Interview by Slate Magazine

Cover of the October edition of Salute MagazineA great article on our kayak building program from Salute magazine’s October/November edition written by Donna Boyle Schwartz.  Thank you for spreading the word! Below is the article:

A unique peer-to-peer program, the Veterans Wooden Boat Workshop, is focused on helping troubled veterans reintegrate into civilian life by providing a sense of purpose, camaraderie, and fellowship, all through the wonders of woodworking.

Veteran and avid boater Kevin Keaveny drew on personal experience to develop the workshop. “The idea for the Wooden Boat Workshop started in 2010. I had just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan and was having trouble readjusting,” he tells Salute. “Water and fishing are two of my favorite things, so I decided building a boat would be something positive to focus on. During the process of construction, it became clear there was some therapeutic value, and I figured it may be beneficial to other veterans.”

Keaveny met other veterans who were having problems transitioning to civilian life and started discussing the idea for the workshop with friends, neighborhood groups, and members of veterans organizations in his local community of Kingston, New York, located on the Hudson River midway between New York City and Albany.

“There are over 12,000 veterans that currently reside in Ulster County and only one Department of Veterans Affairs facility, a small Community Care Clinic located In Kingston, he explains. “If Ulster County veterans want or need to participate in peer-to-peer programs, they have to travel at least an hour. There are no programs like ours. Our program bridges the gap in veteran reintegration, giving service members a safe and productive environment while they adjust to civilian life. Our program focuses on the veterans that fall between the cracks, the veterans that come home struggling and have either been overlooked, are unaware, or too proud to seek help. There are a lot of them and they have earned the right not to be ignored or forgotten.”

Keaveny started the workshop, with the support of American Legion Post 72 of Saugerties, New York, the Veteran Service Agency of Ulster County, and the Rondout Yacht Basin. “Organizing is truly a grassroots endeavor. We pitched the program to fellow veterans and community members seeking volunteers and approached the American Legion for sponsorship in order to operate under their umbrella,” he explains, adding that the workshop expects to secure its own 501c3 non-profit status soon.

Member trimming a kayak hull in early stages of the build.Andrew Rothlein, co-owner, Rondout Yacht Basin, himself fa former Marine, says he is proud to provide space and support for the program. “When Kevin first came to me with his vision for the workshop, I was instantly intrigued,” he recalls. “As a combat veteran, I know firsthand about the struggle that veterans have reintegrating into society. I struggled myself, and every day I  see my brothers and sisters continue to struggle. Too many have lost the struggle over the years.”

“Kevin and I spoke about our own struggles as veterans, and discussed some of the key concepts that helped us move forward,” Rothlein continues. “We agreed on many of the same things: we needed to feel a sense of belonging, we yearned to feel proud of ourselves, we wanted to be sure we never forgot where we came from, and we felt great satisfaction in helping the next person in line. All of these things are fulfilled in the workshop. To see the members finish the first round of kayaks was so rewarding for me. The guys on day one were broken, most of them without a sense of purpose. But by the end of the first project, they had adapted skills way beyond working with wood.”

Completed projects have included kayaks, memorials, and special projects supporting other organizations. Keaveny says the program is open to all veterans and their families. “We are developing other programs that will cater to individuals not interested in boat building,” he notes. “We also look forward to developing programs that will give back to the community. One of our sayings is, ‘We are veterans, we are not broken. We don’ t need a handout but a hand up. We are here, relevant, and not going anywhere. We are part of the solution, not the problem. Give us a chance.”