Montrose is a pretty little town with 19,000 citizens, nestled in the mountains of southern Colorado, where people come to raft along the Uncompahgre River and enjoy the outdoor beauty.
But Melanie Kline thinks she can make Montrose even better by becoming the most vet-friendly town in America. Kline is the founder of Welcome Home Montrose, a nonprofit that strives to make veterans feel valued and cared for in all aspects of their lives.
One of the nonprofit’s initiatives is the Dream Job program, through which wounded veterans live in Montrose for six months for an internship with a “dream job” and are provided free housing. The first participants included former Marines Joshua Heck, who wants to work in horticulture and Edward J. Lyons III, who wants to be a high school teacher. Buckhorn Gardens and the Montrose School District mentored them in their chosen fields, while citizen of Montrose sponsored their housing. Heck stayed on after his internship, and works in a plant nursery.
So far 560 veterans have registered for services through Montrose’s Warrior Resource Center, which provides them with information about adaptive sports, applying for benefits, suicide prevention, higher education, job training and placement, financial assistance, counseling, social activities, wellness and alternative healing resources and more.
“This place is a lifesaver,” Army National Guard Spec. Tim Kenney, who suffers from PTSD, told Nancy Lofholm of the Denver Post. “It’s just a safe place to go. I drop in pretty often.” The center serves veterans from every war and conflict, from World War II to Afghanistan. Last summer, Welcome Home Montrose sponsored 20 veterans to visit for its Mission No Barriers week, during which volunteers kept vets busy with outdoor activities and community potlucks.
The entire town is involved in this mission, including the 33 businesses who’ve joined a veteran discount program, a military widow who stops by the Warrior Resource Center with baked goods every week, and an anonymous donor who pays for Executive Director Emily Smith’s salary and benefits. So far, the center mostly serves veterans who were already living in Montrose, but one day Kline hopes the town’s welcoming attitude will attract veterans from across the country to move there. Representatives of sixty communities have asked Welcome Home Montrose for information about how they can adapt this program for their own towns. Meanwhile, the residents of Montrose are making veterans feel more welcome than ever.
The people of Montrose “have the appreciation and the heart for what these veterans have done,” Smith says. “They just didn’t know before what to do for them.”