I’ve been a part of the Brushwood team since July 2020. I am the Veteran Program Coordinator at Brushwood Center and lead the At Ease: Nature + Art for Veteran's program. I love creating a space for Veterans to enjoy nature and building a safe place for wellness. While I create and coordinate programs for Veterans, I also love participating alongside my fellow Veterans in our nature walks, musical concerts and art programs. The At Ease program has served hundreds of Veterans and family members each year since 2014!
This year, I continued our photography and birding programs, added weekly nature walks with Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, and I launched our first annual women Veterans nature and wellness retreat. Many of the women Veterans said they loved having a space to connect to other women, Veterans, and nature. Brushwood Center hosted 15 women Veterans during the retreat; I would love to double or even triple those numbers next year! With additional donations, we could expand our capacity and be better able to meet that goal.
Below are photos from our final outing of the year with Lovell VA. Since the summer, our weekly outings with Lovell Center included guided walks throughout Lake County Forest Preserves, Chicago Botanic Gardens, Illinois Beach State Park and Waukegan Dunes. The photos featured here are from our guided forest bathing session, where forest therapy guide Sarah Abu-Absi had us reflect on the relationship between the forest and ourselves. Many of the Veterans found it calming and therapeutic.
My name is Kyle Boyer-Hanks and I am an intern at the Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. I have been part of the Brushwood team for just one month and I assist with the At Ease program. I love that I have found a unique sense of calm just by working at Brushwood. I am currently on active duty in the Navy, and military life is extremely stressful. I love being able to get outside in nature with fellow service members and Veterans and reconnect with the world around us. When contemplating what career I wanted to pursue when I left the military, I knew that I wanted to give back. I found Brushwood through the Department of Defense SkillBridge Internship Program (a program that allows service members leaving the military to intern with a participating organization). I was initially attracted to the close relationship Brushwood has with art and music, but since working here, I have seen first-hand how the work that we do positively impacts the community.
In 2022, the At Ease program has seen an increase—weekly, in some cases— in programs that have allowed hundreds of Veterans to gain more consistent access to nature. In doing so, we have received positive feedback. For example, one participant of the weekly Nature Platoon outings said, “[These nature walks]…I never want to miss them. No matter how I feel in the morning, I know the benefits of them. They calm me, and I’ve found a sense of community.”
This speaks to the life-changing work we’re doing. Your contribution will...
- Help us grow the At Ease program by allowing us to host events more frequently. Veterans and service members appreciate a recurring and consistent schedule.
- Help purchase items like folding lawn chairs, canes, walking sticks, etc. for participants to use if needed. Since we work with a population that often has physical disabilities, our programs could be made more accessible and inclusive with these items.
Our At Ease program appeals to people from all walks of life. Participants of our programs represent Veterans and service members of all ages, women, the LGBTQ+ community, BIPOC, etc. At Ease is a home for all.