One non-profit organization in Fresno is working to change the narrative of rehabilitation and inclusion for veterans in the Fresno and Clovis area.
The organization is Break The Barriers, located in North Fresno, the 39,000 square foot multi-sport facility has more than 900 veterans signed up for its Veterans Program and sees around 350 to 400 veteran visits a month, according to outreach coordinator Tyler Hergenrader.
“I think, overall, it’s about appreciating the vets.” Hergenrader said. “Appreciation is No. 1. But two, there needs to be more variety in the community. Some vets like the programs available, but what about the ones that do not?”
With that in mind, Break The Barriers offers a range of adaptive programs to veterans at no cost, relying on donations, foundations and grants to cover the programs’ costs.
Activities in the Veterans Program include archery, track and field, aquatics, weight training, dance, martial arts and much more. Participants can go at their own pace or join one of the organization’s competition teams.
Break The Barriers also offers a neurological exercise program known as HOPE, which targets exercises for neurological issues, such as spinal cord injuries and brain trauma.
But the healing isn’t all physical. Hergenrader said the cooperative activities can benefit participants’ mental and psychological health as well.
“We’re big on the mental game,” Hergenrader said. “Veterans are getting back into the community. They’re getting healthier mentally and physically. A lot of them are more comfortable training with other vets, and a lot of them are finding a purpose again.”
While Break The Barriers is celebrating its 35th anniversary as a non-profit this year, it has offered its veterans program since 2012.
The Veterans Program came about when the Break The Barriers team was training paralympic athletes and wanted to become an accredited training facility. They became aware of a paralympic veterans training grant and began researching available programs for veterans in the area.
“We saw the community didn’t have many activities.” Hergenrader said. “When we first got started we found out there’s a lot of great stuff at the VA [Department of Veterans Affairs], but the VA can’t do everything.”
Around the same time, a statistic came out that roughly 22 veterans in the U.S. were dying by suicide per day. They knew they had to do something, so the Break The Barriers team decided to get involved. They began learning more about treatment and training and offering free programs for veterans.
Now, seven years later, Break The Barriers offers 16 free classes for veterans at various times six days a week. Veterans are also welcome to come at any time during operation hours to utilize the facilities.
They also travel with their veteran competition teams throughout the year, including an annual trip to the National Field Archery Association’s (NFAA) Vegas Shoot, the largest indoor archery competition in the world, where more than 4,000 archers show up to compete.
Break The Barriers has partnered with the NFAA to team up the world’s top archers with veterans and adaptive shooters in a 16-team contest with a monetary prize. And the team doesn’t let anything hold them back.
“One vet is blind, so we developed an apparatus that allows him to shoot independently,” Hergenrader said. “Active military members even watch the contest overseas and root for our vets. It’s really great for the whole community.”
This level of integration and inclusion is at the heart of Break The Barrier’s mission. The organization has been teaching integrated classes since its founders Deby and Steve Hergenrader began teaching dance and gymnastics classes at their house in 1982.
Today, Break The Barriers has 82 paid staff members and more than 3,000 volunteers teaching a wide range of integrated activities to more than 10,000 participants a week.
The organization also travels with the Barrier Breaker team to show the world that each individual has the potential to do extraordinary things.
“We feel it’s the only way to make an impact with our mission statement of inclusion,” Hergenrader said. “There is a huge need for the community to be able to back up the veterans. If we’re not, then we’re just taking advantage of our freedoms.”
For class lists and schedules, visit the Break The Barriers website at www.breakthebarriers.org.