Friday, September 23, 2022

Echovets: Band of Brothers

 By Bixyl Shuftan

There's a new sim and group in Second Life for veterans: EchoVets - Band of Brothers

A place for Veterans by Veterans.  Newcomer friendly, VA Information, PTSD, Suicide Awareness, education, dance, free, gardens, fountain, games. Camaraderie with those that speak your language.  ALL are welcome, Brothers and Sisters.

I was told a little beforehand about the lady who ran it, Stacy Maracas. She has been in Second Life since Oct 2004, almost 18 years, and in real life works at a veterans center, her profile stating "ANYTHING a Veteran may have a question about, I am your resource, and if I do not know the answer, I assure you I will get it."

I contacted Stacy, and a meeting was soon arranged, "Been working my butt off," she commented when we met up, "I love busy.  If I didn't I'd be screwed, I wear too many hats to not like it." I mentioned that she had been a longtime resident, and asked how she got here. "I was apart of Second Life through friends in 2003," she told me, "I borrowed a friend's alternate, and came here as a lady named Kiwi." She chuckled, "I fell in love with it here, so first of October 2004 I created me. I like my name better. So next month, 18 years," she smiled, "I'm almost officially an adult in Second Life!

"There was no islands or anything then, only mainland, very small very cool. Also no skin, prim hair, and really bad clothing. But we ll thought we were the hottest things ever. HAH!"

I asked her how things went after her entrance. She answered, "It was well, a learning curve.  I was a Mafia Godmother here, roleplay etc.  It was a lot of fun to be honest, but the longer I was here I could see potential in just being myself here. I have always been myself, but I mean no roleplaying etc, just good 'ol Stacy which is my real-life name as well. I have been much happier since making the decision, have met some amazing friends here, and many that I came here with 18 yrs ago. I am still very close too and stay in touch here and in real-life. That is what kept me coming back, now that. And this sim is what will keep me here for a long time to come."

I then asked her what gave her the idea for the Band of Brothers sim. Stacy told me, "In my real world job, I work for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, at a place called The Vet Center in Lake Havasu, Arizona.  My proper job title is Veteran's Outreach Program Specialist or VOPS.  MY job everyday is to help Veterans.  I am a female combat Veteran myself (Desert Storm), so this is my passion and who I am.  I had reached out to the Lindens to ask them to put me on the destination guide and the itty-bitty land I had.

"Madori Linden reached out to me and asked me to have a meeting with her, and she is very passionate about Veterans, and suggested this sim, as a non--profit.  The non-profit I am President of in real-life is Band of Brothers.  I got our EIN (the letter of proof from the IRS that the organization is a legitimate and registered Non-profit 501 3C) from our President to show off to Linden Labs of our legitimacy as a non-profit, the President wrote them a letter approving me to work on behalf of our group, I was given the price for a non-profit sim, and here we are.  Idea in full and now a reality. so to speak. Ha!"

Stacy went on, "There is a kiosk near the gigantic photo album that tells you about our real-life organization.  Also behind me is the kiosk of my military story, I remain transparent for trust purposes, as many Veterans in SL (including myself) have had their trust broken by others, and I refuse to be that person to them as I am here to help everyone. ... With Veterans, we have trust issues to begin with especially after combat or MST, so Second Life can be a very rough place at time when not everyone is honest.  However its also very healing on the other end of the spectrum as for many of our Veterans this is the only socialization they get."

Of the sim, getting a wide-shot of the whole place took a little time so things could rezz, but it was soon done. She stated she "wanted it to be a nice place, not only for education but to hang out as well." She did note one corner didn't have much on it for the time being, "and as you can see, one small area I'm waiting for items for to finish."

I pointed out the large building near us, which was close to the landmark location I was given. Stacy smiled, "This is the grand hall. Inside we will hold classes, Q & A's, Suicidal Awareness training for Veterans and people who work with Vets, PTSD classes, and a plethora of other things to aide in helping our Veterans AND their families and friends. (We will) have guest speakers, some from the VA, the President of the organiztion will come, and other guest speakers."

She pointed out the kiosks around the area, "Each of these kiosks out here have notecard information in them, we will actually have classes on each of them as well, with room for Q & A, etc."

At one point, Stacy had to take a break in the interview to take a phone call. She came back, and I brought up other places on the sim. "A club too, some small homes," she told me, "all of it to make it feel comfortable and a fun place to hang out/ We will do some club type events etc as well, but definitely not our focus. Our focus is socialization, education and helping one another."

I noticed a Vet Center. "Yes it is the main center," she told me, "set up as a familiar place to Veterans, and for future of what is to come, possible one on one counseling from our employees and simply being available in either world." She pointed out other places, "There is also a very large soldiers memorial fountain. I tried to have nice spots throughout to see and check out." Of the one corner that didn't have so much, "The last open spot net to the fountain will have some military vehicles displayed ... prior to the grand opening, just waiting for delivery."

I asked if anything inspired the particular designs of some of the places on the sim. Stacy answered, "When I found the hall it reminded me of the large place we would have our military training in, in Europe. So I had to have it and decided that would be used for the classes.  I wanted the Vet Center building to be professional yet welcoming as the Vet Center is in real-life and found that building it was perfect, the rest honestly no. I wanted memorial to my fallen brothers and sisters, hence the fountains. 
"Small items will be added here and there, but for the most part, the rest of the design was just what was in my head and what I know Veterans will want as a place to come and hang out. ... that is all that matters, and of course, breaking down some walls and making my brothers and sisters get off their butts and come socialize, and come seek help even if they don't know they need it."

Near the end, Stacy would say, "We all have two most important days of our lives.  One is the day we are born, and second is the day we figure out why. This is my why. I had REASONS to not take my own life, my children needed me, etc, but I had never found my WHY. Band of Brothers is my why, having the 'six' of my brothers and sisters and helping them thru their journeys so no Veteran ever has to be in a dark place again." She thanked me for taking the time to ask about the sim and reporting on it.

On a final note, while Stacy and I were talking, one of the Vet Centers counselors came by and noticed the computer screen. Seeing what was going on, she asked if "Fox News' had arrived.

Bixyl Shuftan