From Strangers to Family
After the success of our Chicago Veterans softball team, many Veterans wanted to continue meeting and spending time together. They decided to try their luck at another sport; this time, volleyball! The team reached out to other veterans via social media and invited them to an open practice at the Windy City Field House in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Recreational activities such as volleyball, give Veterans an opportunity to get out of their homes, clear their minds, exercise, and spend time with fellow service members; which could drastically reduce PTSD symptoms.
“I didn’t know anyone when I first joined the volleyball team,” said Isaura Almanza-Fonseca, a United States Army Veteran. “I only knew that Chicago Veterans was promoting it. I was a bit wary about showing up and feeling like the ‘new kid’ on the block. However, I reminded myself that if they weren’t so inviting to strangers, they wouldn’t post an invitation. I am happy to say I am glad I showed up and became part of a team that was quick to welcome me.”
Their first practice was on a Saturday afternoon and it was non-stop laughter. The practice was the first time many of them had ever played volleyball and it definitely showed. They had a fun time learning the fundamentals from setting to digging and serving, also pretending to know how to spike. Luckily, one fellow veteran on the team played volleyball when he was younger and helped organize the rest of the group to start practicing as a team. Their first game was the following Wednesday; the team’s opportunity to show off their hard work.
The team joined a Wednesday evening league in Chicago’s West Town Neighborhood. Each match consisted of 3 games, the first two games being played to 25 points and the last one to 15. They did not win the match but that didn’t stop them from laughing and enjoying each other’s company. They decided to schedule practice the following Saturday and continue practicing as a team. “Teamwork is something that is strongly instilled in us as soldiers, and what better way to put that to use than to join a sports activity with others that understand that concept. I am all about teamwork,” said Isaura.
Week after week the team was improving and working better as a unit, and soon, won their first game. “I am so happy that I didn’t stop myself from showing up that day. I enjoyed having something to look forward to every week where I could have fun for a few hours; especially doing something I liked with people I slowly started to call friends. The fact that I am not the best volleyball player didn’t stop the team from asking or making sure I would show up,” said Isaura.
The team ended the season in third place, but their record wasn’t the important part. Like Isaura said, “It’s a great feeling being surrounded by individuals that are so selfless and care so much about the community they live in as well as the people within their [veteran community]; they are stuck with me now!” What started as strangers during their first initial volleyball practice evolved into a family by the end of the season. Someone once said, a fellow veteran is never a stranger, we are family.