VetPark is an organization whose mission is to help veterans and provide funding to non-profits with a veteran focus. Robert Dabney Jr. tells us about the company and it's mission.
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Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast, where we talk about issues affecting Veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcast. If you've already done that, thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there click the Subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes as soon as they come out. If you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit Drive On Podcast.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing, including our email list. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show. Hi, everyone today my guest is Robert Dabney, Jr. Robert runs an organization called Vet Park, and he's here to talk about his military background, and what Vet Park is all about and what it does to help out Veterans. So welcome to the show. Robert, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your military background.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:01:05 Hey, Scott thank you for first of all, just inviting me and allowing me to be here and to share a little bit of my story and what I hope to do for our community and what I hope our efforts will do.
Scott DeLuzio: Of course.
Robert Dabney Jr.: I'm Robert. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. I joined the Army at 18, two weeks after high school I was in basic training, one of those stories. I came in the recruiter offered me a really good job. I wanted to join the military. They didn't have a hard job with me. I wanted to join the military. I wanted to do something outside of the neighborhood I was in and he offered me or he told me I could become some kind of internet, computer specialist or something.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:01:51 This was in ‘98. It wasn't internet, but it was computer technician or something very nice. And I was like, yes, I want that one. And he knew that I wanted to leave though. I didn't want to stay around the summer and ended up getting in trouble or something. So, he told me that it wouldn't be available until maybe six months or nine months in the future, but if I want to leave early and he knew I did, he had some jobs for me. And so, he went through the jobs and I wasn't as easy as he thought I would be. And finally, he got to becoming a medic and it piqued my interest a little bit. And so I asked him about it and I remember his promise to me. He said that you would be working in the hospital and air condition full of females. And I was like, this is what you can sign me up for. I want it. I want to do that. Yes. Thank you.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:02:46 I'm not sure if there's any 18-year-old guy that would turn that job down.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:02:51 No, not at all. I was like, of course, yes. Why would you even ask me? We should've started there. I never worked in a hospital. I was always in the field with the grunts and with the tankers and with the infantry. And so, I got to live vicariously through a few battle buddies of mine as far as hospital life goes, but that's how I ended up as a medic in the Army, but it was actually very good for me because during that time that I was in the service, I realized that I actually had a desire to care for people or desire to take care and protect or help. And so, becoming a medic came quite naturally to me. I wanted to be the one they called on when they needed help.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:03:36 That's always been the type of person I saw myself as; someone who is dependable and able to come when you are in need, at least someone there to lean on. And so, as a medic that turned out being perfect for me. And I became one with my calling, if that makes sense as much as the 18-year old can be. I knew I was a medic. I knew I was Doc and I liked that and I loved it. And so, I took it seriously and in doing so, I became an E6 and after about eight years, I want to say, which is good for that time as a medic. I don't know what it is now. It was good for medics during that time. I was on my second tour to Iraq.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:04:26 This time we were in Ramadi, Iraq and I started missing my family. I wanted to be home with my family. I knew that I would be on this merry-go-round now; that's how I felt, continued in and out in and out of combat or back. This is my second time in Iraq. I wasn't ready to accept that life for the rest of my life. I had a wife and three kids already at the time. So, we made the decision while I was preparing to go into Iraq. The second time we were in Kuwait that this will be my last hurrah. And we would just have to get out of the military and see what happens after that. So that was in 2005, 2006, we were in Ramadi.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:05:10 We were under a tank battalion, or brigade. They were over the base and everything. And that's when I really got an up close look at what it meant to be a Marine. I said, tank, I mean, a Marine battalion, you got to live with them a little bit and realized that they really believe the hype about themselves. You know, they're crazy. And you had a lot of work to do, trying to keep up with the Marines; as far as medics, we had a lot of work to do behind them. It was a time that I grew up and had a lot of real-life experiences that taught me a little bit about myself and what I wanted with my life and what I no longer wanted.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:05:59 And I knew one of the things I wanted was to have some sort of freedom over my life. And some sort of say over when I can go home and see my family. And so that did help me make the decision to part with the military after nine years. After getting out, I did deploy four times, once to Kosovo, once to Saudi Arabia. We got to Saudi Arabia two days before 9/11, and then twice to Iraq. Well, the first time it was during the initial invasion to Iraq in 2003 went over with third ID. Then the second time in 2005, 2006, with the 1st Army division out of Germany, again we were in Ramadi and so that was the culmination of my military deployment history, I guess coming back in 2006.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:06:55 That's actually interesting with you as a medic, especially when you first got in, you probably weren't expecting all these deployments the way that you ended up with, and then all of a sudden 9/11 creeps around and then you're like, well, I'm in it right now. You're pretty much expecting that you're going to be seeing some stuff at that point.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:07:20 Exactly. That was going to be a part of history, man. Not that I was looking forward to it, but I realized this is separating me from, everything else that I always thought about myself; now I'm about to go into battle and hope I can come out. There was a bigger purpose behind it. Join. Yes, no, it wasn't. It was a time of peace. 1998, it was a lot of happy times going on. We thought everything was going to be good, no way we were going to go to war. Right. So I know we would have two going on at the same time.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:07:54 And you said you were in Ramadi 2005, 2006. My brother actually was in Ramadi in around that same time period. He was with the Vermont Army National Guard and they were also attached to the Marines in some way, shape or form. I'm not entirely sure how; so yeah, I'm sure that's probably how they got there and just started, this is our place where we're in charge. So, that's cool. That's interesting how many people that I've run into over the years have crossed paths in one way or another with people that I knew who are in one place or another. So that's neat. That's a little bit about your military background.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:08:44 You basically joined out of high school looking for a career path, and then you ended up finding your calling helping out people and then 9/11 happens and you realize that this is serious now and not that it wasn't before, but it got real, really quick. And those wounds that you're treating are not on a dummy or in a classroom setting or whatever, it's the real deal, real life now. So, then you decide to get out to be more with be around your family and things like that. What did the transition look like for you? What was that like when you eventually decided to get out?
