Daniel Center now open in Highland
After five years of searching for a suitable location to run a counseling and outreach center for active and returning veterans and their families, Julia Dehn and her staff have now set down roots in Highland. Last Thursday the center held an official opening ceremony at their new office at 20 Milton Ave., next to M&T Bank.
The stated mission of the center is “where veterans can come to interact with other veterans, share experiences and to give each other encouragement and support to transition back into society.”
Anthony Langhorn began the ceremony, using a feather and a white deer antler to direct smoke from burning white sage from an abalone shell aimed at cleansing and blessing the building and the staff at the center. Langhorn, who is also known as Tony Moon Hawk, has Native American ancestry on both sides of his family – the Unchauge and Parmunky tribes of New York and Virginia, respectively.
“We did a blessing today for the grand opening and this way we can chase all the bad spirits away,” he said. “The sage carries the prayers up to God faster than if you just prayed.”
Langhorn said he performed the blessing so “they get off to a good start.”
Dehn, who is the director of the Daniel Center, said they were able to raise $6,000, which is half of the first year’s rent “so we thought let’s jump in and hope we learn how to swim.” Future fundraising plans are in the works.
Dehn said in the coming weeks they will reach out to veterans in the community to let them know they are open and the types of services they offer. In addition, they will be contacting other agencies to see how they may help individuals with drug or alcohol abuse issues.
“We’re really going to tap into everything,” she said.
Dehn said the center is named in honor of Daniel Postiglione, a childhood friend, who returned from Vietnam “a changed man.” He eventually became homeless, suffered from various addictions, was diagnosed with schizophrenia but never received the medical attention he needed. Postiglione committed suicide six years ago. Upon hearing the news, Dehn made a promise to do all she could to help those who have served their country.
Dehn said having a home base is critically important.
“Now they know where to find us and they can come here and know our door is always open,” she said. The center is open from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., Monday to Friday and on Saturday by appointment. Dehn stressed that veterans can just “pop in” when they need assistance on any issue, small or large, and consultations are free. She said they can also provide transportation to and from the center or to appointments to doctors and the VA Center at Castle Point.
Dehn said starting out they will be an all-volunteer staff so that they can compile data to show there is a need for their services in the community. She is hoping to attract state or federal funding support so they can eventually purchase a home where returning veterans can stay for up to a year and receive the necessary care and support to help them transition back into society.
Dehn stressed that the center is open to the families of veterans so they can better understand what their loved one is going through and that marriages can be strengthened and preserved. She is hoping the center can assist veterans who may be contemplating suicide by helping them identify their emotionally charged issues before they reach the breaking point.
“If we can get them talking about some of the problems, some of the flashbacks, some of the bad memories that they have, they may not be put in the position where they feel so hopeless and helpless, where they feel there is nothing for them,” she said.
Dehn said “I am still pinching myself that the center is now open. I feel like I am still in a dream state and haven’t woken up.”
The center has two case managers, Juanita Cioto and Lynn Lasko, and an assistant director, Pat Asnip.
Cioto, who has been with the center for three years, will be doing drug and alcohol counseling. As a young woman, Cioto had wanted to join the military but was unable to do so; adding that she always has “a soft spot in my heart for veterans.” She said the staff wears many hats but they function as a team in their efforts to assist veterans.
Cioto said she is fulfilled by being a part of this worthwhile work.
“It’s so sadly needed because our vets are not getting what they need and some are afraid to ask for what they need. We want to be the go-between to get everything they need,” she said.
Asnip has been involved in the Daniel Center from the beginning – “I will be doing a little bit of everything.” She said she became involved “because I feel the vets need help; that’s the honest bottom line.”
Lasko said she will be helping veterans with small items such as obtaining hygiene products to making sure they receive their proper and full benefits. She said at times veterans get discouraged when faced with a bureaucratic logjam.
“They do want to give up because it’s such a process to go through,” she said.
Lasko said she has also been with the center “from day one,” adding that because she comes from a family of veterans “it made me want to do this all the more.”
Lasko said now having a physical location will make a significant difference in the community.
“Not only can we begin to make a difference, but we can really help the veterans,” she said “There are so many homeless out there. There are so many that aren’t getting the benefits they need because they just don’t have enough staffing down there at the VA.”
With the opening of the Daniel Center, things just got a bit brighter for veterans.
The Daniel Center is on the web at www.danielcenterinc.org; and is also on Facebook, under the same name. The center can be reached during office hours at 845-691-5270 and after-hours Dehn can be reached at 845-750-2684.
By MARK REYNOLDS