MILWAUKEE — This Irish Fest is not only celebrating Irish heritage, but also honoring those who protect and serve our country.
When Richard Taczala got back from Vietnam, he was reluctant to seek help, even though he knew he was having a hard time transitioning to his new normal.
However, eventually, he reached a breaking point.
“It’s hard to go and say I need help,” Taczala said. “I spent some time at the VA getting an attitude adjustment.”
Access to resources for veterans and active service members can be hard to come by. Some people reject the idea of seeking help in the first place, so David Hoffmaster decided to spread this information at ‘Heroes Hut’ at Milwaukee’s annual Irish Fest.
“It’s something that a lot of them don’t have the means or want to go to a VA center or something, and so we’re bringing that to them,” Hoffmaster said.
It’s the center's second year, open to all active military, veterans and now also first responders.
Organizations are providing details about suicide awareness, mental health and veteran employment opportunities, and there’s also a place for vets to bond.
“They were ecstatic to kind of just be able to talk to each other, and find a safe spot to sit down and meet some people that they might not know,” Hoffmaster said.
Theresa Zwieg who’s a major in the army reserve said it’s important to bring this kind of awareness to mental health issues.
“When you see them at an event like this it keeps you thinking that they’re there and that there’s always places to reach out to,” Zwieg said. “It’s felt at the lowest level all the way up the chain of command. I mean everybody feels it. Everyone wants to change the way things are going.”
She hopes that making these resources more readily available will encourage her brothers and sisters to take advantage of them, just like Taczala continues to do.
“You feel a lot better. You can shake it off a little bit. You feel good,” Taczala said.
Hoffmaster plans to bring these resource centers to more large events and festivals across the country as a part of his new nonprofit, Lionheart Junction.
Heroes Hut will be open at Irish Fest Saturday from noon to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
On Saturday first responders can get into the festival free with one guest between noon and 4 p.m. At 3:45 p.m. there will also be a ceremony honoring the fallen.
On Sunday veterans and active military members can get into the festival free with one guest all day.