VVWP started as an outreach program for veterans returning from World War II. Today, it serves all veterans with therapeutic writing programs to heal their unseen emotional and moral wounds. Veterans write about personal experiences and innermost thoughts to help manage the effects of PTSD and to reduce the risk of suicide. They also write for creative expression. It also offers the opportunity for community in writing groups and to have their work published. The program continues its important work for those serving in the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars. Now, with the return of injured veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and other recent conflicts, the project is more important than ever.
The project’s therapeutic writing program is designed to acknowledge military veterans’ experiences and build self-esteem through creative expression and possible publication.
Veterans Voices Writing Project (VVWP), originally began as the Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project (HVWP), an outreach program for wounded veterans returning from World War II. Volunteers went into Department of Veterans Affairs hospital wards to encourage soldiers and sailors to write their stories, thoughts and feelings on paper. They also worked by correspondence with veterans once they left the hospital.
Elizabeth Fontaine is credited with founding HVWP in 1946. She was assisted by fellow members of the Chicago North Shore chapter of Theta Sigma Phi (now The Association for Women in Communications). Writing as therapy was an untried concept, but Elizabeth and her volunteers quickly gained the confidence of the Veterans Administration which encouraged HVWP to participate in hospitals throughout the country.
As more and more veterans took part in the project, the organizers looked for writing incentives. They encouraged local competitions that included prizes, such as pens, paperback books, magazine subscriptions, and even an occasional typewriter, while they contemplated what else they could do to make the project more meaningful.
Then, in Kansas City, Margaret Sally Keach and Gladys Feld Helzberg, with assistance from the Greater Kansas City chapter of Theta Sigma Phi, hit upon the all-time incentive for writers: a national magazine that would publish their writing so others could enjoy and appreciate it. The first issue of Veterans’ Voices was published in 1952. It was mimeographed, hand-stapled and hand-addressed. It boasted 18 pages: 12 of prose and six of poetry. The manuscripts had been sent to Chicago for judging. From there, the winning manuscripts were forwarded to Kansas City for publication. Original magazine staffers, in addition to Sally Keach and Gladys Helzberg, included Betty Butler, Lucille Doores, Kay Dyer, Helen Huyck, Dorothy Martin, Josephine May, Charlotte McKenzie, Mary Jane Pierronet, Doris Quinn, and Mary Marcene Thomson.
For a number of years, the organization operated out of three cities: HVWP, the parent organization, was headquartered in Chicago; members of the New York Committee were largely responsible for fundraising, and the magazine was published in Kansas City. Then in 1972, the operations were consolidated with HVWP’s move to Kansas City. Sally Keach was elected president of HVWP. Sally-Sue Hughes was named publisher of Veterans’ Voices and Margaret Clark became editor of the magazine two years later in 1974. Operations have remained in Kansas City since then, although a recent move necessitated a change of address.
Recently, HVWP expanded its mission to serve all veterans, recognizing the need all veterans have to heal and started accepting online submissions through the website. The headquarters moved from an office on the Kansas side of Kansas City’s state line to space in Missouri. In the fall of 2015, the name changed to Veterans Voices Writing Project to accurately reflect the expanded mission.
Today, the project continues to actively encourage all military veterans to express their thoughts and feelings in writing and to send their stories, poems, and essays to the VVWP headquarters for possible publication in Veterans’ Voices. The ranks of World War II veterans have thinned, but there is no shortage of veterans from other wars in need of an outlet for their writing and the project is there to serve them.
Two part-time professionals staff the headquarters office while an all-volunteer staff produces the 68-page Veterans’ Voices magazine every March, July and October. The VVWP board of directors oversees publication of Veterans’ Voices and is responsible for raising funds to finance the organization and publish the magazine.
Please contact the VVWP office at 816-701-6844.
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