Refreshing soldiers’ lives

Published 10:19 pm Sunday, July 11, 2010

A wrench banging on a concrete sidewalk might send their heart pounding. Kids running through a house screaming might set their nerves on edge.

These seemingly typical sounds transform into taxing noises for a soldier suffering from emotional distress, a condition the DreamPeace Foundation of North Shelby hopes to ease.

“Our men and women don’t come home mad at the world, but for some everything in daily life can be difficult,” said Foundation Director Julie O’Connor.

The foundation currently sits in the running to receive $50,000 through the Refresh Everything project funded by Pepsi.

Volunteer Mary Fogo of Chelsea said the money would mean everything.

“It’s such a small local organization doing such a big thing for our soldiers,” Fogo said. “$50,000 would help treat so many vets coming home from overseas. How great would that be?”

The $50,000 would provide treatment for no less than 25 vets, said O’Connor.

DreamPeace provides direct services to Alabama veterans to help them heal emotional wounds from the trauma of war and to reintegrate into society.

This means assisting them with feelings of hyper vigilance, insomnia and anxiety. O’Connor said the therapists and social workers aim to create specialized programs free of charge to soldiers. These services can take five to 20 sessions depending on each veteran’s wartime experiences.

Plus, the ripple affect of support would go further.

O’Connor’s own husband has been a member of the armed services for 18 years. So she caters to families of soldiers deployed and of those recently returned from war. She said offering counseling to them extends the service provided directly to soldiers.

“I really work with families that are dealing with spouses and parents being away for months at a time,” she said. “If a vet’s wife or husband doesn’t understand what the soldier is going through it leaves the soldier feeling as if they have no one to turn to.”

Having an understanding family can be crucial, O’Connor said.

“When a soldier experiences emotional stress, it’s not just the soldier, it’s the spouse that goes through it and it’s not only the spouse, it’s the neighbor. It’s not just the neighbor, it’s a community,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said returning support to our soldiers is crucial.

She said almost 35,000 Alabama soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nationally, 25 percent of all soldiers are likely to suffer from emotional distress after returning from war.

O’Connor said that averages out to about 7,000 from our own state.

“Every penny we receive from Pepsi will go directly to our local veterans, not many non-profits can say that,” she said.

A total of $1,300,000 is available. Voting in the contests runs through July 1. Finalists will be named Aug. 1.

For more information on DreamPeace visit For more on the Refresh Everything project and to vote for DreamPeace, visit