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Vets helping vets: Soldiers Home residents to benefit from raised garden beds

Veterans begin planting in new raised garden beds
Veterans work with occupational therapist Emily Nowicki as they inaugurate new raised garden beds at the Milwaukee Soldiers Home on the Milwaukee VA campus.

Veterans living in the Milwaukee Soldiers Home will be tending gardens and playing cornhole this summer, thanks to the work of fellow Veterans.

Veterans involved in the recreational therapy program at the Milwaukee VA, as well as residents of the Soldiers Home, built the six raised garden beds and six cornhole game boards, along with some benches.

In turn, occupational therapist Emily Nowicki has started a gardening group for the residents of the Soldiers Home, which provides housing for Veterans at risk of homelessness.

“We’re planning to do weekly groups, so the Veterans who live here can grow fresh food and enjoy being outdoors and all the benefits of gardening,” said Nowicki, who noted that some of the residents have told her they miss having a yard.

“Gardening is so therapeutic,” she said. “We’re using it as another tool (to help the Veterans).”

Group sessions will include plant care along with wellness activities, Nowicki said, such as healthy recipes and self-care.

Nowicki noted that gardening promotes physical and mental health. It can calm nerves and promote recovery for those battling addiction. And working together can help forge relationships and connections with others.

The game boards and garden beds were built at All Hands Boatworks in Milwaukee, which regularly partners with the Milwaukee VA on Veteran projects. Financial support came from the Milwaukee Brewers Foundation and The Fenwick Foundation.

About 10 Veterans worked on the project, and the fruits of their labors were unveiled during a recent ice cream social at the Soldiers Home, where Veterans played cornhole and started filling the garden beds with soil, fertilizer and tomato plants.

“Hopefully we get a good harvest,” Nowicki said.

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