Veterans' coffeehouses start in Groton, New London

Groton — Jack Casey requested information on female World War II veterans. Barry Russack called out to his shamrock-bandana-clad black lab, Rosi — a therapy dog in training — when she put her paws on visitors' laps. An Air Force veteran spoke of weapons used and short field takeoff landings completed in Vietnam.

They were among the 10 or so veterans gathered at the Groton Human Services building on Friday morning for Veterans' Coffeehouse, a program run by the Thames Valley Council for Community Action.

TVCCA started Veterans' Coffeehouse in Danielson three years ago, and then expanded the program to Stonington, Norwich and Mystic. The social services organization started groups in Groton and New London this year.

The Groton coffeehouse is every third Friday from 9 to 11 a.m., while the New London gathering is every first Friday at the New London Senior Citizens Center. Meetings may become more frequent as attendance grows.

Gina King, coordinator of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program at TVCCA, said the purpose of the coffeehouse is for veterans to socialize, form companionship and tell their stories. It's a place where veterans can swap feelings and stories that others wouldn't understand.

"I flew into L.A. when I came back, and I was spit on, and you never forget that," Russack said of returning from Vietnam. Others in the room said the same thing happened to them, or nodded in agreement.

Casey spoke of the need for veterans to leave a written record of who they are. He said he has registered 52,000 veterans on memorial sites, using discharge papers.

The coffeehouse included a call from John Paradis and Orville Grizzle, VA New England Healthcare System employees, for veterans to sign up for benefits. Paradis said more than 50 percent of veterans in New England are unaware of the benefits they've earned. After serving for 20 years in the Air Force, he feels this is his way to give back to the veteran community.

Being a third-generation veteran "really gave me a sense at a very young age what sacrifice meant," Paradis said, "and my dad was very emphatic: Never take a day for granted."

Grizzle, a retired Marine who completed three tours in Iraq, stressed the need for younger veterans to get involved in VFW posts and to update their technology.

Paradis and Grizzle got four attendees to sign up for benefits at the end of the session. One was Bonnie Page, engagement director for the Groton chapter of the veterans' organization Team RWB.

The Navy veteran tries to attend all the Veterans' Coffeehouses in the area.

"It gives you the sense of comradery again," she said. "It allows you to connect with local veterans and get the feeling that you're not alone."

She invited her friend Robert Barcelona, also a Navy veteran, to his first coffeehouse on Friday.

Barcelona plans on returning to the coffeehouse in the future. When you're a veteran, he said, society doesn't understand you, and he wants to do his part in helping other veterans.

e.moser@theday.com

If you go

The Groton coffeehouse is every third Friday from 9 to 11 a.m., while the New London gathering is every first Friday at the New London Senior Citizens Center. Meetings may become more frequent as attendance grows.

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