EHS teachers, library partner for veterans’ writing program

Published 7:20 pm Friday, May 26, 2017

As families prepare for Memorial Day weekend, a trio of teachers from Elizabethton High Schools and the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library are working toward a unique program to benefit local veterans.
“Around Veteran’s Day last year, I was reading all of the statistics that are often written about that time of the year that show depression, anxiety and suicide levels of veterans after they return home from combat,” Dustin Hensley, EHS library media specialist, said. “I wanted to find a way to give our local veterans both a voice in telling their stories and an outlet to do so.”
Individuals involved are coming together to form a free writing program for veterans as a way to cope with depression and anxiety. Hensley is serving as the planner and the organizer of the project alongside teachers Samuel Church and Daniel Proffitt.
“We have amazing English teachers here at Elizabethton High School that are excellent teachers of different forms of writing that are willing to give up their free time to prepare and teach these classes,” Hensley said. “I think that speaks volumes about our faculty.”
According to Proffitt, the program can be a key benefit for veterans.
“This in itself can be cathartic and cleansing to the veterans, their families and the community in general,” he said. “We hope this provides members of the program a way to talk about anything they feel they cannot say out loud. Perhaps this will help them exorcise some demons from the past or assist the community to surround these men and women with the love and support they need.
“Second, this part may take several years, but we hope to make these stories and poems that veterans create, publish them, and give all the profit back to various veteran support programs and institutes,” he continued.
The Department of Veterans Affairs reported in 2016 that roughly 20 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide. During 2014, over 7,400 veterans took their own life, ultimately making up 18 percent of suicides in America.
With such alarming rate, Church seconded Proffitt’s sentiments.
“Good writing is an honest exploration and observation of being human,” he said. “This is where, I believe, the catharsis of writing comes in. We learn so much through reading and writing. About ourselves. About others. We become more honest with ourselves, and we become more empathetic.”
The teachers added they’ll go through forms of writing, but start off with poetry.
“We will start with poetry since, to us, it seems more accessible,” Proffitt said. “Each week the members of the workshops will be given examples of techniques we hope to see in the writing.  The week that follows, we hope to see the techniques in their writing and use the time to improve each piece.  While we are not experts at writing and are still learning ourselves, our experiences with writing instruction should be beneficial to producing quality pieces.
The writing program is currently scheduled for June 12, 26 and July 10, 24, and last from 6 to 7 p.m.
Hensley added there is no registration or sign up required.
“If the program is successful, we would love to continue doing it over future summer breaks,” he said. “It is open any local veteran.”
Hensley also thanked the library staff for their continual support.
“The public library is the community center of Carter County and Elizabethton,” he said. “We currently partner with the library on several projects, so it was a logical location for us.”

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