National veterans program expands with Newark location

NEWARK — Matthew Dowling used to cover his face with dark sunglasses and a beard, the epitome of what he called a “big, bad veteran.”

He didn’t want people to look at him. He was in his 30s, with a wife and two kids. But despite the 17 medications he was on, he was nearing a decision that too many veterans consider: suicide.

Two years later, the 37-year-old Newark resident sits and laughs among the people who saved his life. And as he watches his son fishing on the lake, he says he can’t believe he ever thought he was beyond help.

According to a study released in June by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 veterans choose suicide every day.

Save a Warrior, a nonprofit organization aimed at saving the lives of veterans and first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, wants to change that. The group runs “war-detox” programs that have saved hundreds of lives, it says. Now it’s planting roots at a new facility in Licking County.

The retreat center, which previously served as a horse farm and vacation home, is the first and only facility that the organization owns. The program also operates in Malibu, California, but Save a Warrior rents that space.

The new center in Newark, called “Warrior Village,” provides many new opportunities in Ohio, which has the sixth-largest veteran population in the United States, said Adam Carr, executive director.

“It’s a very patriotic and philanthropic state,” Carr, who went through the program himself before joining the staff, said of Ohio. “People here really support veterans, which is important.”

In the past six years, 607 people have gone through the five-day program in California, led by people who have gone through the program themselves. Save a Warrior has a heavy focus on mindfulness, meditation and learning to cope with trauma and depression, with support from other veterans.

Dowling said daily meditation was his big takeaway from the program and said it has helped him cope with stress in everyday life.

“Every day of my life gets better. I don’t want that to sound generic, but it truly does,” Dowling said. “I thought I was alone. It changed my whole world, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.”

Anyone who feels they are in need of help can sign up on Save a Warrior’s website and a staff member will reach out within 48 hours to discuss aligning schedules with the program. There are about 300 people on the waiting list, but for many, Save a Warrior CEO Keith Ritz said, waiting isn’t an option.

Between Malibu and the new program in Newark, the organization will be able to accommodate nearly the same number of people in 18 months as it had in the past six years combined. The first Save a Warrior program in Newark will begin at the end of August and there will be five programs in the fall. For 2019, 14 are planned, including an all-women’s program.

The program, which costs about $3,500 per person, is funded by donors and free to those who go through the application process. Transportation is not included.

Central Ohio is the perfect location for the new facility, Carr said, because a majority of the country can reach Newark in a day’s drive.

The organization allotted a $1.5 million budget for the space and renovations in Newark. It purchased the 47-acre plot of land in December 2017, which includes a pond and several furnished buildings, for $787,000. The group plans to build a stone labyrinth, to be used for self-reflection, and a ropes course that allows for team building. The organization also will be working with PBJ Connections, an equine-therapy center in Pataskala, on the war-detox programs.

According to surveys collected prior to and following the program, symptoms of depression and PTSD decreased for participants. One of the people helped by Save a Warrior was Patrick Atkinson, who now works with development and finance for the organization.

His wife, Nichelle Atkinson, was pregnant with twins when Patrick left to complete the program in Malibu. She said he returned much happier with a renewed sense of life.

“He came back a whole new person,” said Nichelle Atkinson, who now serves as the director of development. “It was perfect timing. Bringing two new kids into the world, I needed a whole person.”

Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on July 5, 2018.

Advertisements

CPS got a new therapy dog this semester, and he’s adorable

Dug is a 2-year-old golden retriever who is the newest addition to CPS. He is handled and trained by Rinda Scoggan. (Photo by Abbey Marshall)

Ohio University Counseling and Psychological Services hired another furry friend this semester.

Dug, named after the talking golden retriever in Disney/Pixar’s Up, began seeing clients this academic year after the semi-retirement of Buddy, a 10-year-old standard poodle.

Rinda Scoggan, a senior counselor who trained both Dug and Buddy, said though Dug is only 2 years old and is new to the office, he is making significant progress as a therapy dog.

