The Healing Rivers project was born of a strong desire to give back something of merit to our combat veterans and their families…
In 2016, a special event called Bass Bash was organized as a means of bringing together “Wounded Warriors” and combat Veterans for a day of guided fishing/boating on the Susquehanna River, music, food, veteran’s services, spiritual guidance, and fellowship. It very quickly became an annual event with roughly one hundred participants – fifty-six guides and boats on the water, multiple volunteers and VA support staff, and has become a highly anticipated event that has grown in reputation each year.
Along with offering a day of entertainment, however, has come an acute awareness of the need for something more – something that offers a deeper, more comprehensive and long-term path to recovery than a single event – something that allows for healing in a non-traditional, natural setting with services specific to individual need.
In 2020 Healing Rivers was established as a 501(c)(3) with the purpose of developing a program and facility designed to offer recuperative services to Veterans who have seen combat, their families, and caregivers. This non-traditional approach would be located in a natural, outdoor setting with a lodge to accommodate physical disabilities, outdoor recreational activities that include fishing and hunting, direct counseling, connective planning, spiritual guidance, family activities, and fellowship. Time spent in nature, coupled with individually-appropriate, therapeutic guidance, will allow for our combat veterans and families to seek healing in the peace and perfection of a forest in Autumn or alongside a rushing mountain stream.
The ultimate goal of this program is to offer a comprehensive experience that will carry the veteran forward in his/her journey toward recovery beyond the stay at Healing Rivers Lodge. In order to do so, we are looking to establish a diversified collaboration of service providers (VA advisors/counselors, medical and therapeutic, educational and recreational) to advise and participate in implementing our mission statement.
“The Mission of Healing Rivers is to promote physical and psychological healing to combat veterans and their families by way of sporting, recreational activities and therapeutic services in a natural, outdoor setting.”
These collaborations will be of primary benefit to the veterans and families, but will also serve to broaden community relationships and provide hands-on experience and professional growth for those involved.
Healing Rivers is looking to acquire land in or near the south central PA area. Location is quite probably the most important component and foundation from which to build. Because we have not been able to identify any similar available programs, we feel confident that the need is strong for this area. The ideal property would be not less than one hundred acres, have direct access to fishable/stockable waters, be secluded yet easily accessible from the tri-state area, zoned for the building of an expandable lodge and small peripheral projects like storage, picnic pavilion, outdoor chapel with any necessary adaptations for handicapped usage, etc. and able to be kept as natural as possible going forward.
The program is looking at a multi-faceted approach to funding. Initially, Healing Rivers is seeking grant monies and private donations in order to acquire land and build the lodge. We believe this to be the most pragmatic, responsible, and secure way to move forward. Support for the program will come from multi-level sponsorships/memberships, regular classes and workshops that complement the theme of the project, (ie: fly-tying, archery, photography, therapy dogs, therapeutic riding, etc.) rental income, annual fundraisers, collaborations with educational and training institutions, a small product line, and supplemental operational grants.
Additionally, Healing Rivers both recognizes and respects the value in generating valued relationships – professionally and from a business perspective, personally as we meet the needs of our veterans and their families, and through outreach and inclusion within the local community. Outreach creates connection. Connection provides understanding of the mission statement. Understanding generates support. A program such as this can provide much more than just healing opportunities for our veterans — and it should. Relationships built on trust and an outstretched hand can speak more clearly than any bottom line and it is the fervent desire of this project to establish such relations by way of the following:
- Connecting with local colleges for student teachers to work with the children, providing interns and trauma therapists with clinical time by shadowing VA counselors, offering trade school students the opportunity to get hands-on experience with building projects, providing VA service providers an operating resource.
- Connecting with agencies and organizations such as the PA Fish Commission, PA Game Commission, PA Forestry Association, PA Waterways, local Fish & Game Clubs, etc. to offer venues for outreach, education, conservation study, and activities.
- Connecting with local small business to establish working relationships for the supplies and services necessary to regular operation. (ie: food/kitchen supplies, maintenance and tools, equipment and services)
- Connecting with local residents for hiring of support staff.
- Connecting with local community by offering open workshops/classes/events for education and recreation.
- Connecting with the first-responder population to consider inclusion as part of future goals.
Our goals are big and our sights high, but our commitment to success is driven by need. Every single day between seventeen and eighteen United States Veterans loses his/her life to suicide – 6,435 alone in 2018. That figure is unconscionable and is not dropping! There is great need for healing resources with diversified methodology. Trauma is different from person to person and no single approach can or will reach everyone. That said, we are finding considerable support and encouragement from organizations and persons who both understand and endorse the Healing Rivers project – who recognize and promote the power of nature when it comes to healing and recovery. There is motivation and confirmation in that as we move forward.
Putting faces to names – separating statistics from humanity — having spent time with our noble warriors, talked with them, seen their pain, we have been called to do more than shake our collective heads and say “we’re so sorry / thank you for your service.” Beyond their trauma lie human beings who have served their country with honor and pride and have made great sacrifices for all of us. Healing Rivers recognizes that gift and finds purpose in meeting their mission with one of our own.