New coffee shop is therapy of sorts for veterans

Tonia Zyburt, program director of the Warrior Institute, serves coffee to first-time customer Lynn James during the grand opening of the Warrior Institute's Outpost coffee shop on Friday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, April 18, 2014 at 7:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 18, 2014 at 7:49 p.m.

In north Gainesville, just past the intersection of State Road 121 and U.S. 441, is a stretch of offices that until Friday has gone without the one thing that’s synonymous with office culture: a coffee shop.

Already on its inaugural day, the Outpost Coffee shop on NW 67th Place had some 50 customers — many of them from the area’s offices.

The coffee shop is being operated by the Warrior Institute, which provides rehabilitation services to veterans. The institute specializes in a form of therapy called biofeedback, a technique in which you are connected to electrical sensors that give you feedback about stress-induced changes in your body.

The way it works is that an electrical wire is clipped to your ear and plugged into a computer. You are instructed to take six deep breaths per minute, and a moving ball on the computer screen tells you when to inhale and exhale. Meanwhile, the software monitors your heart rate variability and breathing rate as you breathe in and out, and that information is displayed at the end of the 5-minute breathing periods.

So far, about 65 veterans in Gainesville have used the technique at the Warrior Institute, which is just under a year old, said program director Tonia Zyburt.

“You can literally watch a person’s nervous system get better,” said Jeffrey Zyburt, the Warrior Institute’s president and Tonia’s father. That’s especially important for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The institute’s other form of therapy for veterans is recreational: Veterans and their families go on weeklong nature trips that involve kayaking and camping.

Activities such as rock climbing and kayaking help “remap” brains that have suffered from traumatic brain injury, Jeffrey Zyburt explained, adding, “You can’t be stressed floating down the river with a manatee.”

At the same time, the veterans are doing biofeedback, which further helps them relax because the technique allows people to observe and control their own stress levels, Zyburt continued.

The institute’s latest therapeutic endeavor is having veterans work at the coffee shop. “They may only have one or two good hours a day,” Zyburt said. “This involves minimal training and provides them with somewhere to go.”

It’s also important that the coffee shop is alcohol-free, since many veterans are overcoming alcohol addictions, Tonia Zyburt added.

The coffee shop is also beneficial for the institute, which until now has been exclusively funded by donations and grants.

The coffee shop is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The address is 1911 NW 67th Place Suite 9, north of the intersection of U.S. 441 and State Road 121, near the Highway Patrol station.

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