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New clinic offers lifeline to veterans in the house that Sesame Street built

The Magnus Veterans Foundation offers holistic care to vets free-of-charge thanks to the estate of Sesame Street Live.

DAYTON, Minnesota — Once you turn off of North Diamond Lake Road and drive down the driveway for the Magnus Veterans Foundation, it doesn't take long to get to Sesame Street.

"This place was built by Big Bird," said Dr. Shawn Alderman. "Big Bird has been here many times."

Alderman's uncle, Vince Egan, was the Minnesota man behind Sesame Street Live. The original sketches Egan's pitched to Jim Henson in the 1970s are still inside his old home in Dayton.

But the rest of the house now looks a lot different.

"We have essentially taken that house, and we've converted it into a working medical clinic," said Jay Calhoun, Executive Director for the Magnus Foundation, which provides holistic medical care exclusively for military veterans and their families.

Dr. Alderman says it's a service his uncle would have appreciated.

"He was a veteran as well," Alderman said. "He was a veteran of the Minnesota Air National Guard, and after he passed away my aunt decided to donate this property to veterans and their families."

And she accomplished that while keeping the estate in the family.

"I enlisted in the Army in 1988 as an Airborne Infantryman and then I became a special forces soldier," Dr. Alderman said. "After that, I went to medical school, and then spent the next 20 years of my life taking care of, primarily, special forces soldiers and their families." 

After retiring from the military, Sean launched Magnus Veterans Foundation to replicate the holistic approach he and his colleagues helped develop, in hopes of taking the 'Five Performance Pillars' approach beyond special forces.

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"It hones in on the medical; the mental and psychological; the social; the spiritual; and the physical pillars," Calhoun said. "It's the only place in the country that is doing this outside of the military."

"We were basically taking all of that training, all of that knowledge, and apply it here to the house that Sesame Street built," Alderman said.

Technically, their work goes far beyond the home itself. The Magnus Veterans Foundation campus stretches across a 37-acre, $4 million estate.

"This is where we host our events," Alderman said, pointing to a stage that faces a shaded hill and duck pond near hundreds of yards of Diamond Lake shoreline. "It's all designed to bring our veteran families and communities into the same space."

And whether they're hosting big events, quiet walks or weight training, Shawn says everything is geared toward growth and healing.

Kent Erdahl: "What are you really seeing a need for right now?"

Dr. Alderman: "Psychological services are our number one requirement. There are long waiting times right now across our healthcare system for psychological services and that's something where, thankfully, we're able to get them in a lot sooner."

A year after first opening it's doors, the clinic is now caring for 100 patients, who are referred to as members, because they all maintain access to the campus with zero barriers to entry.

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"The members here pay absolutely nothing for their care," Calhoun said. "Not a dime."

Alderman says that's thanks to an army of more than 100 community volunteers. 

"I'm the founder and I'm the president, but I'm also a volunteer," he said. "I'm not paid. I work at Fairview in Rogers. I'm a family physician and here I see patients on a volunteer basis."

And he says volunteers are just the beginning.

Medical care is funded through online donations. Dr. Alderman says many have pledged $50 per month to cover the ongoing costs of a single veteran. Operational and building costs have been covered by local Lions and Rotary Clubs, area VFWs and community concerts and other events.

The 'Magnus & Friends Festival' planned for Aug. 20, will feature several bands, a keynote speaker and a big raffle. Alderman says they'll be able to host more than 1,000 guests.

"More than 95% of our donations come within a 50-mile radius," Alderman said. "This is really our community saying, 'You served us, now we want to serve you.'"

Magnus is now looking to expand that base of support, to serve even more people.

"We really want 500 members over the next two years," Calhoun said. "The three- to five-year plan is 5,000 members in this one facility."

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Those expansion plans are already moving forward, and they are Big Bird approved.

"This room above our fitness center used to be where they stored all the Sesame Street Live costumes," Alderman said. "But it's going to become our new yoga studio."

He says it's just one more way they hope to bring peace to their members. 

"I've had veterans show up at our front door, look out that bay window and then it hits them," Alderman said. "That's when they realize this is real. Somebody really did donate this property for me and my family. I've had veterans break down right there and cry."

And that's when he knew his uncle would be proud.

"My uncle was committed to making people happy and laugh across the world, so to have that energy kind of feed into this... this property is bringing all that history, all that love, all that serenity, and wrapping it around everybody who walks through that door," he said.

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