A New Welcome Home For Chautauqua County Veterans

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut

“Just say, ‘Welcome home!’ Those are the best words a soldier can hear back in the good old U.S.A,” said Cindy Reidy recently. Cindy started in April of this year as the project coordinator for the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Program, located in Falconer, New York, a Chautauqua County Veterans Service Program supported by New York State funding. “Special thanks to Senator Cathy Young,” Cindy added. “She was instrumental in bringing this funding to us.”

“It’s for guys and girls coming home,” Cindy said. “They suddenly find themselves in a very different world from the one they were living in overseas. Even with friends and family around, it can be a surprisingly lonely and difficult readjustment.”

“Somebody said I’d need to be a drill sergeant to handle all the GIs” Cindy said, “but I told them, ‘I don’t need a sergeant and I’m not a therapist. I’m a Mom! That’s even better.’ It takes a Mother’s heart,” she said with a warm smile, “and friends who have been through some of the same things. That is why this program is peer-to-peer, for vets and by vets.”

Cindy Reidy is also the mom of a vet still on active duty. “I joined the Blue Star Mothers (Mothers of active duty soldiers) before my son deployed because I knew I’d need their support, so I’m delighted I can work for Chautauqua County and offer support to our returning soldiers. We have more than 11,000 veterans in this county and this is the first program of its kind for them.”

Kickoff Picnic
“The Kickoff Picnic (see ad on back page) is for veterans, and it doesn’t matter how long ago you came home,” Cindy promised, “whether from WWII, Viet Nam, Desert Storm or Afghanistan, and for their families. Anyone who has something to offer our vets is welcome, too, whether with activities, events, organizations, churches, clubs, or in any other way.”

The picnic is slated for Sunday afternoon, 1:00 to 3:00, at Bergman Park on Baker Street in Jamestown. “A generous Jamestown manufacturer donated all the food and beverages for the event,” Cindy explained, “and they don’t even want their name mentioned. They just do not want to take any of the spotlight away from the vets. That’s only one of dozens of local people and businesses who have reached out to us.”

Live music by TPT, a lively corn hole game for the adults and kickball for the kids will be on tap at the picnic along with a door prize of two free tickets to Peek ‘n Peak’s exciting Aerial Adventure Course.

We want this to be a fun afternoon in the park for everybody,” Cindy said. “Come on out, welcome our local vets, and learn about other upcoming Dwyer happenings around Chautauqua County for vets and their partners.” Reservations are requested. Call 661.8447.

(L to R) Wally Westerdahl, peer support specialist at MHA and a veteran, who said, “The Dwyer program has given me back the comradery I have been missing since my separation from the military; Chris Blakeslee, marketing director at the YMCA and a veteran, who added, “The Dwyer is a much needed program in our area for Veterans. It gives us a chance to spend time with others who understand our unique situation. I am ecstatic about being involved in this program.”

The Dwyer Project
The Dwyer project was launched as a new support program that brings veterans together in social settings and events. “It isn’t for counseling or therapy or analysis of any kind,” Cindy said. “We’re not in competition with PTSD support groups, but we do network with them. At Dwyer, nobody has to tell their war stories. It’s just for making friends and connections, finding common interests, and having a good, relaxing time with other vets.”

PFC Joseph Patrick Dwyer, a United States Army medic, was made nationally famous by a published photograph of him carrying an ailing Iraqi boy out of a battle zone. He was celebrated as the embodiment of both American might and compassion. Sadly, a few years after finishing his active duty, Dwyer died from an overdose of “huffing” aerosol spray for its mind-numbing effect – he just could not go on feeling the pain of all that he had seen and lived through. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Better Way to Say “Thanks”
“Joseph P. Dwyer’s story also explains why some vets would rather not be thanked for their service,” Cindy explained. “They had to see and do terrible things they would rather not be thanked for. Sometimes they can’t even sleep with their memories. That’s why many will say a simple ‘Welcome home’ is probably better, especially if you can do something to back it up.”

“When I hear somebody is coming home,” Cindy said, “and if I hear he or she is really struggling” I want to have a team ready to greet them. “I’ll tell them, ‘I’m going to introduce you to another vet.’”

Finding What’s Missing
“One day I was sitting, talking to a guy,” Cindy recalled, “a recently returned vet, and I said, ‘You tell me: what do you miss the most.’”

“I miss just sitting around and playing cards with the guys,” he said. “So I set it up for a bunch of vets who liked the same thing. The Celoron Community Building let us use their space for free. I can provide some pizza and soft drinks. No gambling, just the guys getting together, Viet Nam, Korea, all the way to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“I give everyone who comes in an Interest Form,” Cindy explained. ‘They can pick from dozens of activities or add their own. And I just say, ‘I can make that happen.’” It might be anything from Dr. Moon’s Judo classes to Bowling Nights, or from the Wives’ Group planning a military ball to a coffee and talk time at Jamestown’s Joe Z’s Coffee Shop, or even special deals for vets at the Jamestown YMCA. Forbici Hair Design will hold a lady vets ‘All girls night.’ “We’ll just shut the door and have the place and the stylists all to ourselves,” Cindy promised. “I’ve even gotten fishing licenses for vets. The possibilities are almost endless.”

Groups are also forming right now for both male and female veterans, spouses and partners, Hispanic, and more.

“No two people want and need the same thing,” Cindy said. “But just tell me what you need. We have a partnership coming in the fall, for instance, with the SPCA, Broken dogs/Broken soldiers, based on the ‘Dog Tags Program’ in the Buffalo area. We’ll match an abused dog with a vet and pair them with another dog/vet team to retrain the dogs with love and kindness for adoption by a good family. Dog Tags calls it, ‘Two minds. Two hearts. One Mission: to help each other overcome adversity,’ and that’s our goal, too.”

Learn More
To find a calendar of events that are scheduled or planned, visit on Facebook, PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer to Peer program – Chautauqua, check for office hours and register for the Kickoff Picnic by calling 661-8447, or visit the County Office of the Dwyer Program at 454 North Work Street, Falconer.