New creative arts center for veterans provides free craft kits |

New creative arts center for veterans provides free craft kits

Sharon Sullivan
U.S. Army veteran Chris Ecklund works on his latch hook kit with Lisa Smith, craft care specialist at the Help Hospitalized Veterans center.
Submitted photo | Free Press

About three years into a paralysis-type illness, Vietnam War-era military veteran Patrick Metoyer discovered what he calls “art’s healing powers.”

Years ago Metoyer entered one of his crocheted art pieces into the annual National Veterans Creative Arts Festival held at the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 2121 North Ave. It won first place locally, and a bronze medal at the national competition.

“What that did was get me back into the arts,” Metoyer said. “I began to enter routinely and I took classes at (then) Mesa State College. I was dabbling in every art I could think of,” including poetry and senior theater.

“I attribute my success to my getting over my illness to the arts.”

That’s what Roger Chapin had in mind when he founded Help Hospitalized Veterans in 1970 — a program that provides therapeutic arts and crafts kits, and assistance if needed to any military veteran — hospitalized or otherwise.

Chapin was visiting hospitalized veterans when a patient said to him: “If you really want to help me, give me something to do with my hands,” said craft-care specialist Lisa Smith, who runs the local center.

The Grand Junction program was founded at the VA 15 years ago and has grown to include all veterans, whether or not they use VA services. Ten years ago volunteers began holding clinics where people could come together to work on crafts that include leather- and wood-working, scrap-booking, painting and building models.

Now, HHV has expanded its reach with Community Based Arts and Craft Centers, where veterans can come and work on projects in a group setting. Grand Junction’s center, located at 1670 North Ave., opened in March. A reception and ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Wednesday.

“We’re a flagship location for the nation,” Smith said. “We’re the first of four to be opened as a stand-alone center.”

The purpose of opening a site outside the VA hospital is to try and reach veterans who do not receive care from the VA, Smith said. Veterans can enjoy the camaraderie of others, receive hands-on help (some have dexterity issues), plus encouragement, she said.

The center also serves as a venue to show veterans’ artwork. Metoyer is showing his collection of fiber-art pieces through Sept. 27.

Another veteran, Dan Mackenzie, will exhibit his model work at the center starting Oct. 1.

“Dan is a National Veterans Creative Arts gold medalist,” Smith said. “He’s won twice, the gold medal for plastic model building. He will have many models on display.

“What’s fantastic about him, he doesn’t build anything stock — he takes a couple of different models and combines them, and fabricates pieces and creates his own.”

Mackenzie, like Metoyer did earlier this year with his specialty, will offer tutorials in the craft of model-building.

Creating crafts can help on several levels, Metoyer said, including the rehabilitation of fine motor skills, or psychologically by occupying the mind on something other than problems.

The program is funded mostly by mail-in donations, Smith said.

“In return, donors receive from the veteran a handwritten thank-you for the kit received,” Smith said.

Several of those exchanges have turned into pen pal relationships, she added.

“We encourage people to come in and check out our bulletin board, see the letters vets have received from donors,” Smith said.

“Sometimes families and friends encourage vets to seek us out.”

People who wish to donate to the program can stop in for an envelope or send a contribution to: Help Hospitalized Veterans, 36585 Penfield Lane, Winchester, CA 92596.

Help Hospitalized Veterans is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to noon.

For more information, call Smith at 970-424-0499 or email

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