Welcome Home Place winter coats web.jpeg

Free brand-new winter coats will be available for veterans and military members at the Feb. 22 Welcome Home Place. The coats, in all sizes, were provided by the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation in conjunction with Ocean State Job Lot and are being distributed by Clear Path for Veterans New England.

The Brookfield Institute’s Welcome Home Place is a drop-in resource center for veterans, active duty military, National Guard and their families. It’s held at the E2E Learning Center, 79 Main St., Ware, from 9 to 11 a.m. the fourth Saturday of each month. Also at the Feb. 22 gathering, Clear Path’s Brandon Bregel will talk about being a peer-to-peer mentor and what services and resources Clear Path has available.

It’s all about the listening, Bregel says, He connects with his fellow veterans simply by listening.

“There’s no preparing you need to do to listen. Don’t assume you know what their problem is,” said Bregel, who works at Clear Path for Veterans New England. “Don’t read between the lines into what you think the problem is.”

Brandon Bregel

Brandon Bregel

Bregel, originally from California, served in the Army. He joined in 2005, was stationed in Germany and served two tours in Afghanistan. Then he moved to his wife’s home state of Massachusetts, where he deployed with the Massachusetts National Guard. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and was going to graduate school when he realized he was “not a fan of the 50-minute-hour therapy.”

He got his certification in mentoring and volunteered at Clear Path and the VA before starting working at Clear Path in November. He continues his volunteering, including sitting with hospice patients at the hospital in Providence and with veterans receiving chemotherapy.

Having empathy is just as important listening, he said. “I can connect on empathy. I believe everyone can truly connect if they filter out the nitty-gritty. I think anyone can work together. We’ve all experienced trauma.”

It also sometimes helps that peer support isn’t documented, he said. “There’s still anonymity in case someone is worried about their job finding out.“

But the talking — and listening — is still vitally important, Bregel said. He worries about isolated veterans or people who have trouble asking for help. “They sit there with their symptoms and they either learn to deal with them, or the (symptoms) take over.”

For more information about Welcome Home Place or the Brookfield Institute, go to www.brookfieldinstitute.org, email Beverly Prestwood-Taylor at [email protected] or call or text 413-563-7282. For more information about Clear Path New England, go to www.clearpathne.org