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:09:34 Hmm. It was a simple transition in one way. In the other way it was very difficult because we were stationed in Germany at the time and Bondholder Germany. And so transitioning from Germany to America, there was a lot of things that needed to happen. That wasn't the difficult part. The difficult part was talking to my battle buddies about what the future held for me. There wasn't a lot of positive stories of Veterans coming out, going home and living the time of their lives. You know, it's hard out there; it’s rough. You don't know what it's like especially coming in at 18 straight out of high school, my parents' house, and being pushed into the world at 27 after being cuddled in the sense of Tri-Care. We had Tri-Care; we had the food was always there for me.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:10:29 I didn't have to worry that much about rent because I had some place to stay. So, coming out with a family of five of us at the time. I realized how much I depended on the military for the provisions for my family. And I didn't see that at first, I thought everything would snap into place the same way it does as soon as we moved to a new base. But it didn't happen that way. So, I got out and ended up one of the elders at my church. I started going back to church. Once I got out, he just asked if I would come into the prisons with them because he knew I had been to Iraq twice. And he knew that I might be able to encourage some of the inmates, really.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:11:11 He was trying to recruit me to become one of his team members to go into the prisons with them, and it worked. I ended up doing it for two years. I fell in love with that, and that really connected, that really showed me more of my identity. By that, I mean, it helped me see that I really do like helping people now. I'm not helping in this medical way, but I'm helping these inmates who are cut off from the world or feel disconnected or whatever. At least it feels like someone cares for them during the time here while they're separated from everything, they knew as normal. And I identify with them a lot because of the military being deployed. We're separated from everyone. We have a time to get up, a time to get down.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:11:50 We go through the line and get our food and we go back wherever we're at now. And very much like being in prison, unfortunately unify with them. And I was able to connect with them in that way. Fortunately, I never had to spend any nights behind bars, so I couldn't completely identify with them in that way. But from the standpoint of the way I saw some deployments, the way I felt during some deployments and so anyway, just being with them and talking with them and started building relationships with them, I had the opportunity to use my GI bill. I was working as an electrical apprentice once I got out of the military; I went back to Memphis started working for Shelby Electric Company, a bunch of great guys there. They were just a construction worker type electrician going out, putting up poles on the road.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:12:41 If tornadoes come through, they will be the ones coming out with the big trucks and put them back up. And so, there was a five-year program, five years on the job training as an apprentice. After you pass the test of the fifth year, you become a full-fledged electrician making what was good money at the time. So that was what I thought I would be doing. And on the side, I just started going to the prisons to just communicate with these inmates and everything. And it came to a point where I began to want Saturday night. That's when I would go on Saturday nights. I wasn't a big party animal. If you can tell, like we go Saturday nights to the prison to hang out with inmates and then wait an entire week until Saturday night.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:13:26 Again, I just wanted to get back there because I felt alive. I had a purpose again. I think that really connected me. And the more I realized that the more I saw the opportunity to use the GI bill; before that I had never wanted to go to college. I had never thought about college. Now I saw an opportunity to, I can become a prison chaplain. Then I could do this full-time. And so that was the mentality I had when I first enrolled in college in 2010 at the age of 30 that I'm going to do this so I can become a prison chaplain. And that was four years. We stayed in Chattanooga. We left Memphis, moved to Chattanooga for four years. I got a story, man.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:14:09 We stayed in Chattanooga, excuse me, for three years. And graduating at the end I got a bachelor's degree in theology. And at the end of that, the interviews that come up and there was an opportunity to interview for a hospital chaplaincy internship. And in my mind like hospital chaplaincy, prison chaplaincy, this may help me get into the prisons. So, I interviewed for the chaplaincy position and I was invited to be a part of the program. The program consisted of one year in Orlando, Florida at a very nice hospital as a hospital chaplain intern on the job training. I'm familiar with that world now. So, I do that for a year and it was good for me. It allowed me still to give, like my caring.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:14:57 I was able to still provide this help and this care. And at the end of that program, they offered to pay for my graduate degree to get a master's of divinity, and then I would work for them for five years afterwards. So essentially, they say, well, you did really good here at this internship. We want to bring you on as an employee. Full-time and my wife, she was like, I was like, that's great. There's a job right here. They're going to pay for higher education, so let's do it. And so, they sent me to Michigan where I did my graduate degree at Andrews University from 2014 to 2017. I did the MDF and a few other things I studied for. And at the end of that three-year period, I was invited to interview for one of the hospitals in this program.