Things have gotten much better when it comes to restrictions that are placed due to COVID-19.  However, there are some residents of the Erie Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center who have not been outside the complex since COVID began.  That situation improved a few days ago when some of the residents took a nice little trip to the Erie Zoo. 

The buses pulled into the front entrance of the zoo. The veterans and their wheelchairs finally arrived.  It was time for a long-awaited field trip for these veterans. Field trips are not a frequent thing for these guys even though such trips are much needed after that long lockdown during COVID.  A trip like this needs donations and volunteers.

"It has been tough to organize community outreaches and different events like this, says Katelyn Duberg, Local Recovery Coordinator at the Erie VA. “So, this has been so exciting.  We've been waiting for this to finally put on an event."

Eric Cass is Commander of the Erie/Crawford Disabled American Veterans. (DAV)

"We went and did all the paperwork and tried to get donations in. Asking for donations and then asking for volunteers to help with the event,” he said.

Planning for the field trip began in February.  The work was worth it.  Donations were given by many groups including the Erie Moose Lodge.  Groups such as the Boy Scouts and VFW Post 470 were asked to provide volunteers to escort some of the veterans around the zoo. The organizations did not disappoint. 

Elias Buhl guided veteran Art Wright through all the animal exhibits. Elias was told of the need for volunteers by one of his jiu-jitsu coaches at 3 Elements Gym.

"I'm pretty happy to do it,” he said.  “I really appreciate Art and everything he's done.  It's not very much for me to give up a Friday afternoon.”

Some of the veterans were escorted by family members who met their loved one at the front gate.  The zoo visit was like a family reunion for veteran Gary Dolph. He enjoyed seeing the zoo animals, but it was being with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren that he REALLY enjoyed.

"Some of these little kids I've never seen. I've been at the VA for over two years. The little kids I've never seen until today,” Gary said.  

It was a wonderful day away from the usual confines of the VA Medical Center. The veterans and their families will not forget the memories they made at the zoo…thanks to some generous volunteers.

One of the next field trips being planned for the veterans is a visit to Presque Isle to see a nice sunset.  Donors and volunteers are also needed to make that trip a success. To help, contact Eric Cass, Commander of the Erie/Crawford chapter of the DAV.  He can be reached at 814-440-8053 or at [email protected].