Welcome home, veterans

Anyone who's ever wanted to express their thoughts and feelings to a veteran can now do so in the form of a letter.

Letter writing stations have been set up in Ashland and the rest of the Rogue Valley as part of the Welcome Home Project.

In a quiet nook of the Ashland Public Library, visitors can sit down at a table and write out a message to veterans.

A small house, hand-made and painted by high school students, is waiting to receive the letters. People can also read messages written by others.

Visitors can write a letter at any time, or come to a special letter-writing evening on Monday, May 5. The library is open until 8 p.m. on Mondays.

"We encourage people to come in and read and write together," said Ashland Public Library Branch Manager Amy Blossom.

Gallery DeForest at 270 Fourth St. also has a letter writing station. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and by appointment during April.

Cathy DeForest said the letter writing portion of the Welcome Home Project grew as a grassroots, decentralized way for artists to participate by making small houses to receive the messages.

Rogue Valley residents will probably see houses and letter-writing stations pop up in other, unexpected locations.

Kids in Ashland's elementary schools will be writing letters to veterans, although it will be up to each school principal to decide on the grade levels involved, said Ashland School District Superintendent Juli Di Chiro.

"They can write personal letters of thanks from a child's perspective. I think that will be meaningful for the veterans," she said.

People can write letters to veterans who are friends, relatives or who they don't now. The veteran could be alive or dead, and from any war, said Kim Shelton, an Ashland resident and documentary filmmaker who is organizing the Welcome Home Project with Ashland family therapist Bill McMillan.

The letters will be taken to a five-day retreat to be held in May at Buckhorn Springs resort outside Ashland for veterans and their families. Retreat participants will work with trauma recovery specialists and Seattle mythologist, author, storyteller and Vietnam-era veteran Michael Meade.

The veterans and their families will create the "Voices of Veterans: A Ceremony of Welcoming Home" program that will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Memorial Day, May 26, in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Angus Bowmer Theatre.

Tickets, which are $15 for the general public and free to veterans, went on sale today at Paddington Station in downtown Ashland and at Grocery Outlet in Medford.

The event will feature poetry, art and dramatic performances. Letters to veterans will be displayed at the theater.

During the ceremony, several groups will sing songs to the veterans from their seats in the audience. One group is a family of three that will be traveling from Missouri to sing a song they wrote, Shelton said.

A few spots are still available for local veterans at the retreat, which is free to veterans and their families, she said.

For more information about the nonpartisan Welcome Home Project, or to learn how to make a donation or to volunteer, visit or call 482-1072.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit .

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