A new program launched this year offers military personnel, veterans, and military families the opportunity to connect.
Co-ordinated through the Royal Canadian Legions, Buddy Check Coffees is a peer-support program that offers participants an informal/friendship. The program is organized through the Operational Stress Injury Special Section (BSO Legion OSI), part of the Royal Canadian Legion.
“For those that don’t know, these Buddy Check coffees are for Veterans, serving members, and their families. It’s an opportunity to get out and mingle with others in a safe environment for all. Peer support is the main goal by getting others out of isolation,” Maggie Van Tassell informed.
Some Legion Branches have held regular Veteran get-togethers for years. However, not all have offered veterans the opportunity to connect. Buddy Check Coffees began last January to encourage more informal and simple, small gatherings of Veterans, regardless of Legion membership.
Van Tassell explained that they want to serve all Veterans, serving members, and their families, so there is no fee to participate. The program is co-ordinated and co-marketed by a local host who is a member of BSO Legion OSI.
“It’s an opportunity to get out with your families, have fun together, meet other Veterans and Serving Members, and share some laugher being outside in nature. Just seeing the smiles on the faces of those who are there participating, hearing the laugher, and witnessing the peer support makes it a real joy to me,” Maggie Van Tassell
Typically, the program would operate out of a local coffee shop or a branch of a local Legion, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Veterans Rick Thomas and Maggie Van Tassell had to think of an alternate way to continue their Buddy Check Coffees with a safe and viable approach.
Once the Province of Ontario began lifting lock-down restrictions at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they developed the Outside Buddy Check Coffees program.
The concept is amazingly simple, they envisioned a scheduled, regular outdoor get together of Veterans, serving members, and Silver Cross Families. With the support of District E Commander Crystal Cook and her Special Projects Chair Sheila Clayton, the first Buddy Check Coffee was held in Peacekeepers Park in Angus ON.
“The location had lots of room for social distancing, plenty of sun and shade, and participants merely needed to bring their lawn chairs. We had sign-in sheets, hand sanitizer, and masks on hand for those who needed one,” said Van Tassell.
She continued to explain excitedly, “Coffee, water, and Tim Bits were provided to nearly 60 Veterans, serving members and their families. The event was so well received by all who attended that subsequent events were planned.”
Over the last few months, there have been a few events organized:
- An event at Project Trauma Support in Perth ON. Hosted by the president of the BSO Legion OSI Special Section, Jill Carleton, and was supported by Perth Legion Branch 244.
- An event at Lake Ontario Park in Kingston, ON, and was co-hosted by Kerri-Lynne Tadeau, with the support of Legion Branch 560.
- A Buddy Check Coffee/Shore Fishing was held at Gull Lake in Gravenhurst ON, with support from District E and Gravenhurst Legion Branch 302. The Ladies Auxiliary put on a lunch for participants.
As a result of all the success, the Huntsville Legion is now organizing a bonfire with hotdog and marshmallow roasting for early November.
Van Tassell says that the Buddy Check Coffees program being held outside has been a resounding success and has widened participants’ scope.
Silver Cross Moms Darlene Cushman, Kathleen Smith, and Anna Loveman attended the event. Loveman came with her #14 car from the Canadian Heroes Foundation.
Also, from the Canadian Heroes Foundation was poet Sue Milner.
Honourary Lieutenant Colonel of the Military Police Academy, Nancy Siew, and Kerri-Lynn Tadeau, responsible for starting the Highway of Heroes ramp clean-up, brought the Highway of Heroes Memorial. Ontario Provincial Command Service Officers Sherry Culling and Pat Royce also attended to reach out and assist Veterans in need.
Van Tassell hopes Legion Districts across Ontario and Canada begin to host Buddy Check Coffees in the same manner.
She says Veterans, serving members, and their families love the concept of Buddy Check Coffees being held outside and have expressed that they would like more.
“It’s an opportunity to get out with your families, have fun together, meet other Veterans and Serving Members, and share some laugher being outside in nature. Just seeing the smiles on the faces of those who are there participating, hearing the laugher, and witnessing the peer support makes it a real joy to me,” she continued.
Peacekeepers Park, Angus ON., Project Trauma Support in Perth ON., and Lake Ontario Park in Kingston ON., will be annual events noted Van Tassell.
She expressed Veterans, serving members, and their families need to have an opportunity to go out and meet other military families, and knowing that they are not alone is huge in aiding with military families’ mental health.