FLINT, MI — A free week-long virtual recreation event is planned for local veterans and first responders.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, will virtually host the fourth annual veterans and first responder recreation week from Monday, Sept. 14, through Friday, Sept. 18. This year’s event is hosted in partnership with State Representatives Sheryl Kennedy, D-Davison, and Brian Elder, D-Bay City.

“This is a way to symbolically take a day and say, ‘hey, we want to give you something to show the gratitude your country and community feels for what you did and continue to do,’” Kildee said.

The event encourages veterans and first responders to participate in outdoor activities. The goal is to collectively log 2,000 miles and 500 hours of outdoor activities by participants. So far, 50 veterans and first responders have signed up. Veterans and first responders across Kildee’s Fifth Congressional District, including in Genesee, Saginaw and Bay counties, can sign up for the event here.

Veterans, first responders invited to free recreation day at Ojibway Island

Recreational activity helps reduce stress and alleviate symptoms of PTSD for veterans and first responders, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

“In one way it’s to say thank you, but the event also has a larger purpose, which is to encourage veterans and first responders to engage in physical activity,” Kildee said. “September is suicide prevention month. Veterans are more likely to die by suicide than non-veteran Americans and the research shows suicide risk is higher for those with PTSD.”

Anything that helps encourage physical activity outdoors has value, Kildee said. The event has grown each year and Kildee said he hopes to keep up the momentum.

In order to promote social distancing, veterans, first responders and their families are encouraged to recreate responsibly in outdoor activities, including running, walking, biking, hiking, kayaking and fishing. Participants are encouraged to log their activity, miles and hours on a virtual activity log with photos of their outdoor activities.

Kildee said he looks forward to hearing stories and concerns from veterans and hopes they will share through the event’s new virtual platform.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to adjust to this temporary new normal that we have but we didn’t want to miss this particular event,” Kildee said. “Even though it won’t be the same, we didn’t want to miss a year because it’s something I feel really strongly about.”