Using the Power of Words to Help Veterans
Students Write Book About the American Experience to Benefit Wounded Warriors; Veteran’s Story of Friendship with Goose Helps Combat Bullying
Words have power. They’re how we communicate, influence change, and share our love, fears, and emotions.
In these next cases, the power of words and the art of storytelling transcended age and experience to help inspire hope, create positive change, and even heal wounds from war.
‘The American Experience:’ Students Use Storytelling to Support Veterans
Ben Lewis teaches social studies and world cultures to sixth-grade students at Brenham Middle School in Brenham, Texas. As one can imagine, keeping 11- and 12-year-olds engaged in social studies could be a tall task, but Ben wanted his students to do more than just read textbooks.
“How can I help them learn what it means to be an American? I wasn't sure I was the guy for the job, so I thought veterans, immigrants, people over 60 have a good grip on what it means to be an American. I told them to go and talk to one or several of the people who fit into those categories,” Ben said.
When they brought their interviews back to read them to the class, Ben said they were amazing. “They were touching and heartfelt and eye-opening. They would talk to their grandpa about times of war or meet some new neighbor that they never took an interest in,” he said.
Ben didn’t initially intend to create a book with the project. However, his students decided to bind the interviews, create a cover, and sell it. The results inspired what became the first volume of “The American Experience.”
Students also planned to donate the book’s profits to charity. The class came up with all kinds of ideas – clean water in East Africa, earthquake relief in Haiti. Then, one student presented to the class about a charity he was passionate about – Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). After his presentation, the class voted and overwhelmingly selected WWP™ as the charity of choice.
This experience allowed Ben’s students, on a personal level, to learn more about veterans and their contributions to the country.
“It leads us into Veterans Day, and even though there's no direct tie between the book and Veterans Day, it's on their mind about the importance of veterans and the sacrifices that veterans have made,” Ben said. “And when they can talk to [veterans] in their family or in their community, it’s no longer just something you learned in class. It’s real.”
Ben’s classes recently released Volume 4 of their book. He says the students connect with the project and look forward to participating.
‘A Boy and His Goose:’ A Unique Friendship with an Anti-Bullying Message
It may be hard to think about an infantry soldier in the U.S. Army struggling with bullying, but it’s something wounded warrior Joel Brasier knows all too well.
Joel recalls being bullied as a kid. Serving his country didn’t end the bullying, either. When he got out of the military, he went to college, older than most of the other students, dealing with traumatic brain injury (TBI), and separated from his brothers and sisters in arms. He felt alone.
About the same time he was dealing with his issues at college, Joel got two baby goslings. After he raised them, he introduced them to the other geese. The female was accepted, but the boy goose, George, was bullied by the others. It was something Joel could empathize with, and it bonded the two.
“Luckily, I was there for George. And George was actually there for me, too,” Joel said. “I'd go to school, and when George would see me come home, he’d come running with his wings out. I’d tell him, ‘OK, George, I got schoolwork to do. I'll spend 10 minutes with you.’ Well, 10 minutes ended up four hours every day.
“We did everything. We walked around together and just hung out every chance I got. The worst part was going to school because he didn't want me to go, and he would be pacing back and forth in front of my truck.”
With Joel’s tutelage, George learned how to accept others. Joel got three female Pilgrim geese and introduced them to George, who accepted them immediately.
Joel also wanted to find other ways to connect and rebuild the camaraderie he had been missing since leaving the Army. He joined Wounded Warrior Project and got involved in WWP Talk, a nonclinical, telephonic program that connects veterans and other family members with a dedicated and empathetic listener. He also got involved in a hockey league for wounded veterans and plays for the Dallas Warriors in Texas.
But after a knee injury sidelined Joel for almost a year, he had time to contemplate his unique friendship with George and the story it could become.
“I was like, ‘George really helped me out through that bullying. And I was there for him when he was getting bullied. That’s it. I need to write a children's book with an anti-bullying message.’
George and Joel’s story became “A Boy and His Goose,” a children’s book about a 6-year-old boy who doesn’t want to go to school because of bullies. The boy meets a lonely goose, and a magical friendship ensues. Sound familiar?
Along the way, he was encouraged by his WWP Talk partner, who helped him set goals for personal growth and gave him a safe, nonjudgmental space to talk about issues and concerns that were affecting him.
Joel hopes his story opens up conversations for kids, and adults, about the uncomfortable subject of bullying, but it wasn’t easy to allow himself to be that vulnerable.
“Honestly, it was very scary,” Joel said about writing the book. “I'm putting my story out there for the whole world to judge, and it's scary. But the more I thought about it, I thought, ‘It's my story, and I'm proud of it.”
He also learned something that he hopes to share with everyone, from wounded veterans to school-age children who may be struggling.
“You can go through anything hard and still come out on the other end stronger.”
The Service of Storytelling
Ben’s students used their collective efforts through storytelling to highlight the rich tapestry of the American experience and support those who served America by contributing to WWP’s mission to honor and empower wounded veterans.
As a wounded warrior, Joel used his experience and commitment to serving others by highlighting the importance of connection, compassion, and vulnerability.
These endeavors serve as a reminder that whether recognizing veterans or fostering empathy among the youngest generations, storytelling has the power to inspire, heal, and unite.
Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, email@example.com, 904.570.7910
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.