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:15:51 There are 44 hospitals throughout the U S and four of them are in Chicago. And I loved Chicago since I was a kid, primarily because the Bears and the Bulls growing up those were the teams. And so I always just loved the city of Chicago. And so I interviewed for Chicago opportunity. I was invited to work here in Chicago land area. And I did that as a hospital chaplain for two and a half years working towards that five. I never made it to the five because the past started to creep up on me. As I was working in the hospital, there was a lot of trauma, death, a lot of things that the chaplain is called to the bedside to be there for. And in my mind, I can do this.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:16:38 I'm used to being there for people; I've sat beside soldiers when the battle buddy was going, or I've been in that world before as a medic. And now I know I can do it in the hospital and it would never occur to me that it would be a problem emotionally. But after about a year of doing it full time, being in the hospital with so much trauma, so much anxiety, like, is this person going to live? It was always that high alert, even more so in the hospital all the times because of different patients and things. And so it just began to wear on my emotions. I began to lose patience at home. I was totally not who I knew myself to be or who my wife or kids knew me to be. And I started going to counseling through the VA, started reaching out, doing the services. And it was during this time that I did find a good counselor. I will say that I did go through a few of them. The counselor I'm with now is the one that I've been with for the longest time ever has been over a year and a half, at least. I don't know if that's long for many people, but it’s long for me,
Scott DeLuzio: 00:17:50 It's pretty good. But you find one that you can stick with for that long. Yeah.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:17:55 Yes. And we talk and that has been very helpful for me for dealing with the past, the things that kept creeping up on me while I was trying to work. And so, I resigned from the hospital January of 2020, January of this year right before COVID. So, I'm so happy I did because I don't know how I would've survived in the mental state I was in, along with the whole world is dying and going crazy. Like there's a pandemic. And so, once I got out of the hospital and then March came and I saw how big this thing became, if people couldn't even leave the hospitals, because they didn't want to bring the potential diseases home with a potential bacteria home or whatever. I was just grateful to be out of the hospital, but I didn't have a job.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:18:46 And the wife, she didn't like that. It went well for my mental health for a little while, but eventually it started going downhill also. I did end up finding another job that was equally helpful for others, as well as it pays the bills. And so, I'm working now at an alternative school in rural Illinois called Core Academy. And we just worked with high school students who aren't allowed to go to public schools anymore. So, they aren't the model citizens, but they're still good kids. And I get to work with them and I get to be a part of their lives. And we only have one or two kids in class now because of COVID. When it was a full school that was full classrooms of kids that appreciated a young black man spending time with them, talking to them, letting them know that I value them. And so that was something I found immediately leaving the hospital that I fell in love with again. So that's where I'm now for employment.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:19:47 You are on this trend of just helping people like that. It just seems like it's just like pouring out of you ever since you joined the Army you just want to go and help people. That's sort of what it seems like what you're doing with Vet Park; you're looking for ways to help Veterans. And so why don't you tell us a little bit about Ver Park, what it is, who it serves and what the purpose behind it is and how it came about.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:20:19 All right. All right. I'll do my best man. It's been in my mind for at least three years. I say it's been in my mind for at least three years and it's changed of course over the years. What I initially planned for it to be is something that we see with a wounded warrior program, or some of these other newer Veterans service organizations that are finding ways to build community for Veterans. That's what Vet Park was initially going to be. However, after building plans and things I found Wounded Warrior program, and I started participating in their programs and I loved it and I didn't want to recreate what they were doing. And so, I set Vet park back down. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who's also a Veteran and talking to her about the way art has helped me and talking to her about the way music or drawing or writing all these things are things that helped me feel whole again; it helps me come alive and we were talking about how art does help people with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, art therapy.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:21:29 And so I started looking into art therapy and realized that I had stumbled onto something that research has already proven is helpful. And so, as I was looking more and more into art therapy, I started trying to find programs. I wanted to participate because I was still at the time working in the hospital going through my depression, going through those hard times. And I was looking for things to give me joy again, or to help me come alive. And anytime I did anything creative, I felt that and so I was looking for programs that offered Veterans an opportunity to do that. And I ended up coming across Creative Vets, which is a program here in Chicago and they're also in Nashville. They're going around the US, they're spreading, but they are a program for Veterans.