Vets program leverages healing power of recreation

  • Congressman Jim McGovern departs from the dock of the Connecticut River Greenway State Park Thursday afternoon, joining a flotilla organized by All Out Adventures. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH GARDNER

For the Gazette
Published: 8/3/2017 5:58:12 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After a morning of meetings, U.S. Rep. James McGovern traded his office for the Connecticut River on Thursday.

Shortly after noon, McGovern joined veterans on the dock at the Connecticut River Greenway State Park. One by one, they took to the water in kayaks, their outing organized by All Out Adventures.

Every Thursday, AOA launches its federally-funded program for vets at the park.

“The men and women who have served our country deserve our best,” McGovern said from his kayak. “The funding that goes to this program is very important to me, and it’s a privilege to be out here with these veterans today.”

All Out Adventures has been offering what it calls adaptive recreational programs for veterans, seniors and the disabled since 2001, AOA Executive Director Karen Foster said. The kayak program is in its fourth year.

The kayaking trips on Thursday are paid for through a Veterans Administration Adaptive Sports Program grant. Foster said the program’s goal is to make the state parks accessible to those who might otherwise have difficulty spending time visiting them.

“This is a great chance for veterans to get more involved in the community,” Foster said. “When we heard about the adaptive sports grant, it was a no-brainer for us to get this started. We really think it’s been a great addition.”

McGovern and Foster were each in one of about a dozen kayaks drifting down the river Thursday. They planned to paddle for about two hours, Foster said. Some of the veterans had kayaked with the program before, but for others, it was their first time on the water.

Veteran Luis Gomez, 26, was kayaking for the first time. Gomez said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety, and he was hoping to try something new with other veterans.

“I think programs like this are very important to get us out of our comfort zone while still with people who are like us,” Gomez said. “It can help us gain more control over our lives. And it means a lot that a congressman, someone much higher up than us, is willing to come show his support for us.”

Gomez said that while it was only his first week participating in the kayak trips, he was grateful for the opportunity and had heard good things about AOA’s recreation programs.

“I can’t overstate how important the healing power of recreation can be,” Foster said. “I got a note from a veteran after the program once that said, ‘Your programs don’t just thank a vet, they help a vet.’ So that’s really what we’re trying to do.”


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