IRON RANGE – United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN)’s United for Veterans (UFV) committee introduced the Veterans Wellness Passport in March 2021.
Since then, local veterans have gathered throughout the region for free activities like fishing, golfing, kayaking, target shooting, and yoga classes.
The new year will bring changes to the program, all based on the feedback of local veterans and service members.
“Everything we do at UWNEMN we do based on community input,” said UWNEMN Executive Director Erin Shay. “We knew we couldn’t grow the Wellness Passport in a meaningful way without hearing from the people we are trying to impact.”
UWNEMN conducted a survey in the final months of 2021, open to any veteran or service member in the organization’s service area (Iron Range, Koochiching County, and Lake of the Woods County)— whether they’d participated in a Veterans Wellness Passport activity or not.
The survey was helpful in selecting the frequency of activities, preferred days and times to hold activities, and best methods of communication, according to UWNEMN Community Impact Coordinator Michelle Lampton.
“Thanks to the feedback we’ve received, we have been working hard to streamline the signup process and have the full calendar of activities ready for the whole year,” she said, noting some activities later in the year do have dates listed as “TBA” because venues aren’t yet able to schedule them.
In addition, all veterans and service members who sign up for an activity for the first time will receive a Passport ID, which will allow them to register seamlessly for events throughout the year. Each veteran will also be provided a Passport backpack, made possible with help from Elks Lodge #1161 in Eveleth.
The biggest change to Veterans Wellness Passport is the inclusion of family activities.
“The most unanimous feedback we received was everyone would prefer to bring family members or friends to activities,” Lampton said.
The 2022 calendar kicks off and wraps up with family activities meant to be a celebration for local veterans, service members, and their families. Participants will also have the option to bring family members to activities not specifically organized as family celebrations.
Veterans Wellness Passport goal The goal of the Veterans Wellness Passport is to improve well-being and build community for all active duty, veterans, and members of the National Guard and Reserve living or working in UWNEMN’s service area.
According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise builds confidence, increases social interaction, and helps people cope in a healthy way—and it doesn’t take a strenuous workout routine, either.
“Any physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving can help improve your mood,” the clinic’s website reads.
Another goal for UWNEMN and the United for Veterans committee is to remove barriers for local veterans in getting together and exploring wellness activities across the region.
“We want to make this easy and fun,” Lampton said at the time of launch. “We want the program to be welcoming— whether you’re new to the area or new to a particular activity, or if you’ve lived here your whole life and are an expert at the month’s activity, there’s a place for you here!”
Though surveyed veterans and service members had feedback on areas of improvement the Veterans Wellness Passport, many who participated in 2021 activities said those original goals are being met.
“I have enjoyed the program and events and the chance to be active together,” one participant said.
“I’ve had a great time on the activities I’ve been able to participate,” another said.
For full details on UWNEMN’s Veterans Wellness Passport, visit www.unitedwaynemn.org/veterans-wellness-passport.
Since 1966, the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) has worked to serve the needs of individuals and families on the Iron Range (Northern St. Louis County and Eastern Itasca County), Koochiching County, and Lake of the Woods County. The organization’s mission is to unite and focus our communities in creating measurable results to improve people’s lives and strengthen our families. For more information, visit www.unitedwaynemn.org.