Volunteers are an essential part of each Rivers of Recovery trip. While some are vets themselves, others don’t have any military experience.
Our volunteers help in ways far beyond logistics and support. Interacting with non-military folks helps veterans integrate back into civilian life—something that transfers long after the trip is over.
Some volunteers may feel uncomfortable at first, knowing they are likely to hear deeply personal stories about extremely traumatic experiences. Others want to express their gratitude for the veterans’ service, but feel unsure of what to say. Many simply don’t want to offend veterans by saying the wrong thing.
But connecting with other people is therapeutic for many suffering from injuries that aren’t always visible.
“People who haven’t experienced war may have a hard time relating at first,” said Jason Smagacz, who recently returned from Rivers of Recovery’s first Michigan trip. “But over time, as you get to know them and they get to know you, you realize you don’t have to have been in the military to understand. Fishing and eating meals together helped us connect as community members.”
Volunteers Find a Different Perspective
Jason and his coworkers—Tom Grass and Brandon McGraw—found themselves as transformed by the trip as the veterans themselves.
Storytelling brought a sense of comradery to the Michigan trip. It’s not just the hard stuff, Jason said. As the group gets to know each other, everyone starts to share stories about good memories, pranks, ironic moments, or other times that meant a lot. “Fun stories about life,” he explained.
Hearing these stories gave Jason and his coworkers a different perspective.
“When I walked away, I was a changed person,” he said. “They saw things that no one should have to see. And they did it to protect us—me and my family.”
Those stories were powerful. Talking with the participants reminded Jason to not take anything for granted.
“They talked about their experiences, both bad and positive,” Jason said. “They talked about the struggles of coming back home—how holding a job is difficult, problems with family members not treating them fairly, and people not understanding what they’ve gone through.”
While hearing about these struggles was frustrating, Jason said, it also inspired him to continue his support for Rivers of Recovery.
“I have a different sense of pride for our country and the people who sacrificed for our country.”