By: Abbey Adams
“My husband and I could’ve moved anywhere, but we decided to stay here. We have a really strong sense of community which I think is getting harder and harder to find,” says Melissa Spicer. She is the CEO/Co-Founder of the all-inclusive community-based resource center called Clear Path for Veterans. They partner with local businesses and organizations to connect service members and their families to the resources they need, and provide in-house non-clinical programs to ensure that our Veterans are holistically supported in all of their physical and emotional needs.
Spicer has always been passionate throughout her life; Clear Path was a way for her to build trust. She says, “I know what it’s like to feel vulnerable – not a fun feeling. That’s how it started. That was the passion behind it.” Teaming up with her sister, Melinda Sorrentino, the two soon created a model that other communities will hopefully follow and execute for years to come. A model that values community with a plethora of resources to engage the military and civilian community together. She knew they had to find the perfect location that would foster a sense of home and comfort to all their visitors. “We needed to have a safe place… We’ve lived here our whole lives, and it was a family that really loved their property.” Clear Path for Vets is 13 miles southeast of Syracuse spanning 75 rural acres of Upstate New York’s farm country. A place that brings peace and serenity to anyone who comes in contact with it.
With most of their money going towards programming and services, Clear Path serves 23 counties with 27 staff members, 17 of them being veterans themselves. Spicer can’t say enough good things about the staff. “I’m very proud of how our staff has worked through the challenges of veterans and civilians in the workplace – for overcoming some of those challenges, moving forward, and growing.” Staff members work through five different areas with veterans; wellness (financial, social, physical), employment, healthcare/benefits, housing, and education. Clear Path accepts anyone for their programs – there are no restrictions based on years served, experience, etc. In a proud tone, Spicer says to me, “We dove into warrior culture and said you all served; we thank you, and this facility is for you. That was the message that resonated with the military community.”
Executive Chef, Adam Coleman suffered from severe PTSD and isolation after serving three tours. “I would seal myself off from everyone. I’d go two/three months without leaving the house,” he says. After coming to Clear Path for two months to run a self-training program he knew he found his new home. “I knew I was staying. I saw the view and the memorial here.” Coleman was living as a vagabond for close to eight years. He now has a baby, fiancé, job, friends, home, etc. He said, “They finally stabilized me.”
In 2015, Clear Path served 15,000 veterans, in 2016 that number increased to 18-22,000, and this year they have already surpassed 20,000, and it’s only June. When asking Melissa if she thinks there is a need for more establishments like Clear Path, she stops me mid-sentence and says, “Oh, absolutely…There’s a real need that we have found for leadership within a community that is led by the community. We want to be able to help others do the same.”
Spicer has seen the success of Clear Path first hand. After seeing two veterans start training their own dogs, she immediately noticed their physical, social skills, smile, and relationships with their families improve. Something that only further motivates the staff members to keep providing everything they can for veterans. “Being able to deliver diversity like we do really requires the support of community – can’t do it without it.” The Central New York native says she owes all of Clear Path’s success to the community. Without the never-ending support and positive feedback from community members, Clear Path wouldn’t be as thriving as it is today.
Melissa told me a metaphor that makes more and more sense every time I read it. “You know when you’re at the beach and someone gets lost in the water and everyone holds hands? Then they find the person and everybody’s happy? That’s how we have to function as a community with the veteran population. We know who they are. We seek them out, and try our best to understand them. Then really understand fully the value they have in the community and not be afraid.”