A songwriting workshop that helps soldiers, veterans and their families cope with the painful memories of war is returning to Central Texas this year.

Songwriting With: Soldiers, a program that pairs veterans and active-duty service members with professional songwriters to create songs about their personal experiences in combat and returning home, will host a retreat Feb. 5-7 at Cedarbrake Retreat Center in Belton.

The program, based in Austin, first came to Belton in 2012, and is expanding partnerships nationwide this year to expand the number of workshops.

“SW:S will provide a professional songwriter to work with all veterans at each of the facility’s signature PATHH (Progressive Alternative Therapies for Healing Heroes) retreats in 2016,” according to a news release from the organization. “The expanded partnership will provide SW:S the opportunity to immediately increase the number of veterans reached by nearly 100 annually.”

At the 2012 event in Belton, Darden Smith, founder and creative director for Songwriting With: Soldiers, said he started the organization to help soldiers who have experienced trauma during combat deployments.

“I thought it might really help someone who needs that kind of an outlet,” he said at the time. “It’s an interesting project.”

Smith said when he’s down and writes a song about it, he feels better afterwards and wanted to share that feeling with the participants.

“I thought it might really help someone out,” said Smith, an Austin resident.

At the 2012 retreat in Belton and many others like them, solders, veterans and their families have been able to come together to talk about their deployment and war experiences, and put their feelings down on paper in the form of a song.

“As one of the first programs to be invited to Boulder Crest Retreats, we have been privileged to witness the positive impact they have had on so many veterans and their families,” said SW:S Executive Director Mary Judd. “Their life-changing PATHH program draws veterans from around the country, many from locations we haven’t yet reached. Through this expanded partnership, we will not only work with far more veterans, we will help them stay better connected as a group through their signature PATHH program songs.”

Organizers held a songwriting event earlier this month in Katonah, N.Y., and other events are scheduled in Bluemont, Va., in April and Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., in May.

In 2015, SW:S doubled the number of veterans, active-duty service members and military families served, and increased the number of program alumni serving as staff and peer support, according to the news release.

Last year’s events included sessions at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., a performance at the San Antonio Spurs’ Military Night and being a featured program at the International Trauma Conference in Boston.

“Locations are chosen based on proximity to veteran populations and private retreat centers with peaceful settings, ample meeting and workshop space to allow for intimate events that foster connections, inspire creativity and develop strengths,” according to the news release.

Each day ends with a group dinner and special performance of all songs written that day. The retreats end with a final performance of the songs, recorded for DVD for each participant. Post retreat follow-up includes a CD and photo lyric book sent to all participants along with numerous opportunities to stay connected with each other and the organization and continue building a strong, supportive community, organizers said.

To date, more than 200 veterans and their family members have attended the retreats. More than 200 songs have been written and are available for listening at www.songwritingwithsoldiers.org/music. Visit the website for more information or on how to apply for the program.

Contact Jacob Brooks jbrooks@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468

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