'Welcome Home Project' honors returning vets

About 30 American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will celebrate Memorial Day a little differently this year.

Through The Welcome Home Project, the veterans and their families will attend a five-day retreat starting May 22 at Buckhorn Springs near Ashland.

The gathering &

facilitated by Peggy Rubin and Vietnam-era vet Michael Meade, both scholars of mythology, storytelling and theater &

will encourage veterans to use the expressive arts to tell their stories and support one another.

Ashland husband and wife team Bill McMillan and Kim Shelton created The Welcome Home Project out of their desire to support returning soldiers.

"We want to bring the community together and narrow the distance between soldiers and those who haven't experienced war," said McMillan, a marriage and family psychotherapist who has worked with veterans. "The goal is to fill in the gaps between war and peace, trauma and renewal, isolation and homecoming."

Shelton, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and McMillan will make a documentary film about the project with the goal of motivating communities nationwide to create their own welcome home ceremonies for returning veterans.

The Welcome Home Project will culminate in a "Voices of Veterans" public program on Memorial Day, May 26, at 5:30 p.m. at the Angus Bowmer Theater in Ashland.

The event will include poetry, visual art and theater created by veterans at the retreat, exposing the audience to stories of war and the difficulties soldiers face returning home.

"Healing can happen when the burdens of war are shared by the greater community," Shelton said. "All too often, that conversation is avoided."

Many Southern Oregon foundations, businesses and individuals have contributed resources to the Welcome Home effort, including The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which donated use of the Bowmer Theater.

Tickets to "Voices of Veterans" are by donation (suggested $15 each) and free to veterans. They can be picked up at The Grocery Outlet in Medford and Paddington Station in Ashland.

"We want to restore the idea that Memorial Day can serve our nation as a public ritual for healing in the aftermath of war," McMillan said.

He and Shelton plan to continue the event every year at other venues throughout the region.

To register for the retreat, volunteer or make a tax-deductible donation, contact Bill McMillan at 482-1072, or visit .

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