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:22:22 They help Veterans get connected with the arts. And so I connected with them. I went to one or two of their programs. I loved what they were doing. And I started finding other programs similar to that around the US. And so, I started just looking at them and seeing what they were. And one thing I realized was they were all nonprofits and they were all consistently in need of funds. They were consistently in need of funds because they're, non-profit, they rely on donations to help Veterans. And there are plenty of Americans that want to help Veterans and are willing to provide that support. I also realized that it's like a buckshot right now, whereas there's many in different cities, different areas, there's many different Veteran service organizations. They're all in need of money.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:23:08 They're all fighting for that same donation from these corporations or from people or from the government or whatever it may be. So, in that way, they are helping, but they may not be doing their best because of funds. And so I didn't want to do something that would be another cog in that wheel, as far as being a donation based. I wanted it to be something that would be helpful for Veterans while also being a for-profit business. And I just started looking for some of the most lucrative areas in business. And one thing I came across was entertainment, and this was before COVID and I realized that people will always need an outlet for entertainment, whether it's music and no matter what type of music, whether it's art, whether it's shows, whether it's theater, whether it's barbecue, cookouts; we naturally have this within us to be creative, to be outgoing, to do things.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:24:11 As far as the events go. I definitely agree. I mean, it's a great way for people to connect, listen to the artist, especially in a music like a concert or a festival type thing, or whatever, it's a great way for people to come together and experience that thing together and have that shared experience.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:24:38 Exactly. Thank you. I realized as I was looking at this, I've always been a fan of the hippie movement. The free love, the one love, the Bob Marley. I've always been a fan of those flower children because they appear to only want everyone to just get along and be happy. And so, as a kid growing up, I just always thought they were cool. I was like, those are the people, that was the generation I should have been a part of. I should have had the effort when I got dreadlocks. That was by the way I should've had Afro with the Jackson 5, just being groovy because that's for some reason I feel like that's the generation I was supposed to be a part of.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:25:23 Things like Woodstock, I realized that it brought people together. And when people came together, they came not only to party, have fun, but they enjoyed themselves. They had a good time. And that's what I wanted that part to be. And so, as I thought about it, I realized that I wanted Vet Park to be set up to become an entertainment company, one that is able to host events that will bring people out no matter what walk of life they come from if they want R and B, we may have R and B show in their city. If they want country may have a country show in the city depending on what it is, and we're able to be flexible and move that part from place to place where Vet park is, wherever people come together to celebrate for a purpose of helping our heroes heal.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:26:09 That's what Vet park is. I should have probably started there. It's wherever we all come together, our banner is going to go up at that moment. That's Vet Park. And we came here to help our heroes heal. And so the idea is that we come there, we party with a purpose, and then we go home and people are going to go to concerts anywhere. They're going to go to plays. Anyway, they're going to go to art galleries anyway. But what if they were able to do it, knowing that the dollar they're paying, some of that is going directly to help Veterans get connected with these alternative therapies. And so, as I saw the problem of nonprofits needing more funding to help as many vets as there are and then I also saw that there was plenty of money in entertainment.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:26:52 I just tried to find ways to balance those two. And that's how the business model for Vet Park came up looking at companies like Tom Shoes, and there are others that I can think of. I know there was water companies where if you buy a bottle of water, they'll send two bottles of water to some nation that doesn't have a lot of water. So essentially what you're doing is you're not just buying water, but you are supporting a cause as well. And so, this new business model that I'm seeing trend throughout this tech era is those that are attached to causes. And so, I realized that the cause that was on my heart was helping Veterans get connected to these things. They brought me back to life.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:27:41 And so there's more and more conversations with different people talking about it, helped to solidify the idea of what the business model for Vet park would look like. Our first event was scheduled for April 22nd, which was my 40th birthday. It was a party; it was a gift to myself. And I guess God didn't like that. It was like, you don't need that, go sit down. Covid came and shut that all down. And so, we have had an event. It wasn't what was planned. It wasn't as well attended as planned, but it was something. I really forced because I wanted to have an event because of the way we are. And so now, it's myself and a friend of mine, Kanya. We met in basic training and remained friends throughout our military career. He just retired last year. We're looking at some other options for pivoting it right now just to help get the ball rolling.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:28:44 Can I ask what type of events, or how is COVID really impacting that? So how is it that you're pivoting and what's the goals for that?
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:28:55 Yeah, the pivot right now is a great idea. I'll want to share it like it's probably already happened, or somebody has probably said it, but I don't want to ever feel like I shouldn't have said anything until I knew exactly how I was going to do it.
Scott DeLuzio: No problem.
