One of the best things to do for a veteran is to give them support, and on Saturday Breaking Down the Barriers: Salute to Our Veterans did just that. Breaking Down the Barriers was an all-day event held at Blue Chip Casino aimed to raise awareness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in soldiers and veterans. With a three-county bike ride, a veterans vendor fair, dinner with guest speaker Silouan Green, and entertainment by High Noon, the event was filled with opportunities to learn and support the men and women who served our country.
The idea of Breaking Down the Barriers came up a few years ago from the people of Blue Chip Casino and the event became a passion project for Blue Chip Assistant General Manager Jack Elia. Hosting an event for veterans is something Blue Chip has been planning on for a couple years.
“We had always envisioned putting on an event to support our veterans, and today is a culmination of all we wanted to for the people that have given so much for us,” Elia stated. “The fact is that veteran suicide is something that happens every day in this country. It’s well known that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and the leading cause of those suicides are from PTSD. So we wanted to make sure that we hosted an something that allowed us to give money to agencies that deal with the effects of PTSD. We wanted to support them and what they’re doing to help the lives of others.”
Throughout Northwest Indiana, there are dozens of groups that dedicate their services to helping soldiers, and to guide them through their lives. Porter-Starke Services was one of the beneficiaries of the event and one of the organizations providing an essential service to those dealing with PTSD. Porter-Starke now has a burgeoning program that allows veterans to - for free - get the help that they need from mental health professionals. The proceeds from the event will go to further develop their Mental Health First Aid program so they can continue to serve veterans and their families.
“This event allows us to cover the cost of materials for the course and other things that we’ll need during the day long course. It’s fantastic to get the support from an event like this and to be able to talk to veterans one on one on how we can help them and their friends,” Todd Willis, Director of Prevention and Education Services at Porter-Starke explained. “It’s things like this event that not only helps get the word out about what we can do for the veteran community, but also to connect with all of the other amazing people here. It helps for veterans to see that there are people willing to help in their time of need.”
Over a dozen vendors from across the region came together after the ride to showcase all of the opportunities the veterans have to become involved with from Operation Combat Bikesaver, a workshop for individuals to build motorcycles, and the Indiana division of the Quilts of Valor Foundation, which allows volunteers to create quilts to comfort veterans. Jeff Bacarcheck, co-founder of Empowering Patriots, a group that connects patriots with PTSD to connect with rescued dogs, said that the event is one step forward in raising awareness and getting veterans connected to organizations they could utilize.
“We were happy to get involved with Breaking Down the Barriers to support our veterans and to be here for people who might need us and our services because a lot of the time veterans have a hard time to come out and look for help,” Bacarcheck stated. “Events like this really help veterans be comfortable and be in an area where they can talk with us openly and see what there is for them. That makes a huge difference and we’re hoping to be one part of that possible difference for the people here.”
In all, Breaking Down the Barriers was that central support system for veterans, as it allowed them to have a day for and about them - to see the opportunities for guidance and be aware of the monumental support from the community and fellow veterans. Stacey Gembala, of the Guardian Riders, explained that across the board, the event allows the veteran community in Northwest Indiana to get together for the cause they’re most passionate about - to serve our country's bravest.
“A few our Guardian Riders went out on the bike ride this afternoon and had a wonderful time, but we are here to be a part of a day that allows to continue to do everything that we can for the veterans in our community,” Gembala stated. “It’s wonderful to see so many come together for the same mission. As we started to talk about this event with Blue Chip we couldn’t of imagined how great it ended up being. Veterans needs this, our community needs this, and it’s going to continue to give to the others that need to break down their barriers.”