In "Home of the Brave," Colorado-based author Donna Bryson describes the leadership style of Melanie Kline, who founded a grass-roots project for vets originally called Welcome Home Montrose.
The project, now called the Welcome Home Alliance for Vets, was launched Sept. 11, 2012 - the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. At the volunteer-run drop-in center opened that day, vets can get a cup of coffee along with counseling and advice on jobs and training. Men and women who chose to volunteer to fight in strange lands can start to feel at home again at the drop-in center, where civilians step up to welcome them.
Welcome Home also holds a biannual outdoors festival that brings vets from across the country to hunt and fish. The nonprofit helped Montrose develop a white-water river park they hope will boost local tourism. It organized internships that offered young wounded vets a chance to consider what they would do with the rest of their lives now that they were no longer fit to fight.
Kline accomplished so much because she not only welcomed other ideas, but also pestered people to bring their initiatives to Welcome Home. And she made sure those people felt welcome to stick around to see their pet projects realized.
Among the neighbors and vets with whom she has collaborated is Tim Kenney, who enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. The gunner was injured when rocket-propelled grenades exploded near his vehicle. Back in Montrose, Kenney helped bring the biannual outdoors festival for his fellow vets to town.
Here is an excerpt from the book:
At Fort Carson, back in Colorado, 2011 was for (Kenney) a year of surgeries. He had to relearn to walk after operations on his back and right shoulder. He also had to relearn to be a part of his family. His wife and children had to get to know a man who was not as physically capable as the one who had left them a year before. One who was moody, given to self-medicating with alcohol.
One of his daughters had overheard the father of a friend discussing Kenney's back injuries. The man said Kenney had been fighting a "senseless war."
"A big part of me feels guilty for putting them through the war," Kenney said of his family. "But I also want my kids to know that freedom's not free." Kline said Welcome Home Montrose became a place where people who opposed the war and those who supported it could come together.
"These kids that go serve make us rise above our political divisions," she said. "I don't care how you feel about the war, about the current administration or the last ones. These are our kids."
Kline's executive director, (Emily) Smith, said the importance of the goal helped bring people together and then showed them their strength was in their differences.
"You have to build with others in your community whether you like them or not," Smith told me. "You have to open yourself up to people who are different from you. You need people around you that are going to challenge why you're doing things the way you are and maybe offer a different approach that is better."
When Kline is talking with a young vet who might remind her of one of her sons, she seems to struggle. She asks herself whether she's hovering too much, or too little. She knows she can't make decisions for others. She can only offer choices. But the impulse to mother them is strong. Compassion helped create Welcome Home Montrose.
A parent himself, Kenney doesn't need mothering. If he's ever sensed anything patronizing in Kline's attitude, he doesn't show it. He's thankful that when he found himself unmoored by PTSD, Kline was there. Her Montrose jewelry shop is conveniently across Main Street from his fishing and hunting guide business.
Kline "hooked me up with a Vietnam vet," Kenney told me .. "Now, he and I are talking."
While many people in Montrose had offered kind words to vets, they lacked direction when it came to taking action, Kenney said. Kline is "the first person that I know about that didn't just talk about it. She did something."
"Welcome Home Montrose pulled our community together like nothing ever has."