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DENVER - When you see this particular room on the first floor of a building in the heart of the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver, a VFW post is the last thing you would expect.
Hardwood covers the ground, artwork covers the walls, a weekly yoga schedule hangs nearby and a wooden table built over a pair of old heaters sits in the center of the floor.
VFW Post #1, the first in the country, is changing by the day.
The post that dates back to the late 1800s is a far cry from a smoky, dark hangout, illuminated by neon bar lights and funded by the bar's revenue.
Organizers are drawing in a younger membership by helping them with natural healing methods.
The yoga class started with seven people and is now filling up with dozens of veterans weekly.
Many of the veterans that fill that square, wooden tall top table never expected to be involved in a VFW in the first place.
John Harry spent over 10 years in the Air Force. At one point Harry flew air crew life support missions in combat.
Now, Harry is involved in the urban bee keeping that takes place on the roof of the post.
“You wouldn’t think that it would be calming, messing with several thousand bees, but I actually do find them really calming,” said Harry.
These veterans are in search of a home away from home.
Harry admits a VFW post is the last place he thought he would find it.
“This post has been a home for me. They welcomed me knowing exactly what they were getting when they brought me in and have never made me feel like a lesser veteran because of being gay,” said Harry.
He’s also working as an advocate for the LGBT veteran community.
Dozens of these veterans have put down their guns for a paint brush or camera.
Curt Bean returned from combat where he served as an Army scout sniper with the 10th Mountain Division. Bean suffered severely from PTSD after returning home and has found his outlet through art and the people he’s met at VFW Post #1.
“It was really great for me to see other like-minded veterans that were trying to make an impact on the veteran community and I really got involved that month,” said Bean. I didn’t really realize until after the inpatient PTSD program how therapeutic it is and how much it really helps me kind of dive through some of the different issues, different problems that I’m having.”
Jen Burch, 28, is another young face, who’s changing the image of the VFW.
Burch, a former Air Force combat medic, had PTSD when returning state-side that isn’t understated.
“When I returned state-side that’s when things really started unraveling and they did so for a couple of years. I suffered from really bad PTSD, almost lost my life to that two years ago,” said Burch.
But then she found photography -- the images almost as stunning as her turnaround. Burch credits alternative therapy for her recovery. It’s easy to see in the smile on her face how proud she is in recovering without the use of prescription medication.
Now it’s just my -- it’s therapy for me and it’s an alternative method. It’s not prescriptions, it’s natural, it’s fun and you can enjoy it with others, especially with other vets,” said Burch.
The reasons you won’t see a bar inside the VFW Post #1 is simply their effort to change revenue models for the post. Michael Mitchel is the post commander and says most VFW's are going bankrupt. The model of Post #1 is to invite in art shows and profit from renting out the space they have for special events.
It’s a space with a prime location that the post owns outright.
Those who belong to the post are trying to bridge the gap between veterans and the community. Community groups are invited to attend events, rent out the space or even come to a yoga class or two.
The veterans here clearly re-shaping the VFW post of tomorrow, for the veterans of today.