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VETS peer outreach center looking for mentors

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The Vets Peer-to-Peer Outreach Center is looking for more volunteer peer mentors to assist current and former servicemen and women by offering a shoulder to lean on during times of trouble.

Charles D. Coulter, peer-to-peer mentor leader, said members of the military and veterans alike have used the drop-in center a total of 330 times since the office at 247 State St. opened in December.

In order to reach more people, the agency seeks additional mentors to listen to veterans and share their own stories.

“We can communicate and talk to each other,” Mr. Coulter said. “We’ve been through the same thing. We’re here to help other veterans so they can get back into the brotherhood bond they had before. When we get out into the community, a lot of people don’t understand you.”

John F. Makowecki, who was stationed at Fort Drum from 1997 to 2000, said that as a peer mentor, he talks with other servicemen and women about issues they are dealing with. At the same time, he said, that also helps him heal some of his own old wounds.

“They know where you’re coming from and where you’ve been,” he said. “Come as you are. There’s no face to put on; we understand.”

The non-clinical, community-based facility is under the auspices of the Mental Health Association in Jefferson County. Its goals are to promote wellness, improve coping skills, reduce concerns and foster social networking along with group support and provide referrals to other programs and services when needed.

“A lot of times it’s just listening,” said Mr. Coulter, who also is a veteran. “A lot of veterans have a stigma about being diagnosed with mental health issues and others have a stigma with the system in that they weren’t helped properly.”

Vets Peer-to-Peer Outreach Center is that steppingstone to the right pathway, he said.

Generations of veterans have walked through the doors, including those from the Korean War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, but has extended hours until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. Veterans, service members and their families are welcome to stop by the State Street facility.

Mr. Coulter said there are five peer mentors now, but he’d like to have a minimum of 10. Anyone interested in becoming a mentor can call the agency at 681-6772.

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