MONTROSE - Jared Bolhuis, a 25-year-old United States Marine and kayak instructor, has found his dream job among a group of Montrose citizens who have set out to help wounded veterans.
Military service is in Bolhuis's blood. His mother served, as did many of his relatives, and now both his younger sisters have joined the military ranks.
Bolhuis thought the Marines would be his career, until everything changed, when, serving in Afghanistan in 2008, he was exposed to two major explosions. When he returned to the states, he started having dizzy spells and trouble concentrating, from a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
And so, six-and-a-half years into what was suppose to be a 20-year career, Bolhuis decided to leave the military rather than sit behind a desk.
He didn't like being idle. "When you get that kind of news … every veteran, I mean every veteran, asks the same question, 'Now what?'" Bolhuis said, in an interview with The Watch, of the medical board's decision to remove him from combat duty.
Bolhuis found his way to the Wounded Warriors Project in Washington, D.C., becoming a whitewater kayak instructor through Team River Runner, a nonprofit organization that gives service members and veterans an opportunity to find health, healing and new challenges through whitewater activities.
Now, Bolhuis wants to help others find their direction in life.
"I want to know what their answer is," he said. "If they could do anything, what would that be?"
Bolhuis arrived last week in Montrose, where he will work for Welcome Home Montrose.
The vision of Welcome Home Montrose is to create a no-barriers city that meets the fundamental needs – physical and financial comforts, mental and physical health, purpose and meaning, faith and inspiration, family and friends, recreation and realization – of wounded warriors from the armed forces.
"I got excited about the program and just wanted to help," he said.
Bolhuis had been working on a business model for a nonprofit that he wanted to create, with a mission to get veterans into their dream jobs. Upon hearing about Welcome Home Montrose, and then visiting the area, he knew he could help make it happen.
Welcome Home Montrose is opening a Warrior Resource Center at 11 S. Park Ave. It will be a "one-stop heartbeat of resources" for veterans, said Melanie Kline, the Montrose business owner who first conjured the concept of Welcome Home Montrose after watching a morning television special on Team River Runner.
Unlike Team River Runner, recreation is only a part of the Welcome Home Montrose concept. Also in the works is the "Honoring Vets" window sticker project, which will provide veterans complimentary discounts from participating businesses.
And a third component, which Bolhuis will head, is the Dream Job Pilot Program.
The pilot program will bring five wounded warriors to Montrose, where they will team up with five professionals, from the profession of their choice, for six months of mentoring, beginning in August.
Three of the veterans have already been chosen: Marine Ed Lyons, Seaman Judi Boyce and Marine Joshua Heck. They will be the program's "guinea pigs," providing the feedback and data the organization needs to apply for grants and other forms of support, Bolhuis said.
The veterans will spend six months in their chosen fields, utilizing the resource center and other programs established to support them through Welcome Home Montrose.
They won't be paid, but will receive free housing and a living stipend.
"We want to relieve as much stress as possible so they can find out who they are," Bolhuis said.
The goal is to bring more veterans to Montrose, provide them with housing, mentoring and a new lifestyle that will enable them, once completing the Dream Job aspect of the program, to establish themselves in Montrose, buy or rent a home and give back to the community and the economy.
"We are building the foundation, rather than just throwing money at it," Bolhuis said. "This is not a quick fix. You've got to give to get back – but it will work."
Kati O'Hare at firstname.lastname@example.org