OAKLAND, Fla. – Mark Van Osdel is on a mission.
"I found that if you concentrate more on helping others, that you kind of heal yourself," Van Osdel said about his passion to help those who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
For many service members, coming home after deployment can be difficult because of the experiences they've just lived through.
Nine years ago, Van Osdel left the military, but his experience with the Navy and Army left him fighting a different kind of battle -- one with PTSD.
After being a Navy reserve, he enlisted in the Army in 2007 and was deployed to Iraq, where he served for 15 months. He was discharged in 2009.
Two years ago, while living in Iowa, his counselor at the local veterans center invited him to participate in his first hot glass-blowing class for veterans, who take the class as a way to cope with their condition.
"You just pretty much forget about your PTSD -- your worries of the day. You just go out there. You're trying to make something beautiful," Van Osdel said about the benefits of the technique.
Today, he creates colorful sculptures like flowers, bowls and pumpkins in a space he sets up on his driveway outside his home.
"I don't think you ever really get healed, but you get a lot better," Van Osdel said.
He said his improvement comes with help from his family, faith and other veterans.
Last year, he founded the nonprofit organization Operation Hot Glass Heroes with hopes of offering classes to help other veterans cope with their PTSD, but his current shop, under a tent at home, is not the ideal studio he has envisioned. Van Osdel said his dream is to eventually have a bigger space.
"Mainly so that the veterans can come back and have a place for us to all get together, hang out, blow glass. It's just really hard with what I have," Van Osdel said. "I'm definitely looking for donations to someday have my own shop so that it's a lot easier for us to do this."
The Iowa native has already invested $10,000 of his own money and has received $2,500 in donations. Van Osdel hopes to teach his first class in September at the American Legion.
To learn more about the nonprofit, visit the Operation Hot Glass Heroes Facebook page.