Help Heal Veterans supports veteran mental health through arts and crafts

Posted at 8:50 PM, Nov 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-07 21:29:09-05

TEMPLE, Texas — Help Heal Veterans has been helping veterans heal for more than fifty years through the use of arts and crafts.

"It seems simple," Craft Care Specialist Trish Alger said. "It may only take an hour, but in that short amount of time that you're putting together like this keychain here, all of a sudden, you've had at least 15 minutes where you're not thinking all those thoughts. Those aren't going off in your head."

Casey Wiley is an Army veteran from Belton. He's also a frequent visitor to the Cahill Craft Center.

"Right around when the pandemic started is when I started coming here," he told 25 News. "You can do a bunch of stuff that I don't need to have people around. It kind of worked out really well."

He said he's made a ton of crafts including a clock, a football, his wallet, and most recently a crochet pumpkin.

"It's just come in and relax and calm down a bit," Wiley said. "You never know what you're going to find, you never know what's going to strike your fancy. You might end up walking away with a daggum pumpkin somewhere."

Wiley said crafting helps him clear his mind and gives him a chance to spend time with other veterans he might not have met elsewhere.

"I was talking to a Vietnam veteran while we were doing a quilting class," Wiley said. "Lo and behold he was in the same general vicinity of Vietnam my dad was in. I learned a little bit more about Vietnam while I was learning to use a sewing machine."

Studies have shown art therapy can help with a number of mental health conditions, including depression and PTSD.

"It does something in your brain, it kind of disengages all that rhetoric that's going over and over," Alger said. "We've had veterans who have found relief with addiction as well. Instead of reaching for a bottle or for drugs, they can reach for a craft kit instead and it helps alleviate those symptoms."

Trish Alger has led classes in the craft center for a year. She said the best part of her job is seeing progress in the veterans.

"Many stories of veterans who have come in and have been frustrated and yet persevered through a craft kit," Alger said. "We've been able to sit down and work through where they're stuck and then the next thing you know they've come in, they're showing it off, they're telling their family."

For Wiley, sharing what he's worked on is one of the best parts of the experience.

"My wife's over here, all the stuff that I'm learning I'm going home to teach her," he said. "It's helping to reinforce it for me, it's helping her to feel like she can do something cool with it."

Help Heal Veteranshas become such a big part of his life these last few years, and now he recommends it to every veteran he knows.