Rob Cosman, a carpenter from Grand Bay, New Brunswick, knows what it means to follow the Saviour’s command to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5). A furniture maker, hand tool woodworking instructor, and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cosman launched the Purple Heart Project in 2015 to help wounded veterans. The workshops are offered free of charge to veterans, thanks to generous financial donations from individuals and businesses who wish to support the veteran community.
The Purple Heart Project for War Veterans
Cosman is well-known around the world for the high-end hand tools he makes and sells. In 2015, he became a good friend of the veteran community by launching the Purple Heart Project, a non-profit workshop series that teaches Wounded Warriors — veterans who suffer from a physical or mental battle injury — how to find inner peace through the therapeutic experience of traditional woodworking.
Every year, tens of thousands of military members leave full-time service. Most retire, but some leave ill or injured, deemed no longer fit to serve their country. Every wounded veteran has a story — some suffer physical injuries; some suffer internal wounds, including operational stress injuries; some develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or further health conditions. Regardless of the injury, transitioning to life after service is difficult. Some veterans struggle for many years with the life-changing effects of combat, regardless of injury.
Cosman launched the Purple Heart Project following a chance encounter with a former U.S. marine who was suffering from a battle injury. The veteran explained how traditional hand tool woodworking was “a type of therapy that helped him cope with the struggles from combat.” A friendship was formed, and Cosman’s vision to help relieve those who are suffering was realized.
The Purple Heart Project provides 36 physically or mentally wounded combat veterans with a scholarship to attend Cosman’s Training the Hand workshops. Since 2016, Cosman has led more than 85 combat veterans from Canada, the United States and Australia toward their healing journey. Many veterans deal with pain on a constant basis. Many experience addictions, trauma, stress, or depression.
Cosman’s workshop guides each participant through the process of learning hand tool woodworking and the experience of discovering personal creativity and untapped skills. The workshop camaraderie also supports these veterans in rediscovering some measure of control in their lives — something to focus attention on other than pain.
Following Christ by Serving Others
“Working with these incredible individuals brings to mind two scriptures,” says Cosman. “‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13), and a recent Church Youth theme: ‘When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God’ (Mosiah 2:17). We are simply trying to serve our fellow women and men in need.”
This principle of serving others and bringing them to Christ was recently taught by Jean B. Bingham, general president of the Church’s Relief Society: “When our hearts are open and willing to love and include, encourage and comfort, the power of our ministering will be irresistible. With love as the motivation, miracles will happen, and we will find ways to bring our ‘missing’ sisters and brothers into the all-inclusive embrace of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (“Ministering as the Savior Does,” Ensign, May 2018).
Cosman and his family invite others to support veterans in their healing journey by following the example of Jesus Christ.
The Saviour was once a carpenter, using tools not unlike those Cosman and the Wounded Warriors use today. And for the veterans who have been touched by this hand tool woodworking experience, they have been personally ministered to in this unique manner.