Kieve-Wavus recently completed two five-day pilot programs for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The program gave veterans and their families a chance to reconnect and enjoy a range of physical, creative and healing activities on the Kieve campus.

For many, program activities such as yoga, tai chi, rock climbing, whittling, acupuncture, snowshoeing and pottery were new and welcomed adventures.

“We saw an incredible amount of positive change occur over the course of the program,” said Kelly McLean, a counselor who volunteered from the Sanford Vet Center, in a news release. “I saw three months of healing take place over the course of five days. It was amazing.”

Program participant John McLean of Yarmouth told the group that this was the first time since he got back in 2005 that he has been able to let his guard down and relax.

In addition to numerous scheduled activities there was plenty of time to just relax and enjoy the company with others who share the same experiences. Evening activities included entertainment by magician Rick Bernard of St. George and jugglers Jason and Matt Tardy, as well as a karaoke night. The Pemaquid Fisherman’s Co-op prepared an authentic Down East-style lobster bake cooked outside with a raging wood fire. Staff of the Kennedy Leaning Center also prepared excellent food. Joy Knowlton and Greg Moebius made appetizers of fresh Maine shrimp tacos with an avocado salsa.

One participant, a 65-year-old veteran who served last year in Iraq as part of the engineering corps, discovered a passion for pottery. Most mornings, Joe was at the wheel, classical music playing in the background and the beginnings of a beautiful bowl in front of him. Alan Baldwin of Artsake Framing in Damariscotta joined the Kieve staff as the program’s pottery teacher. He gracefully guided veterans and their families in making mugs, bowls, tiles and other creations. Most importantly, he helped them discover the joy of art. Many of the participants said they would continue to pursue the passions they developed at Kieve — whether it was ice fishing, pottery, whittling or just walking in the woods.

Over the course of the last two weeks, many amazing stories unfolded. Three soldiers were unexpectedly reunited after they parted ways in Iraq in 2005 as a result of the mess hall bombing in Mosul that left many in their unit injured or dead. The three men were surprised to cross paths at Kieve and have vowed to stay connected. For one couple, the week at Kieve served as their honeymoon; they were married three days before Chris’ year-long deployment, and only now, several months after his return, did they celebrate.

Kieve’s first cohort showed an incredible willingness to jump headfirst into new activities as well as into a program that had never been run before.

“I watched participants scale up our indoor rock climbing wall with tenacity, grace and determination — the same way they served our country,” said Program Director Maria Millard.

Development and 9/11 Family Camp Director Russ Williams said the program was a “home run!”

The veterans’ service inspired incredible generosity, especially in the local region. As has been the case during the past eight years with the 9/11 Family Camp, local businesses and community members readily stepped forward to offer their support. Kieve thanked The Carpenter’s Boat Shop in Pemaquid for providing excellent and spirited whittling and yoga teachers, Big Al’s for Maine gifts, and the Pemaquid Fisherman’s Co-op, Aw Shucks Oyster Shucker, Pemaquid Oyster Company, Atypical Entertainment, Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, Bath Savings Bank, Damariscotta Bank & Trust, DJ Steve Hughes, Family Ice in Falmouth, First Federal Savings & Loan, Flowers by Judy Doe, Franklin Saving Bank, Gritty McDuff’s, Hidden Valley Nature Center, Maine Coast Book Shop & CafĂ©, Maine Sport Outfitters, magician Rick Bernard, the Shelter Institute, Shipyard Brewing, Weatherbird and Yellowfront Grocery. Kieve said that without the generosity of these businesses the program would not have been the success it was.