Aaron served 20 years in the Marine Corps in radio/electronic repair before retiring. Shortly before his release, he began experiencing dizziness and problems with his balance, which ultimately led him to be diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He is currently taking part in PVA’s Disabled Veterans Self-Employment Program, which gives Veterans with disabilities training, counseling, and access to capital for their business ideas over a series of eight sessions.
We had a chat with Aaron about how his MS diagnosis has affected him, and his business aspirations for the future.
How did your MS symptoms present?
My balance was severely messed up. I couldn’t walk in a straight line, and the room was spinning. I couldn’t stand up without falling back down. My MS has been slow to progress, but I started treatment as soon as I noticed I had a problem, which could be a factor. Eventually I got Covid, Ramsays Hunt, and Bell’s palsy, which hit me like a ton of bricks and seemed to inflame the balance area even more. I also have cognitive changes – wherever I’m looking, that’s where my focus is. I don’t have a lot of peripheral processing. The neurologists are hopeful that everything those diseases took away will maybe come back as the nerves heal, but we’ll see.
How were you introduced to PVA?
I was starting to fall without being able catch myself, so I went in and was prescribed a cane. They told me I qualified for Paralyzed Veterans of America if I needed modifications to my home, or a lot of other services.
The first thing I did after I got my PVA membership was enroll in this pilot program for entrepreneurs. Which exactly fit where I am, because I was working on starting my own business.
Your Military Occupational Specialty was radio repair. Is that what you are interested in doing in civilian life?
No; there were opportunities to do that, but I decided I wanted to go back to school and get a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. I wanted to help people. But I knew I didn’t want to do it in the confines of any organization – working a 40-hour week, etc. I had more creative ideas.
What were those ideas?
In the rehab counseling program for my internship, I went to a place called The Art Station. A lot of art therapists go there for training. They do art as therapy. So during my internship, I ended up working with pottery with seven of my clients. They were making coffee cups and all kinds of stuff that was expressive and meaningful for them, and I was making stuff right alongside of them. We’d just talk, and it was really therapeutic. About four years ago I thought, “Man; that would be so cool to do pottery as therapy.”
So I graduated, bought a kiln, and then bought my first 50 pounds of clay. I go to people’s homes, do pottery workshops, and bring counseling to people, but we just call it making pottery. It’s been a lot of fun for me, and for them. You can bring the magic of pottery into their lives.
Right: Aaron during his service in the U.S. Marine Corps
Left: Aaron focusing on his art, creating a ceramic bowl on the pottery wheel.
It’s such a non-threatening environment too.
It really is therapeutic. The main focus for my business is to connect with people. My business motto is, “Our passions are people and pottery.” And people are the most important thing. I call it stealth counseling. You get people into that flow state, and then they have a completed piece of pottery they made for themselves or someone else when they’re done.
What successes have you seen?
People absolutely love it. I’ve had homeschool groups, I’ve had preschool groups. I say my age range is from age three up to age 85, because that’s the ages of all the people that I’ve done pottery with. They can’t wait for the piece to come back from being fired. They can’t wait for the next time. The mom of a six-year-old said, “I don’t know how you got him to pay attention so long. How long did he pay attention – for 40 minutes? I can’t him to pay attention to anything for 30 seconds, except the TV.”
When you signed on to PVA’s Disabled Veterans Self-Employment Program was there anything specific you were looking for?
I went into it looking at figuring out how to do financing – as far as getting loans to help me get a brick-and-mortar structure. And also, to get more of an understanding of marketing. There’s so much I don’t know, and I know that I don’t know it. I came [to PVA’s pilot program] to get more knowledge, to meet those gaps.
What have you learned?
I’ve only been going two weeks, but in those first two weeks I have a book I’m already reading. In the second class I learned a lot about the different ways of funding in general, and also crowdfunding. We had an assignment to research the market. I didn’t really know what marketing was – I thought, “marketing is advertising.” But marketing is thinking about the people, and industry is actual other people doing what you do. It’s really basic knowledge, but I didn’t know that. So we’re filling in some of my gaps already, in two weeks.
Do you share your MS diagnosis with people?
I don’t tell people my problems, necessarily. It always surprises them when I put a picture on social media with the big IV bag getting my infusion. They say, “What is wrong with you? You seem perfectly normal to us.” But I do like to inspire them. Like, “If this guy who has this problem is accomplishing all this, maybe I could do a little bit more.”
We wish you much success. It sounds like you’ve found a great fit.
It’s one little part me, and the big part is just the way pottery is when you’re doing it – making something with your hands. I like to inspire people. Inspiring anybody at any time is really what everything I do is about.
To purchase pottery from Aaron or look into one of his workshops, visit www.yahwehpottery.com