Ministry helps veterans readjust to civilian life

Welcome Home groupAmerican Press composite

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A program where veterans can work through their difficulties together as they make the transition to civilian life launched this week at First United Methodist Church as part of the church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry.

The Welcome Home group will meet each Monday night at the church, 812 Kirkman St., to discuss what’s going on in their lives and receive help using the 12-step model, said Allen McLaughlin, ministry leader for the program.  

They’ll join the rest of Celebrate Recovery for an open meeting at 6 p.m. before breaking off as a group, he said. Two local veterans have volunteered to lead.

McLaughlin said there’s an “enormous need” for this type of ministry in the Lake Charles area.

“When you join the military, you’re part of an extraordinary brotherhood with a mission and cause,” he said. “It’s an enormous bond, and then quite often when someone’s tour of service ends you’re just plopped back into the community.”

That was the case for Charles Harper, who volunteered to lead the group after being approached by McLaughlin about the opportunity. Harper said he struggled to switch gears from the military to university life back when he was in school.

“When I got out, you have this camaraderie and it’s gone,” Harper said. “I got to college, and I felt different than the people in the desks sitting next to me.”

Harper, now an attorney for Citgo, said he feels for the young people who are returning to the U.S. after multiple deployments.

“I’ve talked to a lot of young veterans, and there’s something missing,” Harper said, adding the group is a great opportunity for them to speak with people who use the “same vocabulary.”

Group leader Jeff Hennigan, a local dentist serving in the Air National Guard, said the church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry has changed lives since starting two years ago and that he’s excited to see it now include veterans.

“There’s a lot of hurting people in the world, and veterans certainly fall into that category,” Hennigan said. 

McLaughlin said he was reminded of the need for increasing local support for veterans when a retired Marine came to the church recently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He said the man had just lost his job and was “drinking like a fish.”

“I just couldn’t speak his lingo, but these guys can,” said McLaughlin, motioning to Harper and Hennigan. “These guys know the shoes that he’s walked in, and I think that’s what’s going to make the difference.”

For more information about Celebrate Recovery or the Welcome Home group, contact Melonie Himel at 337-436-6656.

‘I’ve talked to a lot of young veterans, and there’s something missing.’

Charles Harper

Welcome Home group leader