Robert Debney Jr: But we are still planning events because digital events and those are things that are happening right now. I'm trying to learn. I'm not that fond of digital events myself, but I know that some people are but I have to feel it in myself to want to do it and put the energy or effort into something and make sense. I can't start that way, at least not with the events part, but we have other ways we're raising capital, raising revenue.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:29:42 Another way we're doing it is with our healing heroes’ campaign and what our healing heroes’ campaign is, it's six months where we promote one particular type of therapy that's available to Veterans no matter where they are in the U S and our first one, because this is our first healing hero’s campaign. I call them HACs just to connect that with the military army headquarters company. HHC zero one is using art to heal hearts. And so, it was a focus on art therapy and during our healing hero campaigns, what we do is we choose one Veteran focused nonprofit that is providing this type of alternative therapy, in this case art therapy and they are geared directly for Veterans; they're in place because they want to support Veterans.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:30:35 So we commissioned an image to be drawn by a US Army. Well, this one was a US Marine, he drew the image for him. We commissioned him, he got paid on that end. He's a Veteran, and now we are putting that image on items to sell. And so now when we sell these items, it will go towards a program that the art is creative. It's the same art therapy program I was introduced here. They're the first nonprofit we’re supporting. Anytime we sell a product with the consumer heart on it, the profit goes towards the creative Vets art box program. What is the program they start to do now because of COVID, they can't have the classes anymore. And so, they're doing online classes and they're sending art supplies to Vets throughout the US and it's going well for them.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:31:27 And one of the ways that I saw the Hill park could help is by choosing this image, this item, and anything that we sell with the image on those profits go directly to the creative Vets and so to help their art box program. And so that's how the HACs helped to fund things for Veterans until we can get these events off. Right now, the organization we're sponsoring is Create Events with anytime we sell a consumer heart image, which is right now just a t-shirt and a sticker, those profits go to that. And then also we're working with a few Veterans to start selling some of their things online as well. And so, it's an Etsy specifically for Veterans or a Veteran Creatives.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:32:20 We're inviting Veterans to participate, to create their own pages and then we go and find the audience for the Veterans. Now we bring the audience there and if they can make the sale, they make the sale. And that part takes a bit of commission for that just like they would do on Amazon or Etsy or anything like that. And so, finding ways to employ Veterans and help Veterans feed their families. A lot of the guys that I know that I've met on this walk through the VA, through the PTSD are having a hard time keeping a typical traditional nine to five job. Not because something is wrong with us but because we see the world totally different than most Americans see the world because of our experiences. And so, we don't fit any longer within their boxes and they get uncomfortable and we get uncomfortable and then a mess happens.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:33:12 And so a lot of my battle buddy guys, I've been meeting around here in a rural aren't able to keep jobs, but they have these crafts, they have these hobbies, they might be crafty. They may brew craft beer at home, and it is legal to sell them via Vet park is going to find a way to help you sell that craft beer to a larger audience. And so that's what we are getting Vet park up to be a platform for a Veteran creatives to be able to make a livelihood on it. And so now the American public, whereas before they had thousands of organizations, they could choose to give money to now, we are creating an opportunity for them to exchange funds for something they want anyway, or something they want to give that will help a Veteran who made it to the Vet Park, which I still hadn't gotten to the biggest part of the way we help Veterans either,
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:34:03 which is our alternative therapies fund. So that's another thing that we're doing here. Every aspect of Vet park is meant to provide Veterans with an opportunity to get a piece of the American pie in that sense of entrepreneurship. I said earlier, I need freedom and that's something else I realized. I was working at the hospital and now in my nine to five, I am an artist. I'm a creative myself, and I enjoy the flexibility of being able to move around. And as long as I'm gainfully employed, I want to be able to do it. Entrepreneurship is something that I'm passionate about as a person. I am trying to encourage as many Veterans as possible, like you and your show, right?
