With the help of friends, local businesses and Facebook, Walla Wallan Damon Burke initiated a Veteran's Hobby Program at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
In early June, he dropped off "tons" of donated supplies and has received more than $1,000 in monetary donations from the Walla Walla community, said wife Colby Burke.
The VA staff is delighted with the delivery, she said.
"Damon has been working with them for months to get it going and has a goal to make it work here and then bring to other Northwest VA locations."
"The idea to create this program grew spontaneously from my own interest in building models as a way to decompress and help with (post-traumatic stress disorder) issues," Damon said.
His high school experience was unlike that of many friends who endured the typical teen angst and stress, because he worked with the models.
"It never occurred to me until years later that this might have been the key to my self-confidence and happiness. As I began to get back into it I realized that my mood had changed, I was calmer and more focused. My short-term memory was better and so was my temper. The thought occurred that if it worked for me, what was preventing it from working for others?"
Damon's father-in-law said the VA offered model kits to veterans dealing with PTSD. But Damon discovered the tools, glue and paint and a place for in-patient veterans to work on them with were not available. So he decided to make it happen.
Derek Reser, a recreational therapy specialist at the Walla Walla VA, cleared some space in his small room and helped Damon meet with staff members who helped with regulations and code requirements.
Damon cleaned up two never-used airbrushes that the VA had, making them like new.
"We needed a compressor, paint, glue and at least some basic tools and cutting mats. I asked local large businesses like Home Depot, who generously donated a $50 gift card and the local Wal-Mart, which was about to donate a generous $25 gift card."
With the cost of a new compressor running from $100-$600, he surfed the ‘net and sought donations from friends and family through Facebook.
"Our first cash donation showed up within 10 minutes of that post."
He also posted requests online at scale modeling sites like Armorama.com, Missing-Links.com and ModelBuilderInternational.com. Donations of kits and some tools started coming in within a few weeks.
"Currently we have raised over $1,400 in cash both locally and online at indiegogo.com. We have received numerous donations of kits from folks from the online modeling communities.
Generous donations online came from Xuron Corp., which makes a safe side-cutter, and AK Interactive, producer of weathering and finishing effects for armor models. Loew Cornell provided a huge donation of high-quality paintbrushes and Whitman College Bookstore donated acrylics, oil paints, pastels and other art supplies.
Acrylic model paints are beginning to come in and Damon has requests out to several companies.
"If we are forced to buy it, it is going to be expensive and we still need donations to keep the program sustainable over the long haul. If people are interested in donating still, they can bring cash or checks to the Burkes' Salumiere Cesario gourmet grocery, 20 N. Second Ave., and tell the staff that you want to donate to the Veterans Hobby Program."
Using monetary donations, they bought a silent compressor, cutting mats, tool boxes, needle files, tweezer sets, glue, tissues, paper towels, Q-tips, metal rulers and two pin vices.
Alexi Repoff, a Walla Walla neighbor, donated his time to build a custom spray booth that doubles as a photo booth.
They aimed to begin classes this month at the VA starting with a small group interested in learning to build and those who want to improve their skills.
"We hope to offer at least one class a week for those interested and our goal is to have it fully staffed with volunteers by the end of the year.
"If we can prove that this is successful and works locally our goal is to help other VAs around the country set up similar programs so that we can help other veterans who are suffering the stresses of PTSD and other post-combat-related mental illnesses and injuries."
On Facebook see Veteran's Hobby Program Walla Walla where they plan to post photos of what veterans are doing and where those donations are going.
Morgan E. Bergevin and Bridon K. Maiden received 2012 Walla Walla Cattlemen's Association scholarships of $1,000 each, said Joe Chvatal, scholarship chairman.
The daughter of Marcele and Wendy Bergevin, Morgan graduated this spring from Touchet High School. She is interested in a nursing career, with plans to become a registered nurse, then a nurse practitioner.
She will attend Walla Walla Community College
Bridon is the daughter of Brian and Allison Maiden and an alumna of Walla Walla High School. She plans to become a certified message therapist, cosmetologist and estheticist and wants to own a spa or similar business. She wants to earn a business degree at WWCC.
‘For our small school to be so successful against competition from the likes of Rutgers, University of Southern California, University of Nebraska and the like is an amazing accomplishment," said Mike Hays, advisor for the Walla Walla Community College Phi Beta Lambda club.
The WWCC team knocked it out of the park, placing in a number of categories during competition at the Phi Beta Lambda National Leadership Conference June 24-27 in San Antonio, Texas.
The Walla Walla and Clarkston WWCC campuses were represented by 16 members from here and seven from Clarkston.
The following individuals and groups placed in the top 10 and received awards at the conference:
WWCC-Walla Walla: Alicia Snell, first place in database design and applications; John Fuller, second in computer concepts; Machado Mijiga, seventh in impromptu speaking; Donna Schneidmiller, eighth in accounting for professionals; Carrie Morasch, Alicia Snell, LeAnne Walling and Angella Wilson, 10th in parliamentary procedure.
WWCC-Clarkston: Geri Jones, Ashley Morrison and Angel Wyatt, eighth in strategic analysis and decision making; Julie Kammeyer, Ashley Morrison and Amanda Ralls, 10th in network design.
The Walla Walla campus was honored during opening ceremonies when national PBL CEO/President Jean Buckley cited its work with Habitat for Humanity as an outstanding example of community service work by a PBL chapter. A photo of the group dressed in hard hats at the Habitat House in Walla Walla was featured in her Powerpoint presentation.
Nearly 10,000 students around the United States, Jamaica and Puerto Rico competed at the conference, with representation from both four-year colleges and two-year community colleges and technical schools. In addition to medals, more than $212,000 in monetary awards came from sponsoring businesses.
"I am so very proud of everyone who competed at national competition. They are all winners," Mike said.