Memorial Day reminds us to reflect on the meaning of the military in our lives and the experience of the military community. Read how one idealist is striving to lighten their burden, one person at a time, and how you can help.
“I’ve always been drawn to complementary healing treatments,” says Ellen Severino, a Brooklyn resident who volunteers at the borough’s Fort Hamilton army base. “I was trained in reflexology many years ago and more recently was introduced to Reiki. I received several treatments and found them to be very powerful—like they shifted, or realigned, something inside me. I felt more balanced and at ease.”
Reiki is a hundred-year-old Japanese spiritual healing practice that uses light touch to bring balance and relaxation to the body and mind. Wanting to learn more about it after her own treatments, Ellen enrolled in Reiki classes at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, New York a few years ago.
“My dad was a World War II veteran who dealt with PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder], although there was no such diagnosis back then. He had a full life, but PTSD did limit him. I have often wondered how different his life would have been if he had received appropriate treatment. PTSD remains an enormous issue in today’s military. Reiki is by no means a cure-all, but I’ve seen it really improve the quality of people’s lives. It can be an effective tool in creating a sense of well-being.”
Ellen started volunteering to provide Reiki treatments at the base in August of last year, and has committed about eight hours a week since. “This is a community under a tremendous amount of stress, and their resources are limited—there are year-long backlogs of vets waiting for services, and in the meantime, they’ve more than picked up the tab,” she says.
Anyone in the military community is welcome to participate in what Ellen’s been calling “The Brooklyn Reiki Project,” including enlistees, their families, civilians who work on the base, and employees of the nearby VA hospital.
“I offer Reiki treatment in a very conventional, straightforward manner,” she says. “It is an elegant and simple practice.”
So far, she’s received enthusiastic feedback. “I have 6’2” Marines coming in skeptical,” she says. “I give them a brief explanation of what Reiki is and say, ‘Give it a try.’ They’re usually surprised by how much better they feel. I’ve done at least 400 20-minute sessions, and out of those, only one person said she didn’t feel any different afterward. The soldiers I see report feeling better, sleeping better, and being able to interact with their families with more patience and ease.”
Ellen would like to spend more time offering Reiki at the base, but can’t afford to be a full-time volunteer. She would also like to see Reiki treatments made more available to the military community at large, but isn’t sure how to take the next steps.
So far, Ellen has shared her idea with several people and knows at least four other Reiki practitioners who would volunteer their time. She was also recently invited by a colonel at Fort Hamilton to present about Reiki on a “resiliency training” panel for over 250 army recruiters. Despite this support, Ellen is still facing some challenges:
“I lack business savvy,” she says. “I’ve looked into creating a nonprofit to expand this work, but need someone with expertise to explain the pros and cons. Perhaps there is a better way to move forward.”
Ellen feels strongly that military personnel shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for these services, but she needs ideas for alternative funding. “The good news is the overhead is very low: space is provided by the military base, Reiki doesn’t require special supplies, I don’t need to develop a product. But it still needs some money to keep it going. People tell me to look into applying for grants, but I don’t know how to single out the most likely funders, or much about the application process or writing grant proposals.”
“This is a national concern,” says Ellen. “Many military people are unsatisfied with the medical choices available to them—they want alternatives to the conventional treatments. Creating programs to educate them and offer treatments like Reiki would empower them to take charge of their healing.”
Ellen knows many practitioners successfully implementing Reiki programs in different settings, but hasn’t seen anyone near her doing it on a big scale. “There’s a program in Fort Bliss designed by the military that employs Reiki,” she says, “so they have publicly recognized its benefits. They’re also using it at Walter Reade and other veterans’ hospitals. But it should be out there more.”
How you can help
- Are you a Reiki or other complimentary healing practitioner who has created a nonprofit and could offer advice?
- Do you know about grants available for alternative medicine projects?
- Are you a Reiki provider who would like to volunteer with Ellen, or start your own volunteer project in another area?
- Are you a member of the military community who could introduce Ellen to useful contacts in your network?
- Can you give Ellen advice about the pros and cons of starting a nonprofit versus a business to advance her work?
If you have ideas, please leave them in the comments below or send Ellen a message through Idealist. We’ll keep you up to date as The Brooklyn Reiki Project progresses.