Approximately four years ago, Ray Hamilton was looking for a change. A veteran from Upstate New York, Ray moved to Vermont looking to get away from a hectic home life. When he first got here, he said that he had trouble meeting people, and he fell in with a crowd that didn’t enable him to make the healthiest choices. Soon after, he met Josh at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Josh works as the liaison between the V.A. and Vermont Adaptive.
Josh introduced Ray to our Veteran Ventures program, and Ray has been a part of the family ever since. Our Vets are a tight-knit bunch, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more welcoming group of people. On Thursdays, our Bolton group brings a potluck lunch (which heavily features our volunteer Carol Lathrop’s famous chili), and they’ll offer you a plate full of food as soon as you walk through the door. New members are always greeted with excitement, and the invitation to join is not exclusive to service members. We know that in order to support our vets, we need to support their communities, so we extend the invitation to families and partners too.
Ray’s first outing was during the summer, and he spent his Thursdays biking and hiking as a way to get out of the house. Now, we see Ray almost every week, all year long. He says that joining up with Vermont Adaptive Veteran Ventures program helped him to stop being reclusive, and get him outdoors with good friends. He attributes that to Kelly, our Program Coordinator, Misha, our Veteran Programs Specialist and Josh. He says that “they’ve done a really good job building this group into a family. I started coming in the summer, but now I come all year, all the time.”
Ray learned to snowboard with Vermont Adaptive during his first winter in Vermont. He had never touched the sport before then, and now he rips like he’s been doing it his entire life. Even more amazingly, he’s made the transition from client to volunteer instructor. Ray is using his years of experience snowboarding with Vermont Adaptive, to teach other adaptive athletes how to snowboard.
When Ray first started volunteering a year ago, he thought it would be a one-time thing in the summer. Kelly had a group of youth athletes who had visual impairments who were planning on biking, and Ray wanted to help her out. He didn’t realize how much fun he was going to have.
“You can just see these kids light up,” he said. “Because the kids I worked with are completely blind, they don’t get to go fast very often. They loved feeling the wind on their faces, and it was so fun to see their whole faces light up like that.”
Ray said that Vermont Adaptive is like his family, and that “Vermont Adaptive makes the things you think are impossible, possible. I never thought I would see kids who are blind skiing or biking, but Vermont Adaptive makes it happen.” On top of learning to snowboard, becoming a volunteer snowboarding coach, and getting outside every single week, Ray said that being with Vermont Adaptive has taught him more about himself, and given him a second chance.