The University of West Georgia’s (UWG) College of Social Sciences (COSS) and Veteran’s Heart Georgia have partnered to host the event Just Listening for local veterans and other members of the community, and this month, the meeting happens to fall on the day before Veterans’ Day.
Veteran’s Heart Georgia is an Atlanta-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans adjust to life after their service.
“One of the programs that Veterans Heart Georgia began in Atlanta was Just Listening,” said Dr. Amber Smallwood, associate dean of the College of Social Sciences. “The idea behind Just Listening is that the veterans and the community—so whether that’s family, loved ones, friends, others—come together once a month to just sit and be present to the stories, the experiences of our veterans, especially those who’ve experienced war, combat or other horrific incidences.”
One of Veteran’s Heart Georgia’s founders, the late Bill Liggin, was an alumnus of UWG, and his connections to the university were the spark for the partnership between Veteran’s Heart Georgia and the COSS.
“The idea was brought to us by Dr. Larry Schor in the Department of Psychology,” Smallwood said. “He and Bill Liggin had developed a life-long friendship working together, so it was their friendship that lead to Just Listening coming to Carrollton and the College of Social Sciences having the opportunity to partner with Veteran’s Heart Georgia to make this gift to the community available here.”
Just Listening meetings provide veterans with an environment in which they can express themselves in ways that they may not otherwise be comfortable, and allows for the community to become involved in the veteran’s return to civilian life.
“[Veterans] often don’t want to burden children, parents, wives or husbands,” she said, “And they often aren’t ready to talk with a professional counselor and have their stories become part of any sort of an official record, so this gathering is an opportunity for our veterans to talk about what troubles them or burdens them and also what they celebrate.”
The COSS and Veteran’s Heart Georgia have been organizing Just Listening meetings in Carrollton for almost two years and UWG alumnus Stuart Pearson currently leads the meetings.
“Not quite a year after we started the program, Bill passed,” she said. “But he had created such an amazing presence, such an amazing program that it never occurred to us to stop doing Just Listening.”
Though the community members who attend these meetings are not doctors or counselors, they can still feel confident that they are making a difference in the lives of those who choose to tell their stories.
“We call it Just Listening, but you can also think of it as ‘listening justly’ in that the meetings are two hours of sitting beside veterans and the stories that they tell, and often doing nothing more than listening but the act of listening in and of itself is a just way of being present to the needs of our veterans in our communities,” Smallwood said.
Just Listening is held on the second Tuesday of every month at the Carrollton Presbyterian Church on Maple Street from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.