Gulf Coast VA employees provided Veterans in the organization’s Biloxi facilities the opportunity to participate in a Gulf Coast tradition – Mardi Gras – Feb. 24 on the organization’s campus.

The Mardi Gras parade, organized by Recreation Therapists Scarlet Cox, Aja Guice and Alona Thompson, involved staff from several areas, all committed to ensuring Veterans at the facility had the opportunity to engage in the celebration.

“Our Veterans love celebrating seasonal events and we wanted to make sure they had an opportunity to enjoy the Mardi Gras season even with our CDC recommendations and guidelines in place,” Cox said. “With only a few weeks to plan, we were just hoping to have around 30 parade participants but more than 50 organizations showed up making this one of the best parades we have had on campus.”

Veteran Service Organizations donated moon pies

Cox added that the Veteran Service Organizations donated moon pies to throw during the 45-minute parade, providing the nearly 200 spectators the opportunity to participate in a Gulf Coast tradition.

“Mardi Gras is an enormous celebration throughout the Gulf Coast during this time of year and our Veterans deserved nothing less,” Guice said. “Our Veterans have missed attending festive community activities such as this, so we really wanted to make this one special. We wanted all Veterans in our facility to be included and thanks to our wonderful staff we were able to make that happen. Each year we look forward to making this event better than the last and I think we definitely achieved that this year.”

More than 80 Veterans reside at the Biloxi VA Medical Center, and through CDC guidelines and VA restrictions, visitation and excursions over the past few years have been limited due to the ongoing global health crisis.

Important recreational therapy intervention

“Community reintegration is one of many recreational therapy interventions and a favorite of our Veterans,” Thompson said. “Outings allow our Veterans to maintain a sense of community and ties to our volunteers so even while remaining on campus they are able to get that fulfillment. It took a coordinated effort among many staff members in different areas and we’re thankful that we have supportive coworkers to help facilitate these events. Seeing the delight and joy on their faces is what makes the hard work worth it and why keep doing what we do.”

Participants in the parade included the medical center police, chaplain and Recreation Therapy Services, as well as local Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, the Military Order the Cooties and the Elks Lodge. They were joined by area automobile and motorcycle clubs, the Gulfport-based Krewe of Gemini, City of Biloxi Honor Guard and law enforcement representatives.

Also in the parade were volunteers from the Naval Construction Battalion Center, St. Patrick’s Fighting Irish Band, Salvation Army and Veteran families.

The Biloxi VA Medical Center, along with the Mobile, Pensacola, Eglin and Panama City community-based outpatient clinics provide a variety of medical outpatient services to more than 82,000 Veterans.

By Bruce Cummins is a public affairs specialist at the Gulf Coast VA

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Published on Mar. 5, 2022

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