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Bunker Mentality

The Coffee Bunker provides a light of hope to veterans and service members in a world where sadly, men and women of such great courage and sacrificial spirit are often overlooked and forgotten.

Rob Harmon
Marc Rains
December 29, 2017

Miguel de Cervantes once wrote, “The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune’s spite; revive from ashes and rise.” Like the fabled phoenix, Tulsa’s Coffee Bunker has risen from tragedy to become the region’s only peer-run, drop-in center for service members and veterans. The facility provides a friendly, alcohol- and drug-free environment where veterans receive support opportunities for successful reintegration with their families and the community.

The Coffee Bunker is a place to get together to share stories, access Wi-Fi and the internet for job hunts, enjoy games and group activities, or just to hang out and watch TV or DVDs.

In one corner of the center’s welcome lobby sits what is called “the sacred table,” with a framed picture behind it that represents the Coffee Bunker’s beginning.

Tulsa’s own Corporal Daniel Ligon of the United States Marine Corps, after honorably serving two exhausting deployments in Iraq, came home. But the pain and trauma of war had taken a terrible toll. Feeling isolated, depressed and increasingly hopeless, he took his life June 10, 2007. Mary Ligon, Cpl. Ligon’s mother, founded the Coffee Bunker in 2010 in response to this traumatic event. Since then, it has become a place where veterans find strength, camaraderie and additional resources for overcoming the same struggles Daniel Ligon suffered from.

Studies revealed through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have shown that from 2001-14, suicide among veteran men has increased in greater rates than those of the same age among civilians.

Dr. Michael Horton, executive director of the Coffee Bunker since 2016, says veterans in the Tulsa area and the surrounding region rely on the center for direction that otherwise is not available. More than a place where a veteran can get a free cup of coffee and hang out, the Coffee Bunker is helping veterans transition successfully back into civilian life. As a nonprofit, they take advantage of major grants and other donations that help the facility train veterans to help other veterans get their civilian life back after sacrificing so greatly for their country.

“The collaborate effort made with our veterans [via the Coffee Bunker] is really the highlight of who we are. A vet might come in here and is really struggling with employment. It’s affecting his mental health, his family, that kind of thing,” Horton says. “Veterans can get lost. They lose their paddles and can’t row anymore. All of a sudden, those feelings of hopelessness and helplessness come. With us, very rarely will a vet struggle when they’re surrounded by the right people who can help them get back on track.”

Studies revealed through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have shown that from 2001-14, suicide among veteran men has increased in greater rates than those of the same age among civilians. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Studies revealed through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have shown that from 2001-14, suicide among veteran men has increased in greater rates than those of the same age among civilians. (Photo: Marc Rains)

One of the many services that the organization provides is called Community Connect. Through Community Connect, workshops, speaking events and classes are presented at the Coffee Bunker by outside agencies for the benefit of the veterans who use the facility.

Another important service provided nearly every Tuesday is Lady Bunker, a four-hour block of time when the facility is strictly reserved for female visitors. Lady Bunker provides a safe, comfortable environment for women who have suffered from sexual abuse or the anxiety associated with this type of trauma. Its overall goal is to help reintegrate women into society at their own pace, according to their own individual needs and situations.

Operation Scout, made possible through a grant from Spirit AeroSystems, makes free Wi-Fi available, provides access to computers, offers skill and career assessments, as well as tutoring opportunities and resume and job search help. Connection to the services are available at the facility Monday through Thursday until 10 p.m. and as late as 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. This service has become extremely useful in providing student veterans and working veterans with help that fits their schedules.

Joni Frank, administration coordinator of the Coffee Bunker, sees working with the veterans as a way to get her ‘feel good’ on every day. She’s collected more than a few inspiring stories in her time with the nonprofit, many of them in regards to the efforts the Coffee Bunker makes to help veterans back into the workforce.

“Every day there’s something outstanding that happens,” says Frank. “We have a 72-year-old veteran [who frequents the facility], and he used to come in as kind of a naysayer. After getting a part-time job, this man did a 180. You can see it in his eyes — he’s jovial, positive, and hopeful. It’s wonderful.”

Additional services provided by the Coffee Bunker include: Fighting Addiction, a 12-step program geared toward veterans; Operation Safety Net, an emergency housing solution for homeless veterans; VTC Engage, a collaborative effort with the Veterans Treatment Court to help veterans fulfill service hours obligations in a safe environment; as well as many other important services for veterans and military personnel.

“The people who come in here,” says Horton, “get that feeling of being respected and honored for their service. They are able to see that someone’s got their back.”

The 3600-square-foot facility, Horton says, is rapidly outgrowing its capacity and looking to expand to a larger facility in the near future. Any financial assistance, large or small, is always welcome.

Coffee Bunker
6365 E. 41st St. | Tulsa
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday: 9:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Open all holidays

April 2020 Cover