“I WANT OUR COMMUNITY TO STAND FOR SOMETHING THAT GOOD”

 

Second Annual Mission: No Barriers Takes first step toward Accessible Community status

By Caitlin Switzer

REGIONAL-A little over three years ago, Melanie Kline watched a CBS Sunday Morning feature that focused on the challenges that face America’s wounded veterans as they return to Civilian life. In addition to Joe Mornini and Team River Runner, the program featured Gary Love and his son Todd, a wounded veteran, as well as wounded veteran Jared Bolhuis. The program affected her so profoundly that Kline considered making a donation to Team River Runner.

She started a non-profit organization instead. The Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans, known locally as Welcome Home Montrose, was created in 2011, with the ultimate goal of establishing Montrose as a No Barriers community where veterans can live, work, and revel in the freedom to engage in sports and activities that are not so accessible to them elsewhere.

From May 12 through 17 2015, Welcome Home Montrose and the Warrior Resource Center will host the second annual Mission: No Barriers, welcoming a group of medically-retired veterans to Montrose for a week of “recreation, relaxation and hometown hospitality.” The week kicks off May 12 with a community potluck at 5:30 p.m. at the Warrior Resource Center at 11 South Park Ave.

During the official opening ceremonies on May 16, Team River Runner will make the first official descent of the new whitewater park, Kline said.

“I am excited to watch them experience that portal,” she said, “and I am excited to bring visibility to our wounded warriors in a new way that is accessible to the community, so that they can interact with people who have the ability to thank them face to face.”

Now that the community has so embraced the concept of welcoming America’s returning warriors, Kline has high hopes that Montrose can become an “accessible tourism” destination.

“When I first watched that program, it struck me when Todd Love said that he felt so free in the water,” Kline said. “If our community could make the changes to become fully accessible, it would allow people with disabilities—my piece is focused on veterans, but this would also benefit families who have children with disabilities—to wake up in the morning, say ‘I feel like going kayaking,’ and then be able to take themselves.

“It is about quality of life, and freedom,” she said. “My goal would be to have that kind of freedom here in Montrose for anyone who needs it.”

Accessible Tourism is increasingly highlighted worldwide, note Authors Dimitrios Buhalis, Simon Darcy and Ivor Ambrose of Best Practices in Accessible Tourism (Channel View Publications 2012).

“Accessible tourism is not only about providing access to people with disabilities but also it addresses the creation of universally designed environments that can support people that may have temporary disabilities, families with young children, the ever increasing ageing population as well as creating a safer environment for employees to work… accessible tourism organizations and destinations can expand their target markets as well as improve the quality of their service offering, leading to greater customer satisfaction, loyalty and expansion of business,” the authors write.

Here in Montrose, the idea is a perfect fit, Kline believes. She cites a recent Harris Poll conducted in conjunction with the Open Doors Organization and the Travel Industry Association of America, which notes that the 50 million people with disabilities in the U.S. have a combined income of more than $175 billion, and in 2002, took 32 million trips and spent more than $13.6 billion on travel ($4.2 billion on hotels, $3.3 billion on airfare, $2.7 billion on food and beverage, and $3.4 billion on retail, transportation and other activities.

“My piece is the veterans’ piece, but there is so much more,” Kline said. “It’s so important. Independence is the key word, and that’s something we have here on the Western Slope.”

The fact that almost every individual featured in the CBS Sunday Morning documentary is coming to Montrose is very exciting, she said, and proof that the Mission: No Barriers concept is succeeding. Also very rewarding is the fact that Welcome Home Montrose was able to make a $10,000 donation to Team River Runner, to help further the mission and defray costs of coming to Mission: No Barriers.

Kline recalls that in the early days of the City’s application for Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) funds to build the newly-opened Montrose Water Sports Park, the initial grant had been denied. “We talked about applying again, and (former Parks Planner) Dennis Erickson re-crafted the grant to include an adaptive sports piece,” she recalled. “We added a letter from Welcome Home Montrose about our mission to make Montrose a No Barriers City, and the grant was approved.

“Our mission at Welcome Home Montrose has always included outreach to any veteran who might want to move here and thrive,” she said. “The River speaks to the recreation piece big time.”

 

Veterans were faced with a menu of recreational choices at the first Mission: No Barriers, but this time they will move through activities as a group Kline said. “The whole idea is that we are your base camp for accessible adventure,” she said. “(WHM Host) Tim Kenney has doubled the size of the bunkhouse, so it sleeps 13. He is a wounded warrior himself, and he will be able to host his brothers in arms in comfort. Every day, there will be sunrise Tai Chi, a bonfire, meals and community events. This year, there are fewer choices and more focus.”

In addition to getting out on the River, vets will take part in archery classes with fellow vets Heath and Jesse McCombs of Max Archery, therapeutic riding with LaurieAnn Nelson of Montrose Therapeutic Riding Center, and fly fishing with Kenney’s guiding service, Toad’s Guide Shop, and Telluride Outside. Uncompahgre Valley Treasure Hunters will bring metal detectors for a ghost town outing, Kline said.

“There will be washers to find that they can turn in for treasures,” she said. “And so many groups have sponsored food—we are so thankful!”

Also supporting Mission: No Barriers will be the newly-opened Montrose Kayak & Surf at 11 South Maple and, said Manager Bill Glasscock, and the new Four Corners Paddling School at 302 West Main St.

“Montrose Kayak and Surf will be hosting a fund raising barbeque for Welcome Home Montrose from 4pm to 6 pm on May 14,” Glasscock said, adding that 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the non-profit. “Get a grilled item, burger or hot dog with chips or a side and a drink for an $8 donation and of course anyone can donate more if they can or want to.” At 5:15, there will be a drawing for a personal flotation device, also known as a life jacket, he said.

Should some of the visiting warriors choose to move to Montrose, the rural, agricultural lifestyle has much to offer them, Kline said.

“Veterans need jobs that allow them to serve America, because they go into the military to serve in the first place,” she said. “Here on the Western Slope, they can help feed America—which is just as good.

“Mission: No Barriers connects us to the veterans we would like to have move here,” she continued. “We can tell them about our dream job program. And it’s cool to celebrate them. In that documentary, Jared talked about feeling trapped, and how being with his brothers in arms and teaching gave him his life back. I found myself wondering why these guys needed to wait for a group to help get them out—what if they lived here, and could go independently whenever they wanted. Do I live in a community willing to make the changes that will allow them to achieve this? Accessible tourism.

“I want our community to stand for something that good.”

Call the Warrior Resource Center 970-765-2210 for information or visit www.WelcomeHomeMontrose.org for a detailed schedule of Mission: No Barriers 2015