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Medford veteran receives national Unsung Hero award

A Medford veteran committed to helping fellow service members who face the same struggles he endured after battle has been named the 2017 Unsung Hero for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Matthew Havniear, a peer support specialist with Columbia Care, admits his heart was racing when his name was called to receive the award in Washington, D.C., on Friday. 

Havniear said he was honored and humbled to receive the annual award, but couldn't take credit for the work he's "lucky enough to be part of."

"It was beyond touching," he said. "I'm not delusional at all to think that I earned it alone. I've got a strong team behind me that helps run the programs that I'm a part of, so it's all their hard work that helps me to do what I do."

The award is given to those who contribute "to the recognition of the homeless veteran issue in a supporting or unrecognized leadership role," according to the coalition's website.

Havniear, 34, was featured in the Mail Tribune in January 2015 when he launched a cigar box guitar making business after realizing the work helped ease his post-traumatic stress.

A Marine who spent much of his time in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2011, Havniear was injured in a building collapse when his unit came under fire. When he came home, Havniear focused on healing and addressing mental health issues related to his time in combat.

Later in 2015, Havniear launched his own nonprofit organization, Team Overland, to help fellow veterans reintegrate into civilian society and overcome combat-related stress through outdoor adventures.

Additionally, he started a workout program for disabled veterans, coordinating free gym memberships for eight to nine veterans who train together to overcome physical and mental obstacles.

Six months into his role as a peer support specialist at Columbia Care, a Medford mental health provider that also provides housing and reintegration services for veterans, Havniear said the work he does is both meaningful and humbling.

Joseph Chick, Havniear's supervisor and program administrator for Columbia Care, said Havniear's heart for the work is impressive and that Havniear is someone who "walks his talk."

"I think he probably got the award for a lot of the things that happen even outside of what he does with us," Chick said. "He's one of the very best and most positive people I know. He finds a way to get very involved with a lot of people who need him.

"Matt is very exceptional at what he does and he's extremely well connected. Anybody who works with veterans in any capacity knows who he is. He's one of the hardest working guys I know and he absolutely just lights up a room when he walks in. He's someone who believes in the work he's doing and he makes everyone else believe in it, too."

For more information on Havniear's Team Overland organization, visit www.teamoverland.org.

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Mattnew Havniear received the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans' UnSung Hero award Friday in Washington, D.C. [Submitted photo]