Hays: Happy 10th birthday!Written by Pam Hays | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ten years ago, when Toledo Free Press published its first edition, I was five years into what will be a lifelong recovery from a traumatic brain injury. In 2005, I celebrated three years of being able to read again, although not with the prowess I once had. Something I could not even have imagined back then was being a columnist for a newspaper.
While TFP was finding its legs as a weekly paper in this city, I was learning to use my legs again. While the brains behind Toledo Free Press came together to offer a different view, I was trying to figure out my life with a brain so severely damaged that I barely recognized myself.
Fast-forward to 2009, when my search to find a purpose in life beyond my amazing children and grandchildren led me to a calling to work with veterans who found themselves in a similar position to my own — trying to live their lives after devastating, and often invisible, wounds.
Once my nonprofit, The Arms Forces, had positioned itself as a bridge between veteran issues and the community, I began to wonder how I could get the message out to a greater audience that civilians matter in the lives of veterans. They have a significant role to play and, for them to see that, they needed a way to understand more fully what it means to be a veteran, especially one with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. Education reduces stigma. Reduced stigma opens more doors for our veterans.
In August 2013, I asked for a meeting with then-TFP Editor in Chief Michael Miller and then-Managing Editor Sarah Ottney. I approached them about a way to help me with my mission at The Arms Forces to reduce the divide between civilians and veterans. Both saw the benefit to first our military and veterans and also for the readers of their newspaper. They were familiar with my writing style, which is quite like having a conversation with me in person. They gave me some tips and in September 2013, my first column was published. I have been honored to write a column every month since.
I have received many phone calls and some written messages from people who tell me my columns have opened their eyes to what many of our veterans go through. The writings helped them feel more connected with veterans and less like outsiders who could never make a difference in their lives. I have also received calls from veterans (some in tears, which of course brought me to tears) who told me it meant so much to them that someone cared enough to talk about things in a way many could finally understand. Some even told me their families read the column and now understand more about the veteran’s life than they have in years of living.
Those are powerful words and powerful reasons to support what can seem to be a “touchy-feely” type of column. I choose to approach the column in a way that brings humans together. I choose to look for what unites not what divides. That is a rarity in opinion columns we find in newspapers today. TFP management has supported me by giving me space in its newspaper. Our community is why I continue to write for them. They informed me if the community did not react to the column in a positive way, it would not be good business to continue. So, I thank YOU, the community, for the opportunity to have a voice as a civilian to share about those who have become my dear friends and extended family, our veterans, our military and their families. I thank Toledo Free Press for always putting community first. I believe that is why they are around to celebrate their 10-year anniversary and have won numerous awards at all levels.
We can do our part by sharing TFP stories online and picking up the printed version. We can support the advertisers who allow TFP to be available at no cost to readers. We can let the columnists know when we like an article, when we don’t ,or when we disagree with something the writer has expressed. Constructiv
e criticism can only add to our craft. Offering a different perspective is the American way!
Congratulations to all the staff and writers over the past 10 years! The freedoms included in every issue of this paper are the ones veterans sacrificed to protect. Please keep our military and veterans in mind when you read TFP each week.
Pam Hays is president and founder of The Arms Forces, thearmsforces.org; (419) 891-2111.