Creating Space for Catharsis: Writeface Veterans’ Writing Workshops
The first thing that Scott Hower wants you to know is that he isn’t a therapist.
He’s simply a veteran that found writing as a method for coping with readjustment to civilian life when he returned home from his years of military service. Over coffee at Cafe One Eight we kicked around a few different terms for just how Scott would label himself before finally settling on,
“Catharsis mentor,” and Scott’s Co-founder and Program Director Annie Ginder agrees with this nomenclature.
“That’s been fundamental to us since day one. Untreated trauma is poison.” She says it with the seriousness of experience. “And it’s not just a problem for veterans, it can lead to dysfunction within not only a family, but a whole community. We’re looking to provide a venue for veterans voices.”
And that’s how the two got started on Writeface: a free poetry writing program for veterans.
Scott’s quick to respond when I ask, “Why just poetry?”
“It’s succinct. While journaling can help, poetry can be an outlet for so much expression in a concise amount of time.” Scott nodded to Annie, “Any other reason?”
“Over-thinking can be one of the problems that some of the veterans that attend our class can be going through. So sometimes journaling can exacerbate that problem. The writing process for a poem can begin and end, all very quickly, and still have a powerful effect.”
As Operations Manager Scott’s first task was finding a venue. It wasn’t as easy going as you might imagine: delays, bureaucracy, and a lack of open space all got in the way of the duo finding a venue for their first run.
Walking from one such rejection, Scott came across the Veterans Victory House program hosted out of downtown Lancaster’s Transitional Living Center. He immediately set out to have a meeting with the Division Manager of Veteran’s Programs, Doug Hopland.
“I just went in and asked for him, and he happened to be there, and 15 minutes or so of meeting with him, I had the TLC signed on to host our first 10 week session within the living center.” Scott says with a smile. Writeface has now grown to three venues, including at the Columbia Creative Factory, and Building Bridges Equine therapy farm.
Even though she’s the program director for all three locations, Annie rarely writes with the group.
“I see my job as maintaining an open space, and it really takes energy and attention to hold a space for people, especially those who may struggle to open up. So rather than writing I find myself staying aware of body language and the mood of the room.”
Writeface doesn’t run on faith either. The two have seen first hand how their work can take root in the lives of program attendees. One of their first year participants not only has come back through the years, but has shared his writing with his family who have responded with gathering once a week, to write and share writing. The other magic of their class lies in that it’s attracting veterans of all ages, backgrounds, branches, and years of service.
“I don’t ever plan on stopping.” Scott says, and he means it. The only thing standing in the duo’s way is fundraising and they’re working on creative ways to tackle that.
“If I got a one dollar donation from every person in Pennsylvania, I’d have our budget 5 times over and be able to secure expansion venues as well. It’s just about reaching that many people and being able to collect that one dollar.”
Look for the WriteFace during Lancaster’s annual Extraordinary Give, as well as a few grassroots fundraising campaigns the duo is looking to get off the ground in the next few months as the program starts back up. As far as if they’re ready, Scott’s quick:
“Excited, every session is making a difference. We see it, and we know it.”
If you are a veteran, or know a veteran who may be interested in attending a Writeface workshop more information is available at writeface.org.