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:34:54 This is something that I know, some podcasts are the therapy. This is the way. By talking with Veterans, connecting with other people, this is the way they heal themselves. And so, we want to have a place for Veteran podcasts. I'm sure there's out there a place where anyone can go and just type in Veteran podcasts and find it. Vet Park will be their place that any American wants to find anything. They want to find Vet park as a place they can look first if they are looking for a Veteran perspective or wanting to support our heroes. And that's our tagline, helping our heroes heal, because anything we do and someone else does it with us, they are also helping our heroes too. And so that's the idea.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:35:36 And that came a lot of pain on my part, meaning I'm going through PTSD and trauma, depression, and finding things to help, but also understanding that as a chaplain, one of the things I had to learn was emotional intelligence. I had to learn empathy. I had to learn how to be emotionally available to recognize when someone else may be hurting and they don't even realize it themselves. And so, in doing that, I realized that no matter where we're from, and we learned this in the military, we are all the same. And we all want basically the same things in life and that's to live a good life in peace. And it's a part of the American dream, the pursuit of happiness, right? That's at the end of the day, no matter where any of us is from, we all have that goal in the back of our mind somewhere, we're trying to pursue peace and happiness, even Dynos he went about it a different way but that's what he was pursuing.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:36:34 He was pursuing peace. That was his way of doing it. As individuals, there are things that connect us as humans. And one of those things are many of those things are addressed through alternative therapies, whether it's talk therapy, whether it's music, art, equine, nature, hiking, fishing, those things connect us back to the humanity in us, the person who we are. I don't know how we saw who we are outside of our boxes that we've been placed in. And so that's why I'm all for alternative therapies. I can't just stick with art therapy. We got to go talk about music. We got to go talk about people who ride horses for therapy, because there is a connection they have with those horses. And it may be a hundred people in this room.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:37:23 And 90 of us may really feel good after joining the picture, but it may be 10 of us who need an animal that'll help us heal or may need to go underwater. And so just providing these opportunities for Veterans to find out about these alternative therapies, first of all, is the first step that we're doing. The next step then is providing funds. This is the big way we're helping that we're building up to and gearing up towards, and which has been part of alternative therapies. And Vet Park alternative therapies is a fund, the charitable arm of Vet Park. And what we do is we take a percentage of each dollar that's made in Vet Park where no matter where it came from, and we've put it in our alternative therapy fund. And at the end of the year, we look at it and say, this is how much is there. And then for the next 12 months, we find ways to give that money to either Veterans or Veteran organizations that provide alternative therapies for Veterans. And so just because I know creative, keep plugging them away.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:38:28 They would have a link to them in the show notes too. So, you know, keep plugging away. That's cool.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:38:36 They provide songwriting classes. If you like music, if you want to get into country music song writing class, they helped Veterans go to Nashville, spent some time going through processing their emotions and everything. They put it in the song and then they help them record it there in Nashville. Or if it's art, they're doing their art box programs around the country. And so creative vessel would be one of the organizations. We will provide a grant for it. We wouldn't provide scholarships. We provide a grant for them and what our grants will do. We'll cover at least one class, one session for them. So at least one of those sessions that Creative Vets has that year we'll cover. We will pay for a session that they can invite anyone.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:39:25 They don't have to worry about funding it. They don't have to worry about getting any cash. This would be essentially Vet Parks, creative vets’ class because we finally get that. That way we are helping them complete their mission of providing a service to the Veterans while also helping Veterans get there without being concerned about funding. Then the scholarships have been in my head a long time and we're working with the right people are coming to help make this reality. The scholarships then are for Veterans that would like to go to classes to go to some type of therapy but it still requires funds. There is no Veteran organization in their area. They may want to go to a community college, they're in a rural area and they want to go to the community because they do music therapy classes or they may offer something.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:40:19 And so that vet can reach out to Vet Park and say, Hey, this is going on. We would then contact that organization, pay for that event for that Veteran in their name and allow them to go there. And so that's what the scholarships are. And so, once we're up and running full-fledged, the big kicker, the big motivation each year is getting these funds together so that Veterans are able to receive these alternative therapies and wherever they're at in the US regardless of what the cost may be, because there are organizations that goes deep sea diving and Veterans are able to go in, but the Veterans can go free, but those organizations still have to pay for the equipment and everything they're doing.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:41:02 Not free, there's no such thing as a free lunch. So, there's still a cost involved.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:41:09 We are gearing up to be able to just make that a little bit easier for Veterans to get in contact with those organizations. And so we're reaching out to different alternative therapies. Anytime I find a yoga instructor, I'm reaching out to them because they know about holistic lifestyle. They know about alternative therapies because there's more than you. I'm always finding new things. I'm a flower child and in my soul, I know that I'm connected with the earth and the earth was put here for us. Like we were put here for it and I love it. And so that's a part of my identity I embrace. I'm a nature lover, man. I really am. And so, getting people back connected with their true human nature where there's music or nature or outdoors. So, this is why it has to be the tagline, helping our hero CEO, helping them get back to who they were before the military. I mean, we can never go back there, but there was a part of us that's still there. And that's the part I think that it's crying for a lot of us to come back and embrace.