“Coming here, he wasn’t so sure about the size of the building,” she said. “But now he comes in, and he’s good about coming into the elevator now. He didn’t ride an elevator for the first time until the summer.”

She described him as being a “little shy” because he was raised by Scoggan’s son in the country and wasn’t used to being around so many people.

“Dug is slowly evolving,” she said. “He’s still a 2-year-old.”

Dug visits CPS offices on the third floor of Hudson Health Center every Monday.

“It’s helpful because some students have a dog back home, and they miss it,” Scoggan said.
“It just makes their day. They do form bonds that they love to pet him, and he’s so excited to see them. … He cares about them.”

Dug began visiting the offices in lieu of Buddy, who began experiencing arthritis associated with age. Scoggan tried giving him medicines to combat his ailments, but it just made him sick.

“I noticed at that time he had started limping last year,” she said. “I wanted him to be able to relax his body and his bones.”

Buddy’s much-needed break proved beneficial, and Scoggan noticed a renewed pep in his step.

“He’s much better,” she said. “I just think he needed to take a break. As long as he is able and as long as he wants to, I’m willing for him to come in once a month.”

Since Scoggan now has two dogs trained to help students, she said she is toying with the idea of having them come in more than one day a week.

“He really only sees the students who come in on Monday,” she said. “Some people schedule specifically on Mondays to just see him.”

Scoggan said as long as Buddy does not face any more medical problems, she would like to continue switching the two out.

“Sometimes dogs that do therapy can get a little depressed themselves,” she said. “The trainer recommended definitely switching out the dog.”

The therapy sessions are not only beneficial for the students, but also for the canines.

“A few years ago, when my kids all moved out, it was just Buddy and I,” she said. “Buddy started becoming depressed being in the house all the time. … It really helped him. He’s one that really needs to be petted, be loved on. Being in the house all day was not good for him. I just could tell there was a major difference.”

Other programs on campus exist to connect students to dogs, such as Bobcats of the Shelter Dogs which allows students to volunteer at the local dog shelter. Alden Library also hosts therapy dog visits near and during final week. Alden is hosting therapy dog events during finals week, and Dug from CPS will be the featured pup at one of the events.

Mia Chapman, a senior studying biological sciences pre-medicine, has been training a service dog named Clary since August through the OU branch program of 4 Paws for Ability. She said having dogs on college campuses is beneficial for not only students, but also all people who interact with the animals.

“As a student, it always brightens my day to see a dog because it’s a great stress relief and break from my daily activities,” she said. “Fostering a service dog has helped me realize the value that service dogs have to offer people with disabilities. These dogs are highly trained and help those who need them feel more comfortable out in public, as the dogs can help them physically and emotionally.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu

Originally published for The Post on November 29, 2017.

Despite low enrollment, women in OU tech programs thriving

Nicole Sova, a graduate student studying as a woman in STEM, poses for a portrait. (photo by Abbey Marshall)

Alexis Lanier, an electrical engineering student, has four women in her class.

According to a 2015 headcount from the Office of Institutional Research, only 15 percent of the Russ College of Engineering is female, despite the fact that technology is a “lucrative” field.

“There’s a lot of guys so (women) think they shouldn’t do it,” Lanier, a sophomore, said. “It’s definitely intimidating because it’s new to me, and I feel like the guys have always been really into it.”

J.J. DiGeronimo is no stranger to the frustrations those current students experience. As a 1995 OU alumna from the J. Warren McClure School of Information and Telecommunication Systems, DiGeronimo said most of her classes were at least 75 percent men.

Like many students, DiGeronimo’s main goal was to come out of college with a job. Because the ITS school was known at the time for a 100 percent job placement after graduation, pursuing a degree in communication systems management made sense.

“I was great in math,” she said. “I was great with numbers and science. … It was important for me to learn a feasible skillset the marketplace was looking for.”

As a keynote speaker and advocate for girls in STEM, DiGeronimo said gender stereotypes and inaccurate perceptions of the field can hinder a woman’s decision to enter the technology field.

