NEWFIELD, N.Y. (WETM) — In celebration of International Women’s Month, 18 News is highlighting four local women who inspire, lead and forge the way for other women.
This week, we meet Carol Cook.
Carol lived in Tompkins County her whole life. She lived on a farm in Ithaca before she and her husband, Bernie, bought a farm of their own in Newfield. The farm they share is nearly 200 acres.
“I’ve been out here on the farm since 1966. So, we’ve been here a long time,” Carol said. “We wanted to do something with the property and that’s kind of how we got into Vets in Nature and doing different things with the veterans.”
It all started with an equine therapy program for veterans from the Bath VA.
“We use our horses here who are rescue horses and we would spend four hours on a Sunday afternoon with [the veterans], giving them a chance to grow and learn about horses, get a chance to ride and spend some time with the animals which was really beneficial for everyone that came,” Carol said. “It was so nice to see the change in a person when they spent maybe half an hour with a horse—how they relaxed and seemed to enjoy themselves, would actually smile and have a good time; where when they first came, they were pretty somber and sad. So being inpatients, it was nice that they could get out for an afternoon.”
Then in 2013, Carol realized she wanted to do something more.
“I was doing transcription for a professor at Cornell, who was very much into Wounded Warriors in Action, which is a national program that provides hunting and fishing trips for Purple Heart recipients,” Carol said. “Not only did he do a hunt, but he also was interviewing the veterans that came on the hunt to see what impact the hunts had made on their lives. So I worked with Wounded Warriors for five years, from 2015 to 2019, and we had five deer hunts here at the farm in Newfield—met some really great people. Then in 2020, we decided we’d like to do something a little different. We decided we would like to include all veterans, not just combat wounded. So we decided to form our own organization called Vets in Nature, and we’ve been working with the Fallen Outdoors that also provides hunting, fishing and camping trips to all veterans.”
Whether they’re physical or mental, veterans often have new battles to fight when they leave the battlefield. The great outdoors can serve as part of the healing process.
“The outdoor recreation plays such an important part in their mental well-being and return to society. A lot of the veterans, when they returned from war, they don’t want to go outside the house. Every little noise starts their PTSD acting up and it’s just terrible for them.”
Carol didn’t realize how bad it was for many veterans until she had a chance to talk to some of them herself.
“The first year we did this, 2015, we had a gentleman come from Arkansas who was really having a difficult family life. Things were not going good. He was not adjusting well to civilian life,” Carol said. “He came up and spent four days with us and he was a real character. He was a lot of fun to have. I received a wonderful note from his wife a week after he had returned and said that we had saved his marriage, we had saved their marriage, and that he was now more in tune to the family, he was able to go outside the house.”
All of these events come with a price tag and putting them together is no easy feat. But lucky for Carol, she loves to fundraise.
Each year, she puts together a jam-packed cruise-in, barbecue and vendor fair.
“Every year we add 15 to 20 cars, which is tremendous to do that. Ee do the same with vendors—10 to 15 new vendors every year,” Carol said. “The community supports us. They come out and buy barbecues. We started out with 150 chicken barbecues and now we’re up to 250 barbecues that we sell on the day. So we’re really growing and we have tremendous support from a lot of local businesses. They’re just great. They donate food for the trips. They donate food for our barbecues. We have tremendous raffle baskets. We make big baskets and fill them with gift certificates and foodstuffs and all kinds of things. We try to keep it fun and exciting so people want to come back every year. This year, we’ve added kids games. We’re going to have a little ducky pond, we’re going to have a dart throw at balloons, and we’re going to have a cornhole contest for the kids so that they’ll feel part of that, too.”
Carol’s also been awarded money through the Solomon Organization.
“The Solomon Organization, every year, puts on a wonderful contest called Give A Chance. The first year, I happened to see them on Facebook so I applied. Out of all the organizations—I believe there were 29 nonprofits that entered—we were the lucky winners that first year and I was beside myself to get that much money for Wounded Warriors in Action. It was nearly our full budget, it was terrific,” Carol said. “This year, we were close but we didn’t win the big prize. But the group that won the big prize really deserved it so we’re happy about that. We’ve been invited to apply again next year. As a consolation prize, they are going to give us $250 so that will help with our Fred Ink memorial trips.
Each outdoor excursion serves as something truly special for everyone involved.
“The camaraderie is just wonderful, how suddenly they just all meld together and find something in common,” Carol said. “I’m a civilian. I’ve never been in the armed forces. How comfortable they feel just sitting down and talking to me about what they experienced, telling me about their injuries and what they’ve been going through, it’s just so heartwarming to have a chance to talk with them and have them say, ‘We are so thankful for you doing something, you recognized us, and it makes us feel so good.’ I don’t know who gets more out of it—whether we do or they do. Our property would just sit idle if we didn’t do this and being able to share it with so many people, whether they come on a hunt or they’re helping us with a hunt, just makes us feel so very, very good.”
Carol would like to share a few of the events they have coming up for the rest of 2020:
- Happening Right Now: $200 grocery raffle
- June 13: Cruise-in, barbecue and vendor fair
- July: Camping trip full of hiking, fishing and swimming for veterans and their families at the Cook’s farm, in celebration of Independence Day
- July: Charter fishing trip on Cayuga Lake
- August: Lake trout fishing trip
- October: Waterfowl hunt
- October: Annual pheasant hunting trip
- November: Annual deer hunt
If you’re interested in any of the events, contact Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remarkable Women is a nationwide Nexstar Media initiative to honor the influence women have had on public policy, social progress and the quality of life.
One local winner will be selected to receive a $1,000 donation to a charity of her choice. They will then be considered for Nexstar’s nationwide 2021 Woman of the Year Award.
Our last local finalist will be announced March 30.