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:42:23 Yeah. And there's a lot of people talking about, you don't always get back to where you were, but there's some people who come back, they get out of the military or they come back from a deployment that was rough on them. And they've lost interest in the things that they used to do, whether it was a hobby or an activity, or whether it's art or music or things like that, they've lost interest in those things. And sometimes through going through this type of therapy, they can work their way back to finding some joy in life and enjoying the activities that they're doing. So, I think this is wonderful what you're doing helping out these organizations, like you said, there's, many organizations throughout the country, but working on a nonprofit status, you are basically relying on donations.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:43:09 And when those donations dry up for one reason or another, there's only so much you can do at that point as good of a place as your heart might be, if you're running one of these organizations, you want to help out everybody that you can, but without the money, you really can't do that. So, I like looking at this from a for-profit standpoint where, if you want to be sustainable, you have to raise the funds. It's almost like when you're on an airplane and they say, when the oxygen mask drops down, put your mask on first and then help others who might be around you, right? If you're not taking care of yourself first and making the money, then you can't help other people.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:43:56 You know what I mean? So, you might want to help out all the vets who are out there, but if you don't have a way of raising that kind of money, if you just have your regular job, but you're making a salary, that's good for you and your family, it's putting food on the table, keeping the roof over your head and everything, but it's not exactly leaving room for helping out all the Veterans who need the help. You know what I mean? So, it's great that you're doing stuff like this and supporting Veterans on all ends of the chain of this, from creating the products, creating the artwork and also with the donations and the scholarships and everything like that, it's wonderful.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:44:43 There are 21 million Veterans in the US; we have the potential to have our own economy with the right organizational skills, and that's one thing, Veterans have organizational skills, but I haven't seen it at least the way I see it in my head. I haven't seen it done as far as really coming together because once again, we typically go towards a nonprofit business model when we're helping Veterans. And instead of being able to collaborate, we have to compete, whereas a for-profit business, if your money is okay, you can't collaborate, and especially when you're doing something you both have the same goal. Like I saw a Burger King over in England, or somewhere overseas recently encouraged their fans to go buy McDonald's just to keep their lights on and keep their workers working.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:45:44 And I saw that too and it struck me as odd until I dug in a little bit deeper to see what was going on over there. I was like, what is this craziness going on? You know, they're usually pretty fierce competitors, but one thing, like you said, one thing that Veterans are good at is organization. And I think I've never met a group of people who are more willing to go out of their way to help a complete stranger, if they're another Veteran. And so, it just makes sense that we should be able to take care of our own; the VA's great that the other organizations that are out there, they're great and they're doing all that they can, but they can only do so much. And I think when we all come together, we can really affect some change.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:46:31 Because there are many of us that have gotten back to a point in life where we feel as if we have control. I don't know how I'm going to be tomorrow. I know that I realized that. I won't say I'm good again but since leaving the hospital in January, I hadn't been down, and I know it was because of the environment I was in, I needed somewhere that I could heal and continue to heal versus everyday being pulled back down to death and trauma and everything. And so yeah, I'm in a good place right now. And part of that was not just leaving the hospital of course, but these different therapies that I have found, especially like drawing my wife, I like to write, I like to take pictures.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:47:22 I like to draw and I want to start painting, but she won't allow me to go buy any paint material because I have much photography materials, so much drawing material. And I thought it was because there was something wrong with me. I just keep jumping from thing to thing. There's something wrong, but that wasn't, it was the fact that all those things bring me joy and I found ways to get joy. I want to do them all. And that's a part of the freedom that comes with art, especially to be able to paint outside the lines and say, it's beautiful. Still, even though 99.9% of people don't tell you it's ugly, but it's art.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:48:05 Exactly, there you go, it's all in the eye of the beholder, right. It's like, if you're looking at it and you think it looks good, then it looks good. And who cares what anyone else thinks about it,
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:48:15 That's the mentality I've been trying to live now, man, like not of course, I'm one for peace and love and unity. But at the same time, I stopped allowing others’ expectations of what I should be, or shouldn't be as a man or as a Veteran.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:48:36 So with all of this stuff, you're talking about how organizations can collaborate and things like that. And I know with my podcast I know there's other podcasters out there who are doing similar things to what I'm doing. There are other organizations out there who are trying to help out Veterans. And one of the things I like to do just like with your organization, I want to help promote those companies and those nonprofits whatever they are, I want to help promote them, because sometimes there might be Veterans out there who just don't know that these things exist. There might be people out there with a desire to help out Veteran organizations, but they don't know which ones to donate to.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:49:19 You don't always know, is the money actually going to what they say it's going to go to and everything like that. So, helping out companies like yours and other nonprofits and other organizations that are out there first off, I hope to help people raise some money for their causes. Secondary, or probably primary to that is to get the Veterans who maybe don't even know that these things exist, these alternative forms of therapy. They might just think that therapy is, I got to go talk to a shrink and I got to go do this every week. And it's just going to be such a hard thing for me to do, because I don't want to open up and I don't want to talk. Well, there's other things out there that's not necessarily the only way; it certainly is a