“There’s some perceptions that it’s really geeky, that it’s a lot of coding, that they’re not going to fit in,” she said. “They don’t know people in the field to get experience or even ask questions of what it might be like. … There’s some preconceived notions that (women) are not going to like it.”

In most career fields, research shows women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, but in STEM fields, DiGeronimo said women make 92 cents for every dollar a man makes.

“As a whole, women in any field and men in any field should be about equal (numbers) just because it’s different points of view,” Katie Meeks, a sophomore studying biological sciences, said. “You are able to get a lot of different points of view and you are able to make more informed decisions.”

Although DiGeronimo said the lack of women in her college classes was unfortunate, she viewed it as a great preparation for the professional world.

“Most of my career, I have often been the only woman at the table,” she said. “Obtaining a degree that had more men than women prepared me for the workforce. I really didn’t have a lot of fear. I had already worked through some of my concerns about being the only woman.”

Meeks said her mother, a high school biology teacher, inspired her to pursue her dreams in STEM.

“Throughout elementary and middle school, I thought I didn’t like science,” Meeks said. “Once I came into high school and saw what my mother was doing, it made me want to do something better with my life.”

Though it helps to have representation in the field, DiGeronimo said those role models don’t always have to be female.

“I had a lot of great male mentors in my program that helped move me in the right direction,” she said. “You don’t necessarily have to look for the same gender. A lot of women look up to fathers, uncles, professors. It’s about getting around good people willing to help you in your career.”

Lanier agrees. She said her professors, who are primarily male, have been incredibly helpful because many of them are encouraging female participation in STEM fields.

“A lot of women tend to take support roles instead of the lead roles,” DiGeronimo said. “Don’t talk yourself out of the lead role. … Keep at it. It’s more about perseverance and persistence oftentimes than it is about how high of an IQ you have and how well you’ve done in your classes.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu 

Originally published for The Post on Nov. 16, 2017.

How Utkarsha pushed past gender discrimination toward her dream

Photo by Abbey Marshall

If Utkarsha Mahadeshwar followed suit of the rest of the girls from her slum community of Dharavi, she would’ve been married by age 13 and had a baby by now.

Instead, the 16-year-old is about to start junior college at Ruparel College, one of the top universities in Mumbai.

“Gender inequality is a huge problem in my community,” Utkarsha said. “After age nine, we’re not supposed to play with boys or even play outside. I would have neighbors yell at me when I would try to play.”

People in Utkarsha’s family had written her off because of her poverty and gender. Utkarsha’s relatives did not speak to her family because they were so poor in comparison to the rest of her family.

Utkarsha found her saving grace in Magic Bus, which provided her the hope to one day break out of poverty.

In weekly Magic Bus sessions, she interacted with both boys and girls her age and was taught lessons around the importance of health, education and gender equality. Around the time of puberty, Utkarsha and her peers were taught sessions around reproductive and sexual health, which Utkarsha claimed was “extremely helpful.”

“Mothers here don’t like to discuss private things such as periods or pads,” said Utkarsha’s mother, Pramila. “I even learned a lot of things I didn’t know through Utkarsha. I am very thankful for that.”

Many girls in Dharavi drop out of school after getting married, or if they go to school, they do not continue past 10th grade. Not only has Utkarsha flourished in school, but she plans to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration. In her spare time, she tutors her neighbors and helps her 12-year-old brother with his studies.

Utkarsha’s education has been fostered through Magic Bus, and her parents are forever grateful. Her mother was a high school dropout, and her father did not pass the  12th grade. He now works in a small restaurant.

“Since I dropped out, I am a housewife.” Pramila said. “I do not want Utkarsha to repeat my mistake. I want her to complete her education and help other children in our community.”

Her outstanding performance on the 10th grade exam made everyone sit up and take notice. She was invited to the United States last year for a program funded by the U.S. State Department because of her leadership skills and academic success.

“That was the proudest moment of my entire life,” Pramila said.

Word of Utkarsha’s high test score and her trip to the United States travelled quickly through the Dharavi community, and soonafter, Utkarsha was paid an unexpected visit.

