Listen to this song written by women Veterans who reside at Soldier On, on the campus at the Veterans Medical Center here in Northampton. Last week one of the women told us that she was so down she thought about committing herself but then went on a car ride with her friend, and they listened to their song “Soldier On”. She realized that she had the power and skill to not succumb to her depression, that she could do something about it. Write it all down with the idea of making a song out of her feelings. Yes!!! This is how transformative music and songwriting can be.
This song came out of the first Songbird Sings workshop I facilitated at Soldier on, last fall. Now we’re at it again this time free flow poetry rap to a cool beat. We came up with a Chorus to be sung between the raps (poems) “We Walk in the Sunshine” then some other melody about finding ourselves through our steps in the woods. Their poems are incredibly real and full of pain but there is hope there too so the idea of a positive chorus is vital because that’s what Soldier On is all about.
Soldier On is key to these women recovering their lives and standing strong. I am able to do these workshops from a generous donation from the band Pearl Jam’s #Vitalogy Foundation and from individuals like you.
This new residence is for homeless women veterans. The program provides the women with treatment and recovery from drug and alcohol addictions along with medical services. Women have individual apartments in a bright, sparkling residence as part of a program run by Soldier On, a private nonprofit organization.
As I listen to these women’s stories during the workshops, I learn that they are in awe of where they now find themselves. Part of the wonder is that someone cares at all. Most suffered sexual abuse in the military, and all deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Where most of them have a story of not fitting in anywhere, here at Soldier On they do indeed fit and feel safe. “This is a safe place to be. They make sure of that,” said one of the women, who became homeless after her husband died and she struggled with drugs and alcohol. “They love you until you can love yourself, and that’s very new to me.”
Their home, a brand new building of nearly 9,000 square feet contains 16 individual apartments, four shared kitchens, plus space for activities as varied as group meetings, yoga, and artwork and now Songbird Sings songwriting workshops. All part of a holistic strategy to meet the mental, emotional, physical, and intellectual needs of a vulnerable, traumatized group.
It’s a place designed for women and run by women. Soldier On is one of a limited number of residences for homeless women veterans in the state, but the three-story residence is the latest effort to meet a growing need as more women join the military. Women come to Soldier On incredibly broken. When the women arrived some did not speak because of their trauma. Others cried for weeks.
All of these women experienced trauma before the military — childhood abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse. Many of them went into the military to escape trauma and were re-traumatized instead. Low self-esteem and nagging fear sapped much of their strength. But with mental-health counseling, volunteer work in the community, and opportunities for schooling and employment, those strengths are being rediscovered and nurtured.
I feel immensely privileged to be helping these women express themselves through songwriting. They use their first song to remind them that they are powerful women who have the strength to soldier on even the most dire of circumstances.