By Mary Beth Roach
Head of Clear Path for Veterans in Chittenango talks about programs in place that help veterans transition from military to civil life
Q: When and why was Clear Path for Veteran created?
A: Clear Path was created in 2011 by our cofounders Melissa Spicer, Melinda Sorrentino and Steve Kinney. The reason was to provide a community-centric resource center for veterans and their families, who are transitioning from military service to civilian life, as well as those veterans who already reside in our community, to establish a place for them to connect with other veterans. The primary focus at the time of the founding was to create a service dog training program for veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress, military sexual trauma or a traumatic brain injury.
Q: The center has evolved a lot over the past 10 or 11 years.
A: Yes, it has. The main facility at our Chittenango location is on 78 acres. Shortly after the formation of the service dog training program, the family support program was established. This was to ensure that veterans, military members, and their families were able to connect with other veterans, but also to receive individualized support to address any barriers or immediate needs the veteran and family member was experiencing and those who are transitioning from this area to a different area.
Q: Explain the range that you serve — age, military branches of service, geography?
A: Clear Path provides our holistic programs and services to veterans and their families throughout 33 counties in New York state — the counties in the North Country extend all the way to the Canadian border through Central New York, into the Southern Tier region in the Binghamton area, and then most recently in the Hudson Valley area. We serve all veterans of all eras, all branches, regardless of discharge status or disability.
Q: How many people do you estimate that you serve?
A: Last year we served just shy of 8,000 veterans through our events, our programs, our Wednesday canteen lunches. [This number represents veterans and family members who make repeat visits to the facility.] Unique veterans and family members in 2021, we served just shy of 2,000 veterans.
Q: What facilities and amenities do you offer to veterans and their families at your center?
A: At our main campus, we house our canine training program. We also house our peer and family support program. The peers go into the community and meet the veterans where they’re at if the veteran can’t get to our campus in Chittenango. Our warriors working program is housed in Chittenango and our different locations throughout the state. That’s a career-services focused program, providing career placement services to veterans and transitioning military members.
We also have a holistic wellness program at our main facility and that focuses on the six dimensions of wellness and delivering alternative methods of wellness — everything from polarity to acupuncture or massage therapy, yoga, meditation, reiki.
Q: Do you have satellite locations?
A: We have folks that work in the Broome County region, at the Broome County office building. The peer in Hudson Valley has an office at the Castle Point VA medical facility. The Rochester and Western New York peer, as well as the North Country peer, work remotely.
Q: Did I see something in the media about a capital campaign in the works?
A: Yes. The growing demand for our canine service dog training program, as well as the general holistic programs and services we’re offering at our main facility, are currently outgrowing our infrastructure. We are planning on embarking on a capital campaign to bring a stand-alone canine training facility to the property, as well as overnight efficiency cabins for those going through the intensive canine training service dog program, as well as those who attend our family and caregiver retreats throughout the year at our campus.
Q: Why do you think a center like Clear Path is so important?
A: Being a veteran myself [United States Marine Corps, 2005 to 2010] I’m biased to the mission of what we’re doing on a day-by-day basis, but I also have the opportunity to see the impact that we are able to have, not only transitioning veterans, but veterans throughout the Central New York and Greater New York region — providing a center where people can feel welcome, become well and then re-enter into their community whole, meeting veterans where they’re at, and providing a welcoming place for veterans to come interact with other veterans. We feel that when veterans return to their communities and thrive, the community thrives. Everything we’re doing is also helping prevent veterans from taking their own lives. That’s a big, big piece of the struggle in the veteran community. Everything we do on a day-to-day basis is a multi-pronged approach to ensure that there is overall veteran well-being.
For more information: Clear Path for Veterans is located at 1223 Salt Springs Road, Chittenango. Phone: 315-687-3300. Website: www.clearpath4vets.com.