“My cousin and his son, who is in the medical field, came to our home,” Pramila said. “I never expected they would visit. They didn’t care about us before because we were poor. But they came and they were so proud of her. They blessed her.”

Since the visit, Utkarsha has kept in close contact with her uncle, who is mentoring her while she prepares for junior college.

Utkarsha was recently selected to be a Magic Bus Community Youth Leader in Dharavi. She is now excited to begin running Magic Bus sessions for children just like her and making a change within her community.

“Before Magic Bus, she was so shy,” Pramila said. “Now because of all the interaction and all the learnings through Magic Bus, she has built confidence and is so smart. I am very proud of her.”

Utkarsha is one simple story of change within Magic Bus participants. She is one of nearly half a million children in India in Magic Bus programs who is working toward her dreams of continue her education and breaking out of the poverty cycle.

Originally produced for Magic Bus.

Saddling Up: How OU students are using horses to help people with disabilities

Just 80 miles south of Athens, a veteran who suffered a stroke was riding horseback, led by Ohio University students. His wife, watching her husband ride from afar, hadn’t heard his voice in two years.

He had been riding at OU Southern’s horse park for several sessions, and he began to burst into song.

“Home, home on the range,” he belted. “Where the deer and the antelope play.”

Everyone stared in disbelief as a man who hadn’t spoken a word in years began to sing.

That is just one of the miracles that happens every day at OU Southern’s horse park, said Kelly Hall, the director of the equine studies program.

OU Southern Campus’s equine program is one of five accredited international schools to certify instructors in therapeutic riding, attracting dozens of students to enroll in hopes of pursuing a career that could change someone’s life.

A program run by students


Only two full-time faculty members staff the program, leaving the rest of the work up to students and volunteers to keep the rates for riding low. OU Southern charges $45 for a private community riding lesson and $35 for private therapeutic lessons.

horses
Photo by Emily Gayton

OU’s Southern Campus offers an equine studies program that certifies instructors in therapeutic riding. Dozens of students have enrolled in the program.

“It takes a lot,” Hall said. “If you have one person in a wheelchair, you’re going to have to have two side walkers — one on each side — and somebody to lead the horse. You’re going to have to have an instructor. … It takes a lot of volunteers to make this program happen.”

To earn their associate degrees, students are required to participate in 25 hours of instruction with a minimum of two riders with disabilities at a time.

“The community therapeutic horsemanship center serves the purpose of allowing our students to earn their hours, but it also serves the tri-state community for people with challenges,” Hall said.

Unlike many other equine programs, OU Southern has its own horse park and barns for convenience of completing lab hours and maintaining control over curriculum, attracting students from places as far as Hawaii to participate in the therapeutic riding program.

Students also teach, care for the horses and assume other responsibilities alongside volunteers and part-time employees.

“I’ve always liked helping people, and I love horses,” Julia Glebins, a first-year student, said. “I’ve been obsessed with them my entire life. It just seemed like a natural fit.”

A horse’s strength


Horseback riding provides many benefits for people with physical disabilities. Riding develops a sense of coordination and balance and strengthens the same muscles used to walk, which can be especially useful for someone in a wheelchair.

“It benefits them to learn a different or better way of living,”Tabatha McKinney, who works at STAR Community Justice Center

“We have a couple riders who are paraplegic and in a wheelchair,” Hall said. “By putting someone on a horse and the horse walks for them, they’re exercising those muscles to help them hopefully gain some mobility.”

Glebins said she was touched when she was serving as a volunteer last year and saw significant progress in a boy she was assisting.

“One of our participants started out in a wheelchair and couldn’t hardly walk, and now he’s up walking on his own and doesn’t need very much assistance,” she said. “He rides on his own, too. … It’s pretty incredible.”

The warmth of a horse


The benefits of therapeutic riding go beyond what can be seen on the surface. Hall said emotional and mental therapy is a lot of what the program tries to provide through its lessons.

The park works with agencies for weekly lessons and has served foster care industries, regional mental health industries and more.

