SWEET JOY! Joyful JOY!!
-By Dean Paterson, Embrace A Vet board member, in memory of Joy Johnson, Founder
Embrace A Vet was founded in 2012 following repeated press release articles saying “that 22 Veterans a day commit suicide”. It was thought that Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury/PTS and TBI, were the underlying/relevant diagnoses common to the suicides. Joy Johnson, a retired Social Worker, living in Harpswell, Maine, was talented, compassionate and unafraid of jumping into a situation with both feet! Back then, we knew little about her can-do attitude and boundless energy. She immediately blasted off an email to several of her friends, saying “we need to do something about this!” Without a doubt, she meant the Royal WE!
Within days, she hosted a seminar at her home, complete with an attending Naturopath, Dr. Fred Shotz, who taught those of us in attendance, a technique called Emotional Freedom Technique/EFT, that was showing promise as an alternative complementary therapy to decrease symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress and/or Traumatic Brain Injury. At the time, PTS and TBI neurological conditions were being treated by the medical community, mostly with pharmacological interventions, some of which are addictive and unfortunately doing little to lessen or curtail medical symptoms. Those included pain, insomnia, isolation, anger, frustration, stress and withdrawal, to name a few.
Within a month or two, through Joys’ vast connections and numerous “chats”, she pulled together a group of people to discuss next steps to assisting veterans and their family members. Her plan was to offer classes on Emotional Freedom Technique, along with other alternative therapies, including yoga, massage, acupuncture, acupressure and FISHING! to veterans and their caregiver spouses/significant others. (Fishing would surely “hook” interests, along with other recreation therapies of pottery, kayaking, fireside chats and good food.) “Maybe we could do retreats”, she said. “And WE will do this at no cost to veterans! And let’s provide service dogs to veterans. We’ll have to do it in Maine because it is way too expensive outside of Maine!”
Joy kept on “truckin’, thinking about how we could entice veterans to take advantage of the opportunity to decrease their symptoms, trust in a technique that was not well known, and oh, by the way, should we/could we do this in a space where the veteran couples could relax and not have to worry about child care, meal preparation, etc. ? This is where the nickname of Hummingbird, Joy’s Spirit Animal, came from. It’s a name that our Caregiver Group has adopted as the title of its’ group. Joy’s mind was always in motion, as in Hummingbird wings. And you can believe this or not, but it seems like wherever we are at Retreats or EAV outings, there are always Hummingbirds around. Call us crazy…but we call them Joy!
The rest of the story is in our newsletters, REVILLE. Fast forward to 2019. EAV has its first paid Executive Director, annual retreats, a monthly caregiver program/Hummingbirds and a hugely successful service dog program/Paws for Peace. Because of Joy’s inspiration, and compassion, we are a successful 501 (c) 3, we successfully fund-raise for our programs, have upwards of 100 active volunteers, have evidence-based outcome data on the success of our programs and recently received a Real Heroes Award through Maine’s American Red Cross.
THANK YOU, JOY!!!
Header photo: Joy Johnson (bottom-right) and Dean Paterson (bottom-center) with Embrace A Vet volunteers and participants of our 2015 Veterans Retreat.