SOUTH PLAINFIELD -  The Motorcycle Committee of the South Plainfield Elks Lodge organized Waffles for Warriors on Sept. 28 from 3p.m. to 8p.m., serving ice cream and waffles for $5 each.  All proceeds were donated to Unbroken Warriors, a nonprofit organization that provides veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) the means to pursue effective residential treatment. 

“This event is all about Unbroken Warriors and supporting our veterans,” said Paula Janeszek, Secretary of the South Plainfield Elks Motorcycle Committee.  “I worked at a mental health facility for 25 years, so I saw what people are going through.  This event is to help those who served our country and struggle when they return.”

Raffling off prizes with a DJ for entertainment, the lodge was able to raise money to donate to the cause.  Navy Veteran and Founder/CEO of Unbroken Warriors, Michael Dowens, and his service dog, Emery, attended the event, offering information about what many veterans experience upon arriving home after serving.  

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“When you go to war and come back, you may feel like you’re different, you’re changed, because most likely, you are,” said Dowens.  “But you’re not broken.  There are ways around having that feeling of hopelessness and that there’s no way up.  The name ‘Unbroken Warriors’ came from that sense of being able to get back on your feet and feel like you have a purpose again.  You can have that sense of service that you had when you were in the military.”

From a young age, Dowens knew he wanted to enter the military.  After 9/11, he realized it was time to follow his heart and fight for his country.  He became a Navy search and rescue swimmer, serving in Iraq, Somalia and Liberia from 2002 to 2006.  What he was not prepared for was how the experience would impact him and how he would feel after coming home.

“One of the big things that I struggled with when I got out of the military was not having the camaraderie that I had with the guys that I was with over there and not having a purpose when I came back,” said Dowens.  “I reached out and got some help myself because I was having a hard time with things.”

Dowens said he founded Unbroken Warriors in 2016 after seeing how expensive it was to get the treatment he needed.  

“I wanted to give back to the community, give back to veterans, by raising money and helping them get the same treatment I got and not have to worry about the cost,” said Dowens.

All donations to Unbroken Warriors go directly to send veterans to a residential facility in Florida called Refuge.

“Refuge is where I went and got the help I needed,” said Dowens.  “It has every type of treatment you can ask for right there on campus.  It’s very expensive, though, because nongovernmental help is very costly.  So we try to cover 100% of their 60 day stay to go there.”

Dowens obtained his service dog through K9s for Warriors and says he and Emery go everywhere together.  

“Emery gives me that camaraderie that I miss,” said Dowens.  “She depends on me and I depend on her.  Even when we’re home, if I’m in the shower, she lays there.  If I’m making dinner, she’s laying there.  She even helps me at night when I’m sleeping through nightmares.”

Anticipating when she is needed, Emery keeps a close watch on her charge.    

“She keeps me focused on her and that’s what her job is,” said Dowens.  “If I’m out in public and I’m having a bad situation, she’ll pick up on it.  She’ll force my attention on her, which helps me get through that situation.  So having a service dog is a tool to get through PTSD, but it’s not a cure.  So people have to realize, I have a dog, but it’s not a cure, it’s a tool that I have to fight it.”

Dowens says that veterans coming home need support and having an experienced staff of professionals, who have helped hundreds of veterans learn the tools to cope with PTSD, is crucial.  He continues to spread awareness about the plight of many veterans just like him and raise money to give them relief.  

The Elks continue work to advocate for veterans and support endeavors to help them after they have made great sacrifices for the country.  For more information about Unbroken Warriors, go to www.unbrokenwarriors.org, and for more information about the Elks and upcoming events, visit www.elks.org.