A Community Living Center (CLC) is a VA Nursing Home where Veterans may stay for a short time or, in rare instances, for the rest of their life.
For many, adjusting to their new living arrangements can prove challenging, so the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System and its community partners do all they can to cultivate an environment filled with comfort and healing. On July 13, members from the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary (DAV) 18 came to view the outcome of their shared dedication to serving those who served.
“When you’re standing in the garden, it’s just like you’re in God’s world,” said DAV 18 Senior Vice Commander Edyth Bradford. “The outdoor air, vibrant flowers, tranquil butterflies, and the soothing sound of water creates a very peaceful space. It gives these lovely Veterans a chance to see something beautiful.”
Bradford led the charge to ensure the fountain, which is in the Butterfly Garden within the CLC, was restored. And thanks to a generous monetary donation from DAV 18, her hope was realized.
“I’m a WWII Army brat. I became involved in this organization because, one day, it occurred to me that I must start giving back,” Bradford said. “It feels wonderful to have a positive impact on the lives of people who have given us so much.”
As luck would have it, Bradford wasn’t alone in her quest to beautify the garden. When CLC resident Norman Barley noticed the fountain wasn’t the only area in need of repair, the U.S. Marine Corps Veteran decided to do something about it.
“About a year ago, I was out in the garden, and I observed a lack of butterflies. That’s what got me started,” Barley shared. “I got a couple books and did some research. I started by planting the milkweed and it continued growing from there.”
Although Barley led the revitalization efforts, he worked closely with recreational therapists to beautify the space.
“As recreation therapists, we’re tasked with inspiring them to do more than they thought they were capable of,” said Bay Pines VA’s Lead Recreation Therapist at the CLC, Jenny Campbell. “When Veterans come to us, they’re dealing with a hardship, so our team really tries to meet them at their level then get them to a place where they’re amazed by what they achieve.”
For Barley, his work in the garden is a continuation of other creative ventures that help soothe his mind. But his dedication also serves to inspire his fellow Veterans.
“We will often share Mr. Barley’s accomplishments and when people see what he’s done, it solidifies that they can have a similar experience,” Campbell shared. “He’s such an active participant in our community and it’s truly an honor to be able to help him cultivate something that brings him joy.”
In addition to coming to view the impact of their contribution, members of DAV 18 also spread some early holiday cheer. Residents of the CLC experienced Christmas in July as the dedicated Veteran advocates distributed gift bags filled with items such as non-skid socks, puzzle books, toiletries, and coupon books for the canteen at the medical center.
“I started Christmas in July about four years ago and I’m happy to be back after the COVID precautions were relaxed,” Bradford added. “I believe the work we do, and the work VA does is all for the purpose of giving back. I’ll do whatever I can to support that.”
Those who are interested in giving back to Bay Pines VA Veterans can visit https://www.va.gov/bay-pines-health-care/work-with-us/volunteer-or-donate/ to learn more.