During their sophomore year in the honors program, seniors Lauren Stanich and Matt Sedlacek were assigned only one word for their honors project: veterans.
As you can imagine, their research started with an incredibly broad scope. At first, they looked into issues on the national scale before moving towards the local level and veterans in Dubuque.
Early on in their research, one statistic in particular stood out to the team. A recent study indicated that 22 veterans commit suicide each day. This was something that piqued their interest.
“As we talked with members in the community at local organizations, including the Dubuque County Veterans Affairs and General Assistance Office and the Veteran’s Freedom Center (VFC), mental health and the importance of community were themes that repeatedly came up,” Stanich said.
After narrowing the scope of their project to mental health, the group partnered with Jim Wagner, the founder of the VFC, and Dedra Tentis, a veteran and retired professor. Together, they began discussing ideas to address this prevalent issue in Dubuque’s veteran community.
Ultimately, they decided that establishing athletic programs at the VFC would be a great solution. Not only do athletics provide a sense of community, but they also bring about all the benefits of exercise: the release of endorphins, improved blood circulation, improved sleep, and better health in general. This is exactly what Dubuque’s veteran population needed.
Stanich and Sedlacek are in their final year of the project and have done a lot with their time in the program. This semester, both Stanich and Sedlacek participate in yoga classes with the veterans on Tuesdays and continue to spend time outside of their weekly yoga sessions getting to know the men and women who served our country. However, both already had a pretty good understanding of the veteran experience prior to signing up for this project.
“Besides having family in the military, the relationship between veterans and the community has always interested me,” Stanich said. “Regardless of political beliefs, all civilians have a responsibility in recognizing the sacrifices made by men and women who have served and doing our best to make reintegration back into society an easier process.”
“My brother serves in the military,” Sedlacek said, sharing his personal connection to the project. “My psychology major piqued my interest in studying ways to improve the psychological and physical well-being of veterans. The project was also an amazing opportunity to interact with the community.”
Moving forward, the team is planning on creating a Humans-of-New-York type oral history of the veterans in our community. Their goal is to humanize the veterans and share their stories in a relatable manner. Their focus is on veterans from Vietnam in order to explore both positive and negative experiences during and after their service.
The project will hopefully be completed before graduation in the spring. Sedlacek and Stanich are hoping to pass their project onto another honors group who can maintain their partnership with the VFC.