“It benefits them to learn a different or better way of living,” said Tabatha McKinney, who works at STAR Community Justice Center. STAR serves as an alternative to prison with the intent of rehabilitating nonviolent felony offenders and frequently works with the horse park.

horses
Photo by Emily Gayton

Students teach and care for the horses, among other responsibilities. The program attracts students from places as far away as Hawaii.

OU Southern is partnered with Safe Harbor, a domestic violence shelter in northern Kentucky. The two secured a grant to bring children to the park weekly for riding lessons.

“It’s fun,” Jacob Bowman, 11, said. “I learn stuff about horses. They’re fun to play with and cute. I like it here.”

Hall said OU Southern tailors programs to specific needs. In the case of Safe Harbor, a main goal is teaching kids to positively identify and cope with emotions.

“I love riding (the horses),” Keagan Thornton, 8, said. “I’ve learned about leading and riding and about my emotions.”

Horses have unique personalities just like humans, Hall said. People might be drawn to a particular horse and learn a lot about their feelings from interacting with the animal.

“The horses show what we don’t want to face,” McKinney said. “The horses can sense your emotions. … It gives us a therapeutic moment to talk about those emotions instead of stuffing it.”

Expansion of the program


Since OU Southern’s equine program began offering online courses in spring 2016, adjunct professor Mark Abell said he has seen an increase in enrollment. He said this semester he has his largest class size of 26 people in introduction to equine studies, with students from the Athens campus and high school students enrolling.

“It’s really caught on,” he said. “It’s interesting because in the online program, you have a wide variety of experiences. … It’s a really good way for us to go beyond just the campus.”

Online classes, which are heavy on economics and technology, focus on the commercial side of the horse industry, Hall said. She said the staff rewrote the entire curriculum to accommodate online courses.

“Technology is really important in the horse world, too,” she said. “The horse industry is very large. There’s about a million full-time jobs in the horse industry.”

Many students are interested in starting nonprofits related to horses, so Hall said the program created online courses on equine nonprofit development and management.

Hall said they are also adding a degree to the eCampus. There will be a soft launch in January and a full launch in fall 2018.

“That’s a big deal for us,” Abell said. “I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Abell said he was excited for the program to grow and continue to flourish because of all the good he sees come out of it every day.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful program,” Abell said. “Miracles come from it. … When you watch their expressions and the light bulb comes on, and they see all of that because of the interaction with the horses, it’s really powerful.”

Originally published for The Post on Sept. 28, 2017. Appeared in print Sept. 28, 2017.

Where is Tumbles, the two-legged dog, now?

Tumbles playing outside near his dog wheelchair. Due to being born with just two legs, OU’s Innovation Center made a dog wheelchair for Tumbles nearly two years ago. (Photo by Abbey Marshall)

A local two-legged puppy tumbled his way into the hearts of millions two years ago after garnering international media attention. Nearly two years later, he no longer uses the wheels the Ohio University Innovation Center 3-D-printed for him.

Tumbles was born without his front legs. Because of his disability, he would get pushed out of the way by his brother and sister when he was trying to nurse, forcing his owner to give him up to a foster home.

Karen Pilcher, who was on the board of the Athens Friends of Shelter Dogs, has been by Tumbles’ side since he was four weeks old. She officially adopted him last December. He’ll be two years old soon.

Pilcher and some other members of the Athens Friends of Shelter Dogs created a Facebook page for Tumbles in November 2015, when he was six weeks old. An engineer saw the page and designed wheels to help Tumbles’ mobility. He brought his idea to the OU Innovation Center, who agreed to create the wheels using 3-D printing.

“OU was wonderful,” Pilcher said. “They only charged us for the materials for the wheels, not the labor. It only cost around $250, whereas other wheels are much more expensive.”

A video of Tumbles wheeling around began circulating the internet; before Pilcher knew it, she was the mother to a viral star.

“He was everywhere,” she said. “We got messages on Facebook and friends from all over the world. He was in the papers in England, Brazil, Germany, Ireland.”

