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Volunteers from the Green Bay Packers, UW-Extension, the Green Bay Vet Center and others broke ground May 9, 2017 for the Green Bay Veterans' Garden. Richard Ryman | USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

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GREEN BAY - Volunteers on Tuesday converted an empty lot on Green Bay's near northwest side into a place where veterans can plant seeds, grow friendships and reap serenity.

By the end of the day, the lot at 920 Emmett Street included a gazebo, a storage building, garden beds, a water tank and a compost tumbler.

"The intention of the Green Bay Veterans' Garden is for us to be able to ... provide recreational therapy for the veterans who come in for our services," said Scott Katzka, director of the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs' Green Bay Vet Center. "We provide services to war-zone veterans and their families. This is a way for us to give them another opportunity to grow within the treatment they've gotten already and to be able to come back here on off times and just relax and enjoy life."

Enjoying life can be difficult for veterans who have trouble transitioning from war zones to the home front. Horticultural therapy is one tool to help people who've experienced traumatic events to get a handle on things. The Green Bay center serves 400 veterans and their families, including sexual trauma survivors and families who lose someone on active duty.

"Gardening is a valuable, healing therapeutic tool for veterans," said Mark Murphy, president/CEO of the Green Bay Packers, who partnered with UW-Extension, the Vet Center and others to provide the garden. The city of Green Bay provided the land and services.

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As soon as speeches were spoken Tuesday, volunteers went to work, some building the gazebo, others the storage shed and the rest clearing ground for planting. 

"I'm motivated and very passionate about it. I can't wait to see how it comes along," said Corey Wallace, a volunteer veteran.

Dan Dechamps, another volunteer, said his wife, who works for Brown County, told him about the project.

"She said it was for the vets. I said 'I'm down, man,'" he said.

Packers employees were scheduled to be at the site throughout the day, part of the team's Packers Give Back community outreach initiative.

The Veterans' Garden is one of many programs led by the Brown County UW-Extension Community Gardens Program that encourage people to plant, grow and harvest their own produce.

Some of the produce from the garden will be donated to locate food pantries through the Planting for a Purpose program, which will launch from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday with a "plant and pledge" event at the Brown County UW-Extension building, 1150 Bellevue St.

Green Bay Vet Center 

Where:  Office at 1600 S. Ashland Ave., Green Bay; Veterans Garden at 920 Emmett Drive, Green Bay. 

Services: A broad range of counseling, outreach, and referral services to combat veterans and their families. Services may include individual and group counseling in areas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol and drug assessment, and suicide prevention referrals. All services are free and strictly confidential.

Phone: (920) 435-5650 or (877) 927-8387

Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Fridays, 8 a.m. to noon every third Saturday of the month.

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