Aurora's Commitment2Community aims to help returning veterans build new bonds
Soldiers returning home from the battlefield can carry unseen scars, and Commitment2Community, a new Aurora-based nonprofit, is trying to help by forming a strong community of young veterans.
Heather Kuziel, 41, of Aurora founded the group in 2018 as a way to provide support and therapeutic recreation for veterans, their loved ones and those currently serving.
Kuziel is not a veteran. She had dreamed of joining the Air Force, but couldn't for medical reasons.
Though she grew up in the Aurora area, she spent most of her adult life in Florida where she worked as a recreational therapist in a group home. While there, she would organize activities between the foster kids and local veterans.
"Youth in the foster system can feel lost," Kuziel said. "The kids felt they had a mentor and someone to look up to."
She started Commitment2Community soon after she and her 9-year-old son moved back to the area.
The group's main program is called #22vets, a reference to the number of military veterans who die by suicide per day, on average. The group organizes monthly therapeutic recreation events to help foster a sense of community among younger veterans.
During war, brotherhoods often form among troops. But once they return home, Kuziel said, they can lose that bond.
"So we help them form a new brotherhood here in the community," Kuziel said.
Last month, the group met at Barbell 4:13 Gym in North Aurora, which is owned by a veteran, Dave Keilman. At the event, veterans were treated to a free workout and pizza.
Another recent gathering was with Greg Zilioli, an Aurora resident who teaches woodworking skills to veterans through A Call to Shoulders. The program aims to teach veterans new skills that could even help them start their own businesses.
The next event will be at Beans Greens Proteins, an Aurora health food restaurant owned by Andrew Schoenwetter, a veteran and a member of the Commitment2Community board. The group will gather for free food, games and fun. The veterans will also box up donated items, including snacks and toiletries, to ship to soldiers serving overseas.
Those interested in learning more about the group can go to hkcommitment2commu.wixsite.com/mysite.