"High Ground" screening raises $2,600 for new veterans center at UI

"High Ground" screening raises $2,600 for new veterans center at UI

Viewers of “High Ground” might expect a documentary on mountaineering. But it’s just as much about the  problems the wounded veterans who climb Mount Lobuche in the Himalayas experience as a result of serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan war.

“The war is fought when you come home,” said one veteran in the documentary, which was shown on Tuesday night at the Art Theater.

About 150 people turned out for the free screening sponsored by M2 on Neil, where blinded Iraq War veteran Steve Baskis lives. He is one of the stars in “High Ground,”  directed by Michael Brown.

Baskis was at the screening, and when he reached the Lobuche summit in the documentary many people in the audience applauded. I also heard a good number of people crying during the event.

“Omigosh, it was powerful,” said Jean Driscoll, the medal-winning wheelchair athlete and University of Illinois administrator. “I want to see it again. It was very well done and it underscores a lot of the issues the veterans and wounded veterans are experiencing.”

M2 on Neil raised $2,600 from the screening for the new Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education at the UI. Of that, $1,000 came from the Richard L. Pittman Marine Corps League, named after the Urbana High School graduate who lost his life on Iwo Jima while serving in World War II.

The College of Applied Health Sciences, where Driscoll is assistant dean for advancement, expects to break ground this spring on the $12 million Center for Wounded Veterans, which will be on Nevada Street a block south of Krannert Center. It is expected to open two years from now.

The college also will raise $10 million for programs for the center, which will offer residential services for veterans with severe disabilities, including those who need personal assistants, Driscoll said. The center also will offer services to veterans who do not live on the center, among them counseling for them and their families.

Baskis, 27, attended the College of DuPage before moving to Champaign in August. He has applied to Parkland College and hopes to eventually attend the UI. After the screening of “High Ground” on Tuesday evening, Baskis joked that he was glad he didn’t have to see himself in the documentary.

Joking aside, he called climbing Mount Lobuche with the other veterans plus Erik Weihenmayer — the only blind person to have summited Mount Everest — a truly amazing experience, even though he at one time wonders aloud in the documentary whether blind people should be scaling mountains.

Baskis had climbed mountains before. But Lobuche was the tallest and most challenging; its summit was rocky and snow-covered, and the documentary shows the veterans setting out for the top before dawn, with lights on their helmets illuminating their path.

Weihenmayer organized the climb for veterans, calling the effort Soldiers to the Summit. He hoped it would be a healing journey for them, as well as a Gold Star mom who lost a son in Afghanistan.

For more on “High Ground” go to www.highgroundmovie.com. For more about Baskis see my story at http://bit.ly/T50C7i.

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