A Clear Path For Veterans

December 21, 2020

Clear Path for Veterans New England believes the best way to serve its veterans and their families is through community partnership and purposeful services, with a mission to recognize that communities have the responsibility to help those who have served our country.

Established in 2017 by a team of dedicated volunteers, Clear Path for Veterans New England (CP4VNE), is modeled after the successful programs of Clear Path for Veterans New York.

Scott Bulger, an original founding member, visited the very successful program in New York and led the effort to stand up a matching facility to serve New England Veterans.

“Mentoring and support from the New York organization, based on a decade of experience, helped propel our success in this region,” Bulger said, now Clear Path’s president.

With its own 501(c)3 status and a local board of directors, Clear Path for Veterans New England empowers service members, veterans and their families through supportive programs and services in a safe, respectful environment.

“Governance and all funding are the sole responsibility of Clear Path for Veterans New England,” said Donna Bulger, who serves as treasurer and CFO. “Annually we hold six major events, including our unique Devens Dog Festival. However, during the pandemic our fundraising activities have been significantly reduced, raising just 30% when compared to 2019.”

In July of 2018, Clear Path of New England purchased the historic 22,000-square-foot former Army Headquarters/Hospital building, located at 84 Antietam St.

“Our plan was to complete a full renovation this past fall, one that would expand our program and service offerings while maintaining the historical presence and nature of the building,” said Donna Bulger. “We are thrilled to say, despite the challenges with the pandemic, we completed the major renovations this month and now working on final permitting to open the doors and begin full operation.”

The Bulgers say it has been nothing short of amazing to see the building transform.

“We will meet a key objective when we welcome our partners at Veterans and First Responders (VFR) Health Care who will occupy a wing of the building,” Donna Bulger said. “VFR, leaders in their field, will bring clinical mental health services which when combined with our programming creates wrap around services unlike any other facility in the area.”

Complementing VFR mental health services, Clear Path for Veterans is comprised of several other platforms including the Devens Service Dog program, Warrior Reset, Wingman – Peer Mentor Programming, Culinary programs, Women Proudly Served, Holistic Warrior Care and Family Force.

Scott Bulger said all these programs would not be as successful as they are if not for the dedicated staff that serves Clear Path for Veterans.

“Our ability to serve our veterans, military members and their families starts with a knowledgeable staff who understands the current needs of those we serve and can anticipate the needs of future military members and their families,” Donna Bulger said. “Our staff includes both civilians and veterans who fully understand and appreciate the importance of a healthy veteran population.”

Over two-thirds of the staff are veterans (or family members) with a combination of combat deployments and multi-service experience that reflect the diversity of the veteran culture.

“Two of our veterans were trained at William James College school of Psychology in the Vets Treating Vets program,” Donna Bulger added. “Because of our unique culture, we are able to serve both veterans and their communities.”

The Board of Directors, Veteran Advisory Counsel and staff work closely together to aid veterans in transition in communities across the area and understand their needs and all they have to offer.

The popular Devens Service Dog program helps participants find relief from their post-traumatic stress (PTS), traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and military sexual trauma (MST) symptoms in the form of a service or emotional support dog.

“Through our puppy development program, we raise puppies and train them for service, a process that can take up to 24 months,” said Cindy Butts, Clear Path’s canine trainer.

Expanded canine programming helps veterans learn to train their own dogs, Butts added, “Our Canine programs offer positive reinforcement training to anyone interested in using their canine companion to improve their quality of life.”

The Devens Service Dog program has grown from three service dogs to 14, with 52 veterans enrolled and awaiting a canine match.

The Warrior Wellness Program integrates complementary and alternative health options for self-care and self-regulation and works along-side standard medical practices.

With their partners at VFR, Clear Path takes pride in providing a variety of care that empowers veterans to choose their path of wellbeing with access to supportive services that enable growth and development.

“Wellness programs offer neuro-brain stimulation, acupuncture, massage, meditation and polarity therapy as a platform for those seeking relief from pain, insomnia, PTS, TBI and MST symptoms,” said Donna Bulger. “Warrior Reset includes a range of experiences including art, outdoor recreation, golf and more and our Clear Path Kids program offers fun activities for children and parents to enjoy healthy, family-oriented experiences.”

Since the start of COVID-19, Clear Path has worked in partnership with the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation to provide families with food items including everyday staples, condiments, breads and pastries, canned goods, breakfast items, pasta and grains, and snack items as well as refrigerated fruits and produce, which it is distributing weekly with the help of many local partners.

The Clear Path Employment Program empowers veterans to enhance their career opportunities equipping them with the necessary skills and training to ensure success in achieving their goals. When the building opens, veterans will have opportunities for training in the culinary field, animal care industry, facilities maintenance and more.

“This program provides career services support that is customized to meet each individual’s unique defined needs,” said Jason Gilbert, program development specialist. “Any veteran who seeks to start a career or desires to continue in their current workplace can stand to benefit from the services offered in this program.”

The Wingman – Peer Mentor program complements the Clear Path Employment Program, ensuring a community connection that supports success with obtaining and maintaining employment, college enrollment, and regular use of all services provided by the Veterans Administration.

“We are gearing up to address the financial, employment and housing issues created by the extended COVID-19 environment,” Donna Bulger said. “What is also important is addressing the mental health and wellness concerns that have been exacerbated during COVID-19.”

Women Proudly Served is a program that recognizes the importance of giving female veterans dedicated programs of their own.

“We hear so many amazing stories about women who have served our country. We want to celebrate this service by offering programs that are customized to their needs,” said Donna Bulger. “We are excited to share these stories with the community.”

Led by a program manager with first-hand experience as a family member having served alongside her spouse for his 25-year career, Family Force organizes support groups, family activities and resiliency training which helps to bring families into the Clear Path community.

“Jeannine Germain knows first-hand the impact military service has on families, yet few programs and services are offered in this area,” said Donna Bulger. “We are thankful for Jeannine as she leads this outreach program to an often-forgotten population — the family.”

The Family Force group also gives back to the community.

“Each year this group organizes a food drive and provides 400 holiday food baskets to service members, veterans and their families in the area,” said Donna Bulger. “This year the group is providing holiday meal kits, stockings stuffed with goodies, and gifts for children.”

“Clear Path also hosted their first annual toy drive this year and have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the community,” said Donna Bulger adding, “The need is great this year and we are happy to be able to contribute.”

Donna Bulger stresses that no single organization can address the needs of the veteran population on their own.

“Fortunately, there are many great organizations in the area,” she said. “We collaborate with a variety of organizations in the area including Community Foundation of North Central MA, United Way of North Central MA, Veterans and First Responder Health Care, Leominster Police and Fire, Salute Military Golf Association – New England, Fishing with Warriors, Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, Veteran Service Offices, and many more.”

As Clear Path is able to open the building and is allowed to host meetings, it will be inviting local organizations in for a quarterly summit meeting where they will be able to share all the great work that is being done in the region and will collaborate on how to address gaps by leveraging their resources.

“We are honored to have been able to make a difference this year. We are most proud of the strong volunteer base we have who assist every week in delivering food, the generosity of the community in supporting us financially during this time, and the strong network of support providers we work with each week,” Donna Bulger said. “We look forward to sharing more about our programming in 2021 as we open our doors to all our veterans in need.”

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