© 2023 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Long Island veterans gather for annual Day of Wellness event

Paws of War
Desiree D'Iorio
Rebecca Stromski, a senior trainer at Paws of War, introduces therapy dogs to veterans at the Dwyer Project's annual Day of Wellness.

Over 100 Long Island veterans and their families gathered Saturday for a day of therapeutic activities and relaxation at the Dwyer Project’s annual Day of Wellness. 

The Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project hosted its eighth annual event at Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches to support veterans with activities like horseback riding, art and music therapy, kayaking and a comedy show.

Event organizers said the Dwyer Project isn't just another hotline for veterans to call when they need help — it's more like having a professional friend. The peer-to-peer program connects veterans with other veterans and gets them access to mental health services, housing and education benefits.

"It started with acupuncture, reiki, tai chi, massage therapy, yoga — and it's just expanded," said Marcelle Leis, the director of veteran services for the Association for Mental Health and Wellness. "We're able to open up all of our services: mental health, the peer support services, group activities."

This year's Day of Wellness was the first time the event was held in person since the onset of the pandemic.

"I'm just happy to be here in person," said Army veteran Louise Biancavilla of Brentwood. "And the horses were wonderful," she added about the equine therapy program.

Paws of War, a group that trains dogs as therapy animals for veterans with PTSD, was on hand to introduce therapy dogs to the veterans.

“Help a vet, save a pet," said Rebecca Stromski, a senior trainer with Paws of War. "We work with all branches, male, female, you name it.”

The Dwyer Project is named after Joseph P. Dwyer, an Army medic from Suffolk County who served in Iraq. Dwyer suffered from PTSD and died in 2008.

"He struggled openly with his PTSD," Leis said. "He did say that when he was struggling, that he needed other people around him that understood his lived experience. And these programs didn't exist back then."

Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.