Even though the wheels are adjustable and will last his lifetime, Pilcher said Tumbles doesn’t like to use them very much anymore. They inhibit his mobility, she said, and he much prefers hopping and pushing himself on his stomach. In the past few months, he also began walking on his back paws.

“He doesn’t know any different,” she said. “The thing that makes him great is his personality. There’s a lot of two legged dogs, and they all have great personality. They’re fighters.”

Tumbles now lives with three other dogs and 19 cats.

“They all get along great,” Pilcher said. “He’s just so happy about everything.”

@AbbeyMarshall

am877915@ohio.edu 

Originally published for The Post on Sept. 24, 2017.

11-year-old stands up against domestic violence in Bombay Port Trust

Photo by Abbey Marshall

Nazifa Kachi was playing with her friends in Bombay Port Trust when she noticed something odd about her neighbor.

“Her whole eyes were swollen,” she said. “She told me that her husband and his family beat her up with a belt. I tried to tell her to file a police case, but she just ran away the next day.”

That wasn’t the first time Nazifa saw women in her community beaten and bruised by their husbands. Even as an 11-year-old, she is no stranger to the horrors of domestic violence because it was right in her own community.

BPT is a community located along the coastline of Mumbai. Nearly 100,000 families live on the land in less than humane conditions. Since BPT is an illegal slum, residents are not provided with basic necessities like water and electricity and have to pay 50 to 200 times more for inconsistent access to those amenities than more affluent citizens (Subbaraman, 2015). The possibility of the government destroying the shanties looms over residents every day, and demolition in some areas has already begun.

BPT’s problems don’t stop there. Social issues and inequality run rampant through the community. Mumbai has seen a 354 percent increase in rapes since 2011, many of those taking place with alarming regularity in slums like BPT (Hafeez, 2016). Because of this, parents have to be very careful about letting their daughters leave the home for short errands or playdates with friends. Even a trek to school can be dangerous.

Nazifa’s family isn’t originally from BPT. They migrated from a nearby village for her father to work in the naval port. When asked if she liked her community, she was quick to shake her head and say “no.”

“I don’t like that the teenage boys and men use drugs and sexually harass women,” she said. “I want to make a change and tell people drugs and alcohol are bad and involve police, because it leads to worse things. Violence and fights happen a lot here.”

Since her parents and her four-month-old brother now call BPT home, Nazifa is determined to make a difference.

Nazifa has been a Magic Bus participant for four years and is in fifth grade. Every week, she and her friends attend Magic Bus sessions delivered by mentors from her same community.

“When Nazifa enrolled, she was silent and shy,” said Shanti Ravi, the BPT Magic Bus community coordinator. “Now she is taking initiative for issues in the community she cares about. I’m amazed. She’s so young and already doing this.”

Nazifa’s mentors are her favorite part about Magic Bus, and she said they have been helpful on her journey for justice. Their job is to deliver important sessions to participants such as the importance of health and gender equality, but they also helped Nazifa. She said after she complained to them about the violence in the community, Magic Bus staff raised awareness to local families and children that domestic violence is a dehumanizing and criminal offense in India.

“In the sessions, Nazifa reflects those lessons and wants quick action,” Ravi said.

Magic Bus also takes participants to the local police station, where they interact with officers. Nazifa befriended one of the officers and got their phone number in case she saw another incident of domestic violence.

“She is the only girl around here that does this kind of thing,” Ravi said.

Nazifa has big dreams for the future: both for her community and personally. She aspires to have a career in the medical field and will be the first in her family to go to college. Her ultimate goal, she said, is to help those around her.

“When I’m a doctor I will help these women,” she said. “For now, I will do what I can. I want to make sure they’re okay and I want people here to be happy.”

 

Hafeez, M. (2016). Nearly 300% spike in rapes in Mumbai since 2011. [online] The Times of India. Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Nearly-300-spike-in-rapes-in-city-since-11/articleshow/55424613.cms

Subbaraman, R. (2015). The city’s outcasts. [online] The Indian Express. Available at: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-citys-outcasts/

Originally produced for Magic Bus.