Mission accomplished. From October 15th to October 17th, The Long Walk Home (TLWH) hosted a weekend retreat and dolphin swim for Veterans in the Florida Keys. This was an opportunity for Veterans to de-stress, connect with one another, and interact with some fascinating animals. We are so grateful to Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder (DPMMR) for providing this experience, and for the amazing care they give their dolphins.

On the 16th, several Veterans graciously volunteered for DPMMR, helping paint and landscape on their property. The military teaches us to be of service, and that should be no different in civilian life. Helping others is the greatest gift we can give. Thank you to all of those who offered a helping hand for DPMMR. For their help and service, the retreat group was repaid in the best way possible: a swim with dolphins. On the 17th, each Veteran got to spend time in the water with the animals. Nobody could hide their smiles. “It’s overwhelming the amount of love that we felt today,” said Duane Stamm, a Marine Veteran and frequent volunteer for TLWH. Moments before, Duane was riding the fins of a dolphin as it shot across the water.

When TLWH hosts a retreat, the ultimate goal is to bring Veterans together and support one another. Plenty of laughs were had, and connections made. “We’re a family,” said Kevin Rouse, a Coast Guard Veteran who attended the retreat. The group was also treated to a poolside barbeque and a karaoke dinner. Our founder, Ron Zaleski, performed AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”—a rendition with all the passion of the original, if not the tone.

By the time it was ready for everyone to head back to their homes, spirits were high. New friendships had been made. We don’t consider our retreats “therapy”, but we also understand the great healing effect that interacting with animals and meeting like-minded people can have on an individual. If we can put a smile on the face of fellow Veterans, then we know we’ve achieved something special.

The Long Walk Home is not an organization that claims to have all the answers and solutions. For us, the solution is to work hard and work together, but also have fun in the process. To create a better situation for Veterans who might need help, retreats like these are a small piece of the puzzle. We also offer an online Mentorship Program, to offer one-on-one support and guidance for Veterans. In addition, we frequently host local events for Veterans in Florida. Our annual Veterans Day Bike Ride at Fort De Soto Park will be taking place on November 13th, and we also have our next ‘Battle of the Branches’ axe throwing tournament on December 1st.

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