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Growing Veterans wins $175,000 mentoring grant

In this 2014 photo, Growing Veterans Director Chris Brown, left, talks to veteran Billy Pacaccio while processing lettuce at the nonprofit program’s organic farm south of Lynden. The program has won a three-year, $175,000 grant to train veterans to be effective “peer supporters” for other veterans.
In this 2014 photo, Growing Veterans Director Chris Brown, left, talks to veteran Billy Pacaccio while processing lettuce at the nonprofit program’s organic farm south of Lynden. The program has won a three-year, $175,000 grant to train veterans to be effective “peer supporters” for other veterans. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Growing Veterans, the nonprofit in Whatcom County that helps veterans ease into civilian life while growing healthy produce for the community, is one of 10 organizations in the country to win grants of up to $175,000 for innovative programs.

Growing Veterans will use the money to train veterans to become “effective peer supporters” to help other veterans, said Chris Brown, co-founder and director of Growing Veterans. Without such support, hundreds of veterans commit suicide each year, he said.

Brown said that for many veterans out of the service, seeking help such as counseling carries an unwarranted stigma of weakness. That’s why having veterans support other veterans has been an important part of the long-range plan for Growing Veterans.

“Having that encouragement to take those steps is very valuable,” he said.

Growing Veterans is one of 10 grant winners out of 1,138 applicants

The J.M.K. Innovation Prize is a new program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, a family foundation in New York. Growing Veterans and the other winners each receive $50,000 a year for three years, plus $25,000 for expenses.

The foundation says the prize supports “high-risk, early stage ideas being piloted or prototyped by dynamic visionaries.” The winners were chosen from a pool of 1,138 applicants

“It’s exciting to be worthy of that kind of group,” Brown said.

Brown, who grew up in King County, is a U.S. Marine combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. While in Iraq, he was injured during a suicide-bombing attack on his base. He sustained a brain injury and copes with chronic knee and back pain, ringing in his ears, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

After his service, Brown attended Western Washington University to study human services with a focus on veterans’ issues. He helped start Growing Veterans in 2013, with veterans, staffers and volunteers growing produce on a farm south of Lynden. That farm will be planted with cover crops to rebuild the soil, so more produce will be grown on leased land south of Mount Vernon, and at a farm in Auburn that Growing Veterans works in conjunction with Seattle Tilth.

Produce from the farms goes to the Seattle VA hospital, food banks and other charities, and is sold at farmers’ markets and to restaurants.

The first training for veterans will be held in January, mostly for staff and volunteers at Growing Veterans. About 20 veterans will be trained at each follow-up session. Participants will include people from other veteran-support groups, and possibly members of military units that suffered heavy casualties, Brown said.

Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291

Information online

Growing Veterans: growingveterans.org

J.M. Kaplan Fund: jmkfund.org

Seattle Tilth: seattletilth.org

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