Gardens, a group based out of Twin Lakes Church that built a hydroponic garden for the congregation. Damon’s idea is for veterans to build and tend more gardens in churches and vets halls throughout the county.
“Providing this kind of healing is my duty and service to my brothers and sisters,” Damon says. “My vow of service didn’t go away when I left the military, so we have a lot of cool stuff [Holistic Veterans] is about to get into.”
One of those projects is a partnership with a Santa Cruz company called Hybrid Adobe. Founded by local Philip Mirkin to create sustainable housing for homeless mothers and veterans, Hybrid Adobe crafts lightweight but durable adobe out of inexpensive materials. The substance can then be poured into molds, and fitted with solar panels and windows to form walls. Holistic Veterans has already hosted one house-building workshop and will host a second one on Oct. 29 and 30. “We went to the county for the regulations on non-permitted housing and shaped the buildings around the law,” explains Damon.
The group hosts the workshops for veterans and civilians at the 30-acre Nature Education Service and Technology (NEST) retreat in Felton. Holistic Veterans hopes to start building more structures and ship throughout the county and greater nation.
“Housing is the base of your pyramid,” says Head Practitioner Melissa Manning-Collins, who helps organize workshops and events. “If you don’t have that, everything else crumbles. People have to have their basic needs met.”
The NEST will also be home to Holistic Veterans’ 14-day Lifestyle Resurrection and Woodland Immersion Program, where they will take a group of vets from around the county for an exercise in physical and spiritual healing through a commitment to serving others and giving back. “Two hours a day will be to land stewardship, so we’re getting physical activity and reconnecting to the land,” Damon states. “We’re about leaving the land better than when we arrived.”
Along the way, Holistic Veterans has also been working on a documentary Born to Heal, detailing the group’s mission and works and featuring staff volunteer practitioners and people they’ve helped. The trailer for Born to Heal will premiere at the Community Healing Project.
“You can better serve the community if you have wellness in your own world,” Manning-Collins says.
The Community Healing Project on Nov. 11 will feature more than 20 local holistic practitioners from herbalists to massage and yoga instructors along with food and booths from New Leaf, Vida Juices, the Homeless Garden Project and more.
There will even be an herbal drink bar, hosted by Damon’s friend Craig Lane at Health Alkemy, where Lane creates drinks based on the question, “What do you want to feel?”
“Craig is a mad scientist when it comes to herbs,” says Damon.
This year’s event features two healing sanctuaries—one for workshops and another for live, instrumental music that will be “silent,” where everyone keeps speaking to a minimum, allowing event goers to relax.
“There will be sound healing, talking and chill time,” says Manning-Collins, “then silence.”
The Community Healing Project is from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11 at the Museum of Art & History at 705 Front St., Santa Cruz. The event is free, although donations are accepted.