SAILING | BOAT-BUILDING | ADVENTURE 

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Veterans at EASE

The Bayfront Maritime Center, along with veterans and volunteers from a number of local organizations and government agencies, announced the launch of a new program called Veterans at EASE. As part of this program, Bayfront Maritime Center and Veterans Administration staff will sail with veterans on Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie aboard BMC sailing vessels.

Bayfront Maritime Center Announces Veterans at EASE program

Bayfront Maritime Center Announces Veterans at EASE program

This new initiative is modeled after the Veterans on Deck program, in Charleston, South Carolina. Founded in 2010,Veterans on Deck has already achieved much success helping veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) re-adjust to civilian life by providing mentored sailing opportunities. Some pilot excursions got underway fall of 2013 and the full program began in the spring of 2014. The announcement coincided with the Perry 200 festivities commemorating Erie’s role in the Battle of Lake Erie, during the War of 1812. Dr. William Garvey, co-chairman of the Perry 200 Commemoration Commission and president of the Jefferson Educational Society, the nonprofit group spearheading the celebration, was pleased that the Veterans at Ease announcement could be made in conjunction with the events designed to commemorate the Battle of Lake Erie as an important milestone in America’s history. “This kind of innovative program, designed to address some of the post-service issues facing our veterans, is just what Erie needs. The Veterans at Ease program is exactly the type of effort we hoped the Perry 200 initiative would spark,” Garvey said. According to retired Army Major General and retired Erie County Judge Michael Dunlavey, “There has been some tremendous work already done by Veterans on Deck. We are working very closely with those volunteers and counselors to replicate their efforts here in Erie.

Veterans sailing at 6 knots, in 8 knots of wind!

Veterans sailing at 6 knots, in 8 knots of wind!

We are very fortunate to have the outstanding resources and great support of the Bayfront Maritime Center, which has worked with area residents, primarily at-risk youth, since 1998, using boat building and sailing as a means of teaching life lessons and helping those students who might have difficulty finding success in a traditional school setting. BMC Executive Director Rich Eisenberg, his board of directors, and the entire staff of BMC, when hearing of our hopes for a program like Veterans on Deck, in Erie, opened their doors and their hearts in helping us to develop a program for these veterans in-need,” Dunlavey said. For more than 200 years, Erie’s Bayfront has been a resource for commerce, recreation and relaxation. Soon it will also be a resource for the healing of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and one to possibly help them prepare for future employment within the maritime industry, both regionally and beyond. “BMC’s Veterans at EASE program will offer a unique approach which has proven to be very successful in helping veterans suffering from PTSD to re-adjust to civilian life. Using the forum of sailing as a therapeutic approach,Veterans at EASE will foster experiences of empowerment, mastery, and successful social interaction, as veterans work together as a team to achieve re-connection, re-socialization, and personal growth and hopefully have some fun, in the process,” said Dunlavey. “We are working closely with the regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Erie VA Hospital, to be sure that all aspects of this program are properly identified and implemented,” Dunlavey said.

In 2014 BMC received generous funding from the Erie Insurance Giving Network to support Veterans at EASE .

Taking turns steering and checking our progress on the iPad navigation program.

Taking turns steering and checking our progress on the iPad navigation program.

Since 1998, the Bayfront Maritime Center has worked with approximately 17,000 area youth and adults to create positive learning experiences through sailing, rowing, paddling, building boats, studying navigation, learning about the environment and enjoying beautiful Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie. “When we learned of the Veterans on Deck program and the success the group was having, our board saw a similar program in Erie as a logical next step in fulfilling BMC’s mission.” Eisenberg said. “We already have the boats, fully equipped boatbuilding workshop, staff, and the best natural harbor on the Great Lakes. Our discussions with the folks in Charleston have been very positive. They have offered to share their expertise and experience with us as we work to establish the Veterans at EASE program in Erie,” he said. Erie resident and Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry Deputy Secretary Janet Anderson is working together with other commonwealth agencies to identify potential career opportunities within the maritime industry. “The Veterans at EASE concept is exciting and we are pleased to be engaged in something that helps Labor & Industry further our role in helping all job seekers find employment,” Anderson said. “When Veterans are ready to move into a new career, we are here to help them explore all options and as the Veterans at EASE program continues to evolve and develop, the commonwealth is happy to provide support and guidance.”Dunlavey said he believes the mission of the Veterans at Ease program can go further, to help returning veterans to find family-sustaining wage employment within the maritime industry, both locally and beyond. “A significant component of the Veterans on Deck program, in Charleston, is to capitalize on that region’s maritime history and its geostrategic position. They have partnered with the City Marina and City Boatyard to offer training opportunities in marine repair and maintenance as well as marine staffing and procedures,” Dunlavey said.

Veteran Volunteer, Jerry Bien, with his 24' Maine Lobster Boat, Mirabeau Lamar

Veteran Volunteer, Jerry Bien, with his 24′ Maine Lobster Boat, Mirabeau Lamar

“Plans are already being developed at BMC to include maritime vocational as well as youth mentoring components to Veterans at EASE. We are working closely with the regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Erie VA Hospital, to be sure that all aspects of this program are properly identified and implemented,” Dunlavey said. “As Perry 200 helps us recognize the historical significance of the role Erie played in the building of the “Wilderness Fleet,” and as we commemorate the Battle of Lake Erie as the turning point in the War of 1812, we thought this was a perfect opportunity for us to re-visit that heritage and launch this new initiative designed to help our returning veterans deal with the significant issues associated with PTSD, re-integration back into civilian society and to possibly find meaningful employment in an important industry which has been a key to our region’s history. There is already a real demand for a number of maritime skill sets and Erie’s Bayfront will continue to be a strong draw for business and recreation for generations to come. It is our hope that we will be able to help those who have proudly served our nation find some of the tools they may need to allow them to better cope with PTSD and their transition to the civilian world. Along with those tools, we also hope they may possibly find some new opportunities for future employment,” Dunlavey said.