EAST CANTON, OH (WOIO) - Female veterans in East Canton have found therapy and camaraderie on the golf course, with the Clearview HOPE program.
The Helping Our Patriots Everyday, or HOPE, program was started six years ago and expected to only last for five weeks. The program is now year round, and participants tell Cleveland 19 that the roster went from just three to about 50.
Witnessing the women play on the green, you can hear the shouts of encouragement to one another.
The golfing is about more than golf.
"We have that camaraderie again like when we served that we didn't have the rest of our lives," said Mindy Cooper. Cooper is an army veteran who served from 1983-1990.
She, and other participants in the program said the golfing is therapeutic, many of the women had never picked up a club before.
"It's amazing how being out here on a golf course with fellow veterans makes people feel comfortable and safe and they're in their element again and you can just see people relax with time," said Cooper.
It's one of few programs specifically for female veterans, and Cleveland 19 was told that distinction does make a difference.
"We always feel just a little bit isolated from the majority and we don't tend to wear hats and shirts like men tend to do. We're a little more invisible," said Cooper. "We're not invisible anymore."
"Anything that you want to share is fine and anything you don't want to share is fine too, we're here for you," said 26-year Army veteran Hollis Burkes. "People don't have to talk about what they've done or what bothers them, but over time we find that people really come to rely on the group and that's a good thing."
And everything, from equipment to time on the greens, is free. According to PGA pro Renee Powell who started the program, the women who participate have sacrificed enough.
"It's the least that I feel that we can do. We're giving hardly anything back to them compared to what they've done for us," said Powell.
Fellow PGA pro Kirsten Eckley helps out with the program too and echoed her friend's sentiment.
"They have volunteered at a time when it's an all volunteer military to defend our country and to serve the country, and so I figure the least I can do is come down here and help them with their golf swings," said Eckley.
During the golf season the women meet up every Friday, and they also have other gatherings throughout the year.
Download the Cleveland 19 News app.