Local Veterans Recognized
The Willett family of Ashville, NY received an outpouring of support and generosity from people around Chautauqua County after they were chosen to be featured on the home renovation television series “Military Makeover: Veterans Edition.”
When Cody Willett returned from his second tour in Afghanistan, he wondered as so many other veterans do, what would be next for him. He returned with several injuries after serving as the Air Force weapons supply technician for the special operations team. Besides suffering physical injuries from a grenade, it began to be clear that he was also suffering from PTSD.
In an interview with the Gazette, at Homestead Stables in Gerry, NY, Military Makeover co-host Montel Williams spoke highly of Willett. “He’s a resilient young man. He’s decided to take advantage of the educational opportunities that he was given by the military, to learn I.T., and to turn around and continue to give back to his community. He truly understands the meaning of service.”
Dwyer Program & PTSD
Upon returning home, Cody became the first participant in the Dwyer Veteran Peer to Peer program for Chautauqua County and the surrounding areas. Coordinated by Cindy Reidy, it’s a weekly group that provides social events and support to veterans who are asking that “What’s next for me?” question. Reidy says the Dwyer Program is an answer to that question.
The Dwyer Program was an invaluable support in Willett’s latest adventure of being featured on the show. He applied to “Military Makeover” with hopes to ease the burden on his wife, Jessica, who cares for him and their two children.
We asked Montel about his thoughts on this husband-wife team, and he replied, “They are a wonderful couple, salt of the earth. In Jessica’s case she signed up for something she didn’t fully know. She met Cody after he was injured, after he came back with a broken back and dislocated shoulder. She dealt with his physical injuries and for the spouse of a military member, you see physical injuries but there’s also the unseen injuries. She’s going to be dealing with his PTSD for years to come.”
Montel’s Commitment to Veterans
Montel Williams joined the show this year. “This show, Military Makeover, not only impacts the lives of veterans, it impacts the entire community,” He emphasized. Military Makeover is in its third season and airs on Lifetime TV.
Montel is best known for his long running talk show career (1991-2008 in syndication). Before that he served twenty-two years in the military where he was honorably discharged; from there he began speaking publicly in schools across the country. His passion for the military and veterans goes beyond Military Makeover. He said, “I’ve never taken my uniform off. I’m a board member for the Fisher House, which is like the Ronald McDonald house for veterans. It’s a four-star charity. I’ve also been involved in medical research for a device that would help with traumatic brain injuries for those returning from service.”
Montel noted that people can find ways through acts of service to honor veterans. “To give back to our veterans is to say a thank you to the least of us, who’ve helped the most of us.”
Horses and PTSD
A few days before the May 9th reveal, the television crew began filming in various locations including Homestead Stables by Heritage in Sinclairville, NY. Homestead hosts the Constance Project, an equine therapy program that teaches vets to work with horses to cope with their PTSD, to work through anger and grief, and to fight the risk of suicide.
David Smeltzer, President and CEO of Heritage Ministries, said that many staff from Heritage helped with work on the house. He said they were pleased to support the show because it brings an “awareness to veterans needs and concerns across our country.”
Demolition to the house began on May 2nd. The Dwyer Program was the “the local connection” for the project and brought in over 100 volunteers, most of them veterans or related to a veteran. For nearly two weeks they donated their time and energy into the full house remodel. Various local companies were on site donating supplies and labor.
“Every person I’ve talked to that’s part of the team says they’re so pleased with the community turnout” Reidy said in an interview. “There are so many things happening at the same time. The interior designer is brilliant and coming up with great ideas. The family is waiting anxiously because they are in the dark about everything we are doing.”
She went on to say that the renovation process had been smooth, and a volunteer remarked how impressive and “professional” the production team was in getting everything done. An obstacle was dealing with spring weather changes. One day was sunny and projects could be done outside, the next she had to find heaters so the workers could continue painting.
“So often communities come together following a tragedy, it’s great to see us come together to support something positive” said Reidy.
On May 9th cast, crew, volunteers and supporters gathered to welcome the Willett family home. Volunteers from the Dwyer Program proudly wore “Team Willett” t-shirts and continued to show support to their fellow veteran. One thing mentioned repeatedly was the generosity and compassion shown by residents of Chautauqua County.
County Executive George Borello was in attendance and said news of the show had been “heartening.” “I was speaking to Marc Alfieri who is the owner of the show, he said this is the best turnout they’ve seen in the nineteen homes remodeled across the country. People showed up, they worked, they donated.”
The Dwyer Program is a free group intended for veteran socialization and friendship. Visit dwyerchautauqua.com or call 716-661-8447. Information for equine assisted therapy programs can be found at www.facebook.com/theneighprogram. Military Makeover airs on Lifetime TV and this episode is airing later in the year.