MILWAUKEE— A gardening program at the Milwaukee VA is bringing together veterans from all different branches of the military.

There are a few ingredients needed to make this gardening group of veterans happy. They just need some sunshine, soil, and their very own garden to tend to.

“There is a little something for everyone to do,” Air Force veteran, Debra Kleist says.

The group meets each week on the grounds of the Milwaukee VA. Each week they work on things like keeping up on maintenance towards the end of their growing season. The group is called Soil for the Soul. 

“It’s so awesome to see veterans who have been gardening for years and years and years and veterans coming together who have no experience at all,” Milwaukee VA occupational therapist, Ericka Napoli says.

Kleist, a botanist, is one of the pros. The chores you can find them working on this week are weeding and pulling bulbs to replant. For Kleist, being in the garden is like therapy.



“It’s just putting your hands in the soil and you really feel the kinship with the earth. It really calms you down and if you have any kind of anxiety, sometimes I’ll come in with a headache or something and by the end, it’s gone,” Kleist says.

For others, it’s the ability to get out and do something with others that moves them the most.

“I’m a little slow since my stroke, so I kind of move at the speed of plants so this works good for me here,” Army veteran, Bob Hempk says.

These vets are finding a says and turning it into a passion. They say making friends is a plus too.



“It’s a good way to get people involved in activities who might not normally be involved,” Hempk says.

The group is finding themselves digging into new challenges while watching plants and friendships grow.