Scott DeLuzio: 00:50:10 form of therapy, but there's other things. So, there's like you said, there's art, there's, music, there's equine therapy. There are all sorts of different things that are out there. And it's just a matter of getting exposure and letting people know that it's out there. So that's what I hope to do. Other organizations, other podcasts, I should say that are doing a similar thing to what I'm doing. I don't look at them as competitors. I look at them as just another person who's out there trying to help out Veterans. And if they're successful, then more power to them because that means that that Veterans are being helped. And that's ultimately what I'm looking forward to. So, I'm not about to rain on their parade or anything with whatever they're doing, because I want them to succeed and I want you to succeed. I want all these other organizations to succeed because when we all succeed, Veterans are succeeding. And I think that's really the important takeaway here.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:51:13 You're right. And I'm glad you said earlier because a lot of our buddies do come down hard on the VA and I understand why a lot of people have problems with the VA. At the same time, they have a really big job. The VA, they have a really big job. And our country isn't equipped maybe right now, to provide all of this help that we really need. And so, what I see happening, this will keep everybody calm, take some pills, go talk to someone. This is all we can do right now, because we've got thousands more coming. And so that's kind of why I can still appreciate the VA because they do provide a service. I still go to the VA.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:52:05 These other therapies are available and Veterans need to know about it, and they can't get it from the VA or if they have insurance, some of these things aren't covered by insurance. And so they would have to pay for them once again. And so, it's just one of my ways that I'm trying to help. Like we said earlier, there has become a theme of my life and I like it. I know it's who I am. It really is who I am.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:52:38 I think that's a good place to be. I think that's a good person to be. That's a good type of person to be, reaching out, helping out people and always looking. It seems like you're always looking for ways to help out people. And that's the type of thing that we need more of in this world, especially with all the stuff that's going on in this world where there's so much back and forth bickering and fighting over petty stuff in some cases and in some cases they're more serious, but still, I think if we came together and put our heads together and try to figure stuff out, we might come to a better conclusion than name calling and pointing fingers and all this other stuff. So, I think everyone can take a page out of Robert's book here and be more like him and try to be more helpful towards your fellow man and help out.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:53:35 I would appreciate that.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:53:40 I know most people know this. I think military people know this; Mr. Rogers’ one of the lessons that his mom taught him was always look for the helpers and that's what he ended up becoming in his life. And he has a story that's similar to many of our stories as far as his Veteran background and everything. And so, there's plenty of us out there that as hard as we are, we still have this inside of us; this desire to serve a purpose and serve humanity. And so that's what we're gearing Vet Park for them to be able to come and live in and heal and help others heal.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:54:18 Absolutely. And that's great. And I think you know, serving a greater purpose like you were saying is a great goal to strive for, especially for people who are struggling with finding their own sense of purpose. Maybe you're just transitioning out of the military and you're feeling a little bit lost, because like you said, the military took care of a lot of that stuff before, you’re housing and your food and your medical and all that kind of stuff was all pretty much taken care of for you. It was made really easy for you or easier, anyways, I can't say that it was all easy.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:54:54 Different challenges.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:54:57 Exactly. You know, it's not like you're just thrown out to go figure it out all on your own, you know? So, serving a greater purpose, if you can find that, whether it's through helping out other Veterans or through serving your community or doing something along those lines that can help you find your sense of purpose, your reason for being, so I think that's a great piece of advice there too. Well, Robert, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you today. You're full of positivity. You're full of sharing and helping out others. I think that's a great thing to have. Where can people go to get in touch with you and find out more about Vet park and how to help out,
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:55:47 Oh, thank you for asking. The website is our main place right now. It's www.VETPaRK.US. I would encourage anyone with an Instagram account to follow us on Instagram, because what we do there is it's kind of like the icing on the cake. We share artwork, we share things that have been created by Veterans on no matter where they are in the US or around the world, we share it on our site. And in that way, we allow the community to see what great things Veterans are up to. We help Veterans get a little feedback from the public about their work, and they are just gaining more confidence in themselves as artists and as creatives. And so again, everything I do, there's another reason behind it.
Robert Dabney Jr.: 00:56:43 And this is one of the ways I see helping before we are able to give money to people. We're able to support these Veteran creatives and their things. And so, I'm always just encouraging people to follow us on Instagram because I have a good time curating. That's my museum, that's my art gallery in a sense curating the images and everything, and getting to know the artists. And so, they're a bunch of great guys and gals that we served with. It also has another talent and is using that talent to help themselves deal with life the same way someone else may use other things to deal with life that aren't as helpful. So yeah, just to get a lot of people to support them on Instagram channel, especially.
Scott DeLuzio: And that's awesome. Yeah. So, I'll have links to both your website and your Instagram and your other social media channels and stuff like that all in the show notes. So, anyone who's looking to find out more about Vet Park and want to follow along with some of the stories and other artwork and stuff, they can pick up the industry page and we'll have all that stuff in the show notes there so that you can find it all there. So again, thank you for joining us and sharing your story and everything about Vet Park. Really appreciate it.
Robert Dabney Jr: Thank you, Scott, for having me on, man. I appreciate it. And hopefully we get to do it again.
Scott DeLuzio: Yes, absolutely.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:58:17 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website, DriveOnPodcast.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @ DriveOnPodcast.
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