Innovation Studio has helped more than 220 veterans

David Key and Richard Schaefer work on a lathe at Nebraska Innovation Studio.

Three afternoons a week, a group of veterans meets at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Nebraska Innovation Studio as part of a therapeutic program that provides an outlet for their creativity, a space for camaraderie, and helps them develop a renewed sense of purpose.

Through the Veterans in Recovery program, veterans are trained on using wood lathes and spend time turning wood blanks into beautiful pens. The process takes a great deal of patience, focus and creativity, but mastering this woodworking skill brings a sense of pride in a job well done.

Since 2018, the Veterans in Recovery program has met at Nebraska Innovation Studio. Over the last six years, the program has grown to incorporate approximately 30 veterans each month, and approximately 227 veterans have been helped. Monthly memberships for the veterans are paid for through private donations, including the sponsorships of two veterans each month by Union Bank & Trust.

Aside from the wood turning, the memberships provide veterans with ample opportunities and tools inside the 16,000-square-foot makerspace to use in therapeutic applications: a wood shop, metal shop, art studio, ceramics and textiles space, and a rapid prototyping room.

Jim Young, a Vietnam-era Navy corpsman, brought his idea for a therapeutic pen-turning program for veterans to Nebraska Innovation Studio after working with veterans in San Diego, California. He had seen firsthand the positive effects these lathe projects could have on the lives of veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and difficult re-adjustment to civilian life.

For the veterans, the program is life-changing. Success stories include one veteran who was reclusive and housebound, but now attends the program regularly. Another veteran could barely walk, but found a sense of motivation to build up his stamina to be able to stand for two hours at a time to turn pens. A third veteran found solace in the creative process after the loss of a child.

A doctoral student conducted research on the program for her thesis and found it had a profound impact on the veterans’ lives, resulting in increased mindfulness and well-being, increased social support, and feelings of gratitude. The veterans’ pens are available to purchase at Nebraska Innovation Studio for $20 each. All proceeds from their sale are donated to the veterans.

Opened in 2015, Innovation Studio is a University of Nebraska–Lincoln makerspace open to anyone for a monthly membership fee. Members have access to all the equipment and receive free training as part of their monthly membership.

by Miranda Soulliere | Union Bank & Trust