Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.
Faith Dickinson was six-years-old when a young father from her tiny hometown of Buckhorn, Ont., was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Corporal Nick Bulger had two young daughters.
"It was really sad," Faith told us. "Our community rallied around his family and other soldiers still serving there."
Now 12, Faith has made more than 100 fleece blankets for soldiers and veterans. "They leave their families behind, risk their lives and then struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder when they come home," she explains. "I want them to know how brave they are and that everyone back home cares about them."
There are many ways to serve our country, but joining the military is a special kind of contribution. Canadians who sign up do so knowing their physical and emotional health could at great risk. And despite our society's varied opinions about war, most agree that our soldiers' sacrifice should be recognized.
Both Canadian and American governments have been criticized for offering inadequate benefits and services for veterans. But our neighbours to the south do a remarkable job at the community level in supporting their veterans' return to civilian life. For example, there are countless U.S. organizations and web sites dedicated to "hiring a vet" and providing volunteer opportunities that allow vets to serve their country in new ways, including helping other veterans reintegrate into society.
This May 8 marks the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe, or VE, Day. But it's not only veterans of World War II who deserve recognition for their sacrifice. Military men and women who were deployed in Afghanistan as well as on other missions are our neighbours and a vital part of this country's social fabric. It's in everyone's interest to help them succeed in life.
This week's question: How can each of us reach out to support the Canadian Armed Forces' veterans in our communities?
Tom Eagles, dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion in Plaster Rock, N.B.
"Our ill or injured military personnel tend to progressively isolate themselves, particularly after they have returned from a deployment. If you know of a friend, a neighbour or even a family member who is a veteran and may be suffering reach out to them and to their local legion, so that they know they are not alone."
Deborah Norris, professor of family studies at Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax
"Recognize that veterans and their families are assets to our communities, with leadership skills and resilience developed through deployments and relocations. Invite them to participate in and help organize neighbourhood events—street festivals, garage sales or fundraisers—to offer them a sense of community and make use of the talents and energy they have to give."
Shaun Francis, chair of the True Patriot Love Foundation in Toronto
"Employers can take the time to hire a veteran and empower that veteran to recruit and mentor others. Veterans are proven leaders who are loyal, smart and hardworking and will make your workforce more effective."
Faith Dickinson, veterans' blanket maker in Buckhorn, Ont.
"I hand out blankets to veterans at Remembrance Day ceremonies and the hospital. I send some to returning soldiers who are injured or have PTSD, and I mail special ones to the wives and children of veterans who have committed suicide in recent years. For their daughters, I make princess blankets."
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