Rob LaFreniere started writing in 1990, during a course of therapy for PTSD, after abandoning a marriage and a career. His writing was reticent, singular at first, only a means to clarify memories and emotions. He found the writing a release, a way to speak with himself. Gradually, he became intrigued by the process - the stringing of words together in a particular, revealing shape - and took classes at a local university, then attended a writer's workshop where his work was accepted with enthusiasm. He found validation there and submitted and published work in literary magazines while pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. He first taught during an MFA post-graduate semester. He liked teaching and writing, as an avocation gradually became a rewarding career.
When the subject came up in a conversation with his former Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, the counselor suggested Rob develop a writing program for Vets in treatment. It was a suggestion with a hint of challenge. "Give something back."
Rob called Patricia Riker, team leader of the Portland Vet Center, and outlined a program over the phone. Pat was cautious at first, but agreed to arrange a presentation to her staff. After thinking it over, Pat announced the availability of a weekly writing group to the clients. By the first week in November, there was sufficient interest to form a group. Six Vets attended the first meeting; Pat attended as observer and to provide clinical support if needed.
Pat and Rob originally planned a forum where clients could develop fundamental writing skills and define their experiences and emotions by creative expression. Rob's plan was to conduct the group in a formal two-hour weekly seminar focusing equally on the technical craft of creative writing and the cognitive process that generates it.
The Vets had a different agenda. All were actively writing, some attempting to publish, others reluctant to share their work, and a few contentious and hostile to criticism. It was apparent that a wide diversity of educational levels, writing skill and abilities to perform in a group context required a less formal approach. Rob used work brought to the first group as a base line, using it to illustrate his first teaching points, and then solicited more.