During his time in the U.S. Navy, John Wickstrom worked in nuclear power in the engine room of a cruiser, sometimes not seeing the sun for weeks on end.

While aboard, nearly 60 years ago, John discovered that one of his fellow servicemembers was an amateur leather worker. During his down time, John grew extremely fond of the process of creating, and that passion followed him home to Washington.

His “amateur” status was short lived, and John realized he really had a knack for leatherworking. For the past five years, he has taught a leather craft class at his local senior center. John’s hard work paid off, when, in 2018, he was invited to the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF) for the first time for his award-winning leather kit, “Castile”.

“I loved being invited,” John said. “You feel like you’re actually doing something and you’re successful. That was great.”

John was surprised by the hospitality of the volunteers, who he felt really “bent over backwards” to support the veteran artists who attended. He also was struck by the comradery of the artists.

“I suppose the thing that is gratifying to me here at the Festival is that we’re all on level footing, and you’re recognized for the talent that you can express … you feel like you’re getting your self-worth,” he said.

John wanted others to feel the gratification he felt at NVCAF in 2018, so he encouraged the small group of veterans in his class to get involved. Though no one took him up on the offer last year, John is adamant that he will continue to push others out of their comfort zone, and into the program that he said changed his life.

Because of #GivingTuesday, John Wickstrom felt success in a way he never has, and was able to showcase his talent to people across the country. You can help more veterans like John by giving to the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation this #GivingTuesday, December 1, 2020. Get started at http://www.ALAFoundation.org/GivingTuesday.