SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Schools were closed around Central New York Friday, Nov. 10, to observe the Veterans Day holiday.

But the lessons continued for kids from the Sennett Saddle 4-H club, a youth program of Cornell Cooperative Extension. They spent Friday morning visiting residents of VanKeuren Square, a partnership between the VA Medical Center and Housing Visions on East Genesee Street in Syracuse.

Vets mingled with the kids and all kinds of farm animals in the parking lot of the Square. They even got an up-close look at a pretty large therapy animal by the name of Haybales.

“The Veterans really liked it. They all had a really good experience with him. They gave him treats. They gave him pets. So I think it really like warmed people up.”

Marissa Bartolomew

VanKeuren Square opened almost a decade ago to provide a home and a full range of services for veterans at risk of homelessness, many affected by PTSD and other effects of their time in uniform.

“You notice a transition over time, where it seems like they’ve been carrying this invisible backpack of rocks, and slowly but surely those rocks are being pulled out. Not that they’re going to necessarily open, but you just see it in their demeanor.”

James Santiago

This isn’t the first connection between Cornell Cooperative Extension and the veterans. The Master Gardener program has been helping veterans with raised garden beds for the last couple of years.

After the animals went home, the vets went inside, where the 4-H’ers had prepared a thank you lunch, along with some gifts of gratitude for service to the country.

But after breaking bread, the vets turned the tables on their visitors.

“I would like to say, ‘Thank you’ from my community, which is VanKeuren.
For my fellow Vets, ‘Thanks a lot.'”

Michael Crockett, veteran