A free cup of coffee can be a first step toward sharing and understanding. And getting much-needed help.
Linda Jacquot hopes that’s how it will work. She and her husband, who both served in the Army, have spent this year preparing to open a coffee shop in Coeur d’Alene with a unique mission.
G.I. Java will double as a place for military veterans to get together and talk about their struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder or other war-related trauma, substance abuse and other issues.
“What this is all about is helping those vets who have fallen through the cracks with PTSD. There’s not enough services,” Jacquot said. “A lot of these homeless guys that are wandering around out there, and even some homeless females, are vets. There’s nothing in place for these guys. It’s a national shame.”
The vet center and volunteer-run coffeehouse will operate under a nonprofit group, the Veterans Relief Fund, in a rented storefront next to Ace Hardware in the Midtown neighborhood.
The Jacquots found the commercial space late last year and bought coffee equipment and furniture in February. It took several more months to secure building permits for the 1,200-square-foot space, which will be split between the coffee shop and a private room where veterans can gather to talk through their problems.
These will be peer-led support groups modeled after ones coordinated by the Veterans Administration in Spokane, Linda Jacquot said. They may include separate groups for veterans of Vietnam, Desert Storm and other conflicts.
“They can sit down, go around the group and discuss what problems they’re facing that week,” she said.
The conversation may be about issues related to their chronic illness, or something as mundane as car trouble.
“They can build a camaraderie among themselves, which is what they had in the military,” she said. “Together they can get through things.”
David Jacquot served in the Gulf War in the early 1990s and was injured twice in accidents while deployed, leaving him disabled. He has found help for PTSD through a VA support group in Spokane. But that outreach is able to help only a small number of veterans in the region, said his wife, Linda.
“There are 20,000 veterans in North Idaho,” she said. “Not all of them are combat vets, not all of them have PTSD, but a high number of them do.”
VA studies show that roughly 20 veterans commit suicide each day, on average – a figure Jacquot suspects is low due to inconsistent reporting from state to state. Unemployment and homelessness are other common outcomes of the problems veterans bring home from war, she said.
They need to talk with others who are experiencing the same thing, she said. “If we can keep one guy or gal going one more day, then we’ve done what we’re going to do.”
“And it’s not just PTSD,” she added. “We want to address veteran alcohol and drug abuse.”
All proceeds from coffee sales will go back into the business, she said. But for all veterans, the Cravens coffee is on the house.
“Coffee gets them through the door” and hopefully into one of the support groups meeting in the back, Jacquot said.
She can imagine exactly how it will work: “They’ll come in, have some coffee, talk to other vets, see what’s going on and say, ‘You know what, I think I’d like to be a part of that. I think that might be able to help me.’ ”
The couple had hoped to be open last April. Now they’re aiming for the winter holidays.
“It’s been a long haul to get it to this point,” Jacquot said.
There’s lots of work left to do, including electrical and new bathrooms. Stacks of lumber sit on the floor. Contractors, plumbers and other building professionals have volunteered time and labor.
“We’ve had some great donors, and we’ve had a lot of people step up and say when you open, I want to volunteer. … We need volunteers,” Linda Jacquot said.
The couple are spending their own money to remodel and open the vet center and coffee shop, and they’re trying to raise another $5,000 to finish the work.
They plan to put all proceeds from coffee sales right back into the operation.
“We’re not taking a dime out of this once it opens,” Jacquot said. “Every penny will go back into paying the rent, paying for coffee for veterans, and whatever other programs that we can provide for vets.”
Speaking for her husband, Jacquot said the project has been a healthy endeavor.
“This is sort of a therapy for him. Doing something positive for a group of people he cares a lot about gives him hope,” she said.
And that is a message they want to leave with others who walk through the door of G.I. Java. “You can sit here and suffer, or you can find a way out,” she said. “And if you find that way out, I think a lot of times it’s going to be through doing something for others.”
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