Posted on Apr 14, 2021

The Elmbrook Rotary Club and Foundation have been honored to support the Veterans in Focus Photography Group at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center since its inception in 2017.

The idea for the photography group came from visits that Courtney Zeller, HUD VASH Certified Therapeutic Recreation Therapist, had with veterans in their homes. Since many veterans had challenges finding stable housing in the past, Courtney took note that their living environments were “relatively stark."   A photography group class could potentially enable Veterans to experience the health benefits of camaraderie and self-exploration while additionally creating personal framed photographs to display at their home.

Veterans in Focus has been very successful and has evolved over the past five years, with two sessions offered annually in the spring and in the fall.  Together with three talented community volunteers, the veterans learn the technical skills of using the camera and photography along with skills that can be applied to improve their mental health. Then they explore various places in the community to practice their skills.  Some of these places have included the Milwaukee Lakefront, the Milwaukee Urban Ecology Center, the Water Tower, and the Harley Davidson Museum, to name a few.  Each session is concluded with a  photography exhibit open to the public for the veterans to display and share their work. The past community venues which have offered their sites for exhibits have included The Wilson Center, Northwestern Mutual, Carroll University, Milwaukee County Library-Central Branch, and the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center.

The exhibits are accompanied by an online slideshow which proved to be especially helpful in 2020 due to the pandemic. The most recent slide show, dated October 14, 2020, can be viewed online at  www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAbD6RAKq6g . The 10 minute slideshow demonstrates the stunning photographs taken by the Veterans during the  Fall 2020 session, and takes one to the rich venues visited, including the Sculpture Gardens, Havenwoods State Forest, Mitchell Domes, 3 Bridges Park, MKE Urban Stables, and the War Memorial! One of these photographs (taken during the fall session by Jeffry Peterson) is exhibited in this article.  

 
The following quote is from a veteran who was a participant in the fall session which encapsulates the benefits of the program:  “I gained inner growth, patience, and more awareness of my surroundings.” Another surprising outcome of the program has been that two of the past veteran participants are pursuing a future interest photography and are taking college education courses in photography related fields of study. 

If you or your company would like to learn more about the Veterans in Focus photography program, please contact Courtney Zeller (Courtney.zeller@va.gov).