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174th Members help veterans through community based outreach program

Melissa Spicer, co-founder and president of the Board of Directors for Clear Path for Veterans, stands in front of the fallen soldier memorial at the Clear Path facility located in Chittenango, NY on 7 September 2013. Clear Path is a community based veteran outreach center which provides a place for veterans to go for information on several different programs and services that go beyond standard healthcare and education. (New York Air National Guard Photo by Senior Airman Duane Morgan)

Melissa Spicer, co-founder and president of the Board of Directors for Clear Path for Veterans, stands in front of the fallen soldier memorial at the Clear Path facility located in Chittenango, NY on 7 September 2013. Clear Path is a community based veteran outreach center which provides a place for veterans to go for information on several different programs and services that go beyond standard healthcare and education. (New York Air National Guard Photo by Senior Airman Duane Morgan)

Hancock Field Air Natioional Guard Base, Syracuse, New York -- Where can veterans and their families go for support and to get information on a variety of programs and services that go beyond standard health care and education? The answer is simple, it's Clear Path. Established in 2011, Clear Path is a community based veteran's outreach center that is focused on helping both active duty and non-active duty veteran's and their families reintegrate into our local communities after proudly serving their country. An equally important part of Clear Paths mission is to work with the community and try to educate them on the life cycle of a warrior.

Clear Path is a non-profit organization whose existence began as a result of a conversation that occurred between Melissa Spicer, Co-Founder and President of the Board of Directors , and a retired Air Force veteran. During this meeting, the two discussed the challenges that veterans and their families face when they transition from military life back into the civilian community. Motivated to address these veteran's issues on a community level, the outreach center was conceived and eventually established.

Located on 78 acres, the center offers completely renovated facilities that veterans can find social and economic support.

"The facility is gorgeous," said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Stafford, family readiness administrative assistant. "It's almost like a resort. It's a very inviting, relaxing and a place that I enjoy visiting."

Having a facility that feels welcoming was one of the main reasons Spicer chose the facility.

"I knew of this place from when I was younger. It was a family recreation center and I thought it would be an excellent place for an outreach center," said Spicer.

Clear Path offers many services and programs such as a support group and a "warrior reset" program that offers veterans and their families the opportunity to try alternative health options such as acupuncture and massage therapy. These events allow veterans and their families a day of social engagement, recreation and good food.

Clear Path also offers a Service Dog Program (Dogs2Vets). This program pairs a veteran who may have had a traumatic experience with a service dog. It allows veterans to train their own service dogs alongside other veterans.

As a non-profit organization, Clear Path is staffed by only two paid employees who they themselves are veterans. The remaining Clear Path staff members are volunteers made up of both veterans and non-veterans. From January 1, 2013 to August 31, 2013 Clear Path has logged in 5,000 volunteer hours.

"If we paid all the volunteers for those hours, we would've paid $1.2 million in staffing," said Spicer.

Non-profit organizations are always facing the challenge of receiving funding. There are also people who out there who believe that outreach programs aren't needed because VA centers are supposed to handle all veteran issues.

"Community outreach centers aren't meant to replace the VA, they're here to compliment them," said Spicer.

Multiple members of Hancock Field Air National Guard base volunteer at Clear Path to help veterans make the transition from their military career back to their civilian status. Lt. Col. Daniel Tester, 174th Operations Support Squadron Commander, Staff Sgt. Benjamin Stafford, and Mike Petinelli, Wing Director of Psychological Health sit on the veteran advisory board for Clear Path.


"If we don't better understand the needs of the warrior, support them, understand what they need and listen to them when they tell us what they need, then the desire to serve will lessen," said Spicer.

Spicer said that there are plans to expand Clear Path into cities across the country in the future.

"We feel that our model here can be used anywhere," said Spicer

For more information on Clear Path for Vets, visit ClearPathForVets.com