Jacqueline Kochinsky’s journey to National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF) started decades ago Illinois.
As a young woman whose mother and grandmother died in the same year in the early 1970s, Kochinsky focused on going to college while juggling two minimum wage jobs and raising two young children. She hoped that, eventually, she could provide her daughters with a better life than a minimum wage job could afford.
She prayed for guidance on what her next steps should be. Later, she saw a sign that said “Aim High” and a vision of her uncle in his U.S. Air Force dress uniform. She joined the Air Force, where she became a law enforcement specialist.
“I was so ready to go in,” she said. “I loved it. I got to go to school, had an assignment in Europe, ran track, and played basketball. It was a wonderful experience. I got a lot of training, and I actually found my ability to write.”
Kochinsky eventually moved back stateside, where she experienced medical issues and, as a result, was unable to re-enlist in the service. Not long after relocating her growing family to Houston, her two daughters were hit by a truck. One child did not survive the accident — which occurred on her 13th birthday.
Sadly, the losses Kochinsky suffered were not the end of her heartaches. She experienced several miscarriages, multiple sexual assaults, a failed marriage, and the loss of another child due to gun violence. Kochinsky turned to drugs as a way to cope with her depression and guilt.
She eventually sought treatment for drug abuse, and started taking advantage of the services the military offered. She discovered the creative arts at a VA medical center.
Through the power of prayer and creative writing, she was able to forgive herself for the many tragedies that left a dark imprint on her life, Kochinsky said. “I realized I didn’t mess up after all; nothing was my fault,” she explained. “I don’t blame myself.”
Kochinsky’s writing earned her a place at 2016 NVCAF, where she was a Therapeutic Arts Scholarship recipient in the creative writing division for her poem, “Decide to Be, Aim High.”
That was Kochinsky’s first time at NVCAF, an annual national showcase of fine arts pieces — in the areas of creative writing, art, dance, drama, and music — crafted or performed by veterans enrolled at various VA health care facilities, or living in a state veterans home. Creative arts are often used to help veterans cope with, and recover from, physical and emotional challenges.
All veterans invited to participate in NVCAF are selected from a group of gold-medal winners of year-long fine arts competitions at local VA medical centers nationwide.
NVCAF has not only allowed Kochinsky to heal, but has helped her relate to other veterans, she said.
“I met ladies here who have lost their kids. I think the Lord has allowed me to experience a whole lot of stuff because I have a story to tell that can help somebody,” she added.
Kochinsky has moved ahead in her life — writing a book; marrying a man she served with in Europe; and seeing her family grow to include five girls, three boys, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. She plans to write her second book soon.
The 2017 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival will be Oct. 23-30 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Since 2000, the American Legion Auxiliary has been an NVCAF co-sponsor along with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition to raising funds for the festival, the American Legion Auxiliary provides volunteers who assist at the event.
To learn more about the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, visit http://www.ALAforVeterans.org/NVCAF. To see local news coverage of the 2016 NVACF, visit http://bit.ly/NVCAFNews1 and http://bit.ly/NVCAFNews2.