By Annie Young
We the residents of Clarke County have the honor of having the nation’s first privately funded, rural combat-veteran wellness center. It’s nestled in the mountain that we share with Loudoun County. Tucked in Bluemont is Boulder Crest Retreat Center, which hosts 700 combat veterans and their families each year since 2013. It is a relatively new facility; you may not even know it exists but its mission is mighty, powerful and far reaching. Prepare yourself to be inspired.
Entering the gate, you feel as if you are entering sacred space. The immaculate grounds and pond, newly constructed log lodge and cabins and Heroes Garden are pristine. But serenity isn’t effortless. Every detail is created for comfort, care, and healing. The gated retreat is secure with a world class staff dedicated to creating transformation in the lives of the combat veterans who come to Boulder Crest for two to seven days. Lives change, community bonds are forged, and scars are examined with knowledge and expertise.
Boulder Crest Retreat Center began as a vision of Ken and Julia Falke. As a master chief petty officer and an explosive ordnance disposal technician for the U.S. Navy, Ken Falke was seriously wounded. He saw first hand the needs of the wounded service men and women and their families. Often times they were frustrated with the lack of needed therapies or the inability to have their families close by as they recovered. The Falkes began hosting wounded warriors and their families at their home for short stays and shared meals.
This grew into the wish to have a few cabins on their property. Now Boulder Crest sits on 37 acres of land donated by the Falkes. The retreat includes a lodge, four breathtaking cabins, an archery range, two retired racehorses, a stone labyrinth, tipi, walking trails, pond, playground, chickens, rabbits and Heroes Garden. Everything has been built with private donations-from small checks from families to large corporate donations of linens and appliances. Every combat veteran and family member who comes for a retreat pays nothing.
Boulder Crest’s new executive director Dusty Baxley jumped into his position in July. He and the staff believe that the service men and women make up the Next Greatest Generation. The team of psychologists, therapists and staff has created the Progressive and Alternative Therapies for Healing Heroes or PATHH. The range of therapies offered during a PATHH program ranges from the 4,000-year-old labyrinth walk to archery and meditation.
Baxley wants the Healing Heroes to “form a community of brothers and sisters and go back home and reconnect.” Part of the reconnection is helping to find therapies that the veterans have benefited from, and finding resources where each veteran lives so they can continue to heal. That’s the essential part—22 veterans commit suicide every day.
But Baxley doesn’t just give a list to the veterans and wish them luck. He makes the call to connect and helps pave the path for a continued course of strength and recovery. Baxley urges us all to “step up and make a house a welcome home, make America, home.”
Boulder Crest is entering Phase 2 of its development. Having met the previous goal last December, Phase 2 focuses on raising an additional $10 million dollars to help serve veterans free of charge for the next five years. This would benefit 3,500 service men and women and their families. Boulder Crest also seeks to create the nation’s first non-clinical curriculum for combat related stress. The curriculum would include the variety of therapies offered and use a full time team of therapists. In the first six months of this campaign over a million dollars has been raised.
So how can we help our veterans beyond the platitudes and pats on the back that sometimes feel empty? We can strengthen resources like Boulder Crest Retreat Center that sits next to our county. A local Girl Scout Troop donates cookies so families on retreat can enjoy a treat together. Locals volunteer and help out in the Heroes Garden that has raised beds that are the perfect height for people in wheelchairs. Donations of any size help heal and create a space to welcome home veterans and help them assimilate back to life with family and friends and support from a community that cares about the Next Greatest Generation.
For more information visit www.bouldercrestretreat.org or call 540-554-2727. Boulder Crest Retreat is not open to the public, but everyone is welcome to attend special events.