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Alumna discovers her life’s work: helping veterans

Annemarie Goodman-Piekarczyk launches a new non-profit after getting degrees in psychology, anthropology

Tuesday Nov 26, 2013


When Annemarie Goodman-Piekarczyk decided to attend Indiana University Northwest in 2005, she thought she wanted a career in the arts. She had transferred from an arts school in Chicago, and had planned to use her skills by designing sets. But the variety of courses that were required for her degree broadened her view and soon had her exploring other majors.

“I liked the structure of the program in which you take many different classes in so many areas,” Goodman-Piekarczyk said. “It was through this that I found my passion for psychology and anthropology.”

Before long, the 47-year-old mom of three from Griffith found herself developing research theses instead of designing sets and attending research conferences instead of performances. Her interests gravitated toward cognitive and neuropsychology. She graduated in 2012 with a double-degree in psychology and anthropology, a grade point average of 3.976 and about 10 awards for academic excellence.

Now a proud IU Northwest alumna, Goodman-Piekarczyk is using her education to embark on a new path. She plans on spending her life helping veterans, and specifically, those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as brain injuries, military sexual assault and physical disabilities.

Goodman-Piekarczyk credits IU Northwest’s small class sizes, encouraging professors and hands-on opportunities with giving her the confidence to launch a non-profit organization, the Coalition for the Empowerment of Patriots, Inc.

 “The whole program depends on my ability to communicate with people and build alliances,” Goodman-Piekarczyk explained. “It was at IU Northwest that I got comfortable in my own skin. Believing in myself is something that I got at IU Northwest that I don’t think I would have gotten at a larger university. At IU Northwest, you are a person that matters.”

It all started with a dog and a personal connection with veterans. When Goodman-Piekarczyk and her husband adopted a dog from a rescue organization, she discussed the benefits of service dogs in treating PTSD with the woman at the rescue. The two shared a “light bulb moment,” both recognizing that a service dog can help veterans with PTSD remain calm in public situations and give them the courage to step out when they might otherwise suffer in isolation.

“The government doesn’t pay for service dogs for the psychologically disabled, only the physically disabled,” Goodman-Piekarczyk said. “Veterans can’t get it covered, but it works.”

Hence the need for this service in Northwest Indiana, which Goodman-Piekarczyk says has been successful in other parts of the country. Staffed by volunteers, the organization will raise funds to help pay for veterinarian bills, supplies and professional training for the dogs.

“Because of the situations (the veterans) were in, going out in public can be frightening. They have serious anxiety in social situations,” Goodman-Piekarczyk explained. “The dogs can help calm them. In some situations, they don’t want people close up in their personal space. The dogs can keep people at a distance. If they are going to have a flashback in a public place, their dog has their back.”

The group is kicking off a campaign to educate businesses about service dogs for the psychologically disabled and is working to build a force of “service dog friendly” establishments.

Goodman-Piekarczyk said it is discouraging “when you have someone who has isolated themselves and they finally get out into the community, and then they are getting thrown out of establishments because they don’t have a visible disability.”

Citing a disheartening statistic, Goodman-Piekarczyk said that 22 veterans and one active duty service personnel every day take their own lives. She attributes this, in part, to the isolation that veterans often feel.

“They are suffering in silence,” she said. “I don’t want that to happen to our veterans who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. If we can make a difference in the lives of this generation of warriors, we have an obligation to do so.”

Goodman-Piekarczyk said she once worked at a job where she got to know some Vietnam War veterans who suffered from PTSD.

“I would spend hours talking to them,” she said. “The conversations we had were so rewarding on both ends. It was through them that I knew that this was the group of people I wanted to work with. I can relate to them.”

Goodman-Piekarczyk sees the service as a vital component of helping veterans with community re-adjustment following their military service as well as a humanitarian effort. She hopes to get the veterans the group helps to one day join their force of volunteers.

“There is no greater way to become a part of your community than to volunteer in it,” Goodman-Piekarcyzk said.

Goodman-Piekarczyk is looking towards graduate school in the area of clinical counseling. She remains involved in her alma mater as treasurer of the IU Northwest Alumni Association.

“It keeps me connected to the University … and it also gives me an opportunity to let others know that IU Northwest is a wonderful place, and that they do care,” Goodman-Piekarczyk said. “Our alumni association cares about our community … I feel that our alumni association has so much room to grow and I want to be a part of that growth.”

”I feel that no matter where our alums go,” she said, “It’s important that they stay connected to their university.”

To learn more about The Coalition for the Empowerment of Patriots, Inc., contact Goodman-Piekarczyk at (219) 798-1212 or annemarie@empoweringpatriots.org.

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