Winchester, CA – Annie Birl of Birmingham, Alabama has dedicated her entire adult life to serving hospitalized veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in Birmingham. She started as a phone operator and worked in many positions over the years, leading to recognition as an Administrative Officer of the Day. Most people familiar with the Birmingham VA know Birl, as she retired after 34 years of service in 2008. Being from a military family, Birl has a strong sense of giving back, particularly for military veterans.
It wasn’t long after retiring that she heard about a job opening as a Craft Care Specialist with national nonprofit organization Help Hospitalized Veterans (HHV).
HHV is the nation’s largest supplier of free therapeutic arts & crafts kits to VA and military hospitals worldwide, having donated over 27 million kits since 1971. HHV also employs 60 other Craft Care Specialists (CCS) for the purpose of augmenting VA staff and ensuring that veterans have the opportunity to integrate craft therapy as part of their treatment.
For Birl, the CCS position was a godsend as she’d spent her entire VA career working in administration and is now able to help veterans more directly in a clinical environment.
“The arts & crafts have such a powerful impact on the veterans, with the most obvious benefit being to take their minds off their health issues. But the crafts do much more, as working on them gives veterans a sense of self-worth. Finished kits bring a sense of accomplishment that says ‘I put this together with my own hands.’ Distribution of the kits is met with excitement and anticipation as the patients really love putting them together. I often ask the younger veterans if they’d like to put their video games aside and try assembling a classic motorcycle or helicopter kit. Once they try it, they’re hooked,” Birl beamed, adding that with more women receiving care through VA in programs like the breast cancer survivor support group, HHV kits like scrapbooks and leather purses prove a great way of reaching out to them.
“The kits are also utilized in a blinded veterans support group where it’s inspiring to witness them successfully completing arts & crafts. Engaging veterans in something that both occupies their spare time while enhancing self-esteem is rather special. Arts & crafts definitely help veterans realize that anything is possible if they try,” she said.