by Tyler Williams
Work Vessels for Vets (WVFV) began in Noank and its mission is to assist veterans returning to the U.S. as they begin their civilian careers or continue educational pursuits. WVFV helps assist these veterans by donating to them the necessary start-up tools (e.g. laptops, vehicles, machinery, tools, commercial vessels, etc.). The organization’s inaugural gift of a fishing boat in 2008 to an Iraq veteran helped coin the name “Work Vessels for Vets,” although today the donations are not limited to boats/vessels.
It all started when lifelong lobsterman, John Niekrash, CEO and founder of WVFV, was building a new commercial lobster boat and needed to decide what to do with his used but trusted vessel. The lobster boat ultimately went to Marine Reservist Richard Giguere of RI, who had recently returned from two tours in Iraq. Today, Richard is actively working the boat in Narragansett Bay supporting his family as a commercial fisherman.
Purple Heart recipient, Adam Burke, 90% disabled, was in Iraq for a year and a half before he was wounded in a mortar attack. Upon his return home, he found that he was having difficulties in many aspects of his life. His speech and memory were the most notable changes and he was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is undergoing treatment and therapy with the VA System and the progress is slow and tiresome.
Adam has a background in horticulture and he found that working with plants, specifically his specialty, blueberries, is one of the most therapeutic treatments available. Before working with plants, Adam’s blood pressure was thru the roof and he was walking with a cane. He no longer needs a cane and his blood pressure is significantly down! What is truly remarkable is that Adam said, “I had pictures taken of my brain before my work with plants and pictures taken after and I now see an 80% improvement of blood flow to my brain.” Adam hopes he can offer other vets an opportunity to experience these kinds of transformations.
WVFV is working closely with Adam to help start a second blueberry farm in Jacksonville, FL, where Adam and his wife have relocated to be close to his treatment center. WVFV is an incredibly helpful organization to veterans and Adam exclaimed, “John is an amazing man, he has flown down to Florida twice to meet with me.” About a month ago, WVFV purchased 8 acres of land with grant funding and is leasing it back to Adam for a 30-year period at the cost of $1.00 a year. This generous gift allows the working farm to also be a sanctuary for other disabled vets to work and rebuild their lives. Adam is even holding a Vets Farm Cleanup Day on May 22 at his Jacksonville farm to introduce vets to this type of therapy.
WVFV is helping put together this program, “Project Blueberry,” to foster rehabilitation in horticulture therapy. Adam said, “I am very excited about this type of therapy and would like to offer this to other veterans that are encountering many of the issues that I face.” Adam will partner with the local VA Healthcare system and the University of Florida Agricultural Department and he said, “We will supply the tools, regular training, resources education and caring environment for veterans interested in this type of therapy.”
Adam has many plans to help make the Jacksonville farm a productive farm and he said, “We plan to plant two year old blueberry plants this year, which will allow for picking next year.” The Jacksonville farm will also continue to make the specialty jam called “Red, White and Blueberry Jam” and his goal is to produce enough jam to become profitable. Adam wants to be able to give back to WVFV and some of the monetary proceeds from the farm will be used as donations to WVFV, assisting other veterans in starting their business careers across the country.