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Project Sanctuary Provides Retreat for Military Families

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2009 – Whether it’s sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows in the winter or standing in the middle of a creek fishing during the summer, a Colorado troop-support group is promising a week-long retreat full of fun and relaxation for 80 deserving military families this year.

Project Sanctuary will give the military families a five-night, all-expenses-paid, therapeutic retreat in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The retreats will be co-hosted by the YMCA of the Rockies at the Snow Mountain Ranch near Winter Park, Colo.

“The stress on military families is enormous,” Kristi Kinnison, director of development at Project Sanctuary, said. “We want to honor and help these families, relieving the stresses that they feel as a result of deployment.”

Founded in November 2007, Project Sanctuary began offering military retreats in 2008 to support returning troops by strengthening the family as a whole. Combining medical and psychological services with group dynamics, team building, personal care and coping skills, these retreats offer fun, enjoyable, constructive opportunities for service personnel to reconnect with their loved ones, while providing support for positive reintegration into civilian life, Kinnison said.

Eight retreats are planned for this year, and 10 to 12 families will go together on each retreat. Snow Mountain Ranch allows each family to have its own cabin and then join the group at least daily in a lodge that houses the staff and volunteers. The lodge is the central meeting point for the entire retreat.

“Putting the families together helps them to know that they are not alone,” Kinnison said. “Having the families experience a retreat together creates lasting support systems, creating a network with other families. Another benefit of bringing the families together helps bring different service branches together.”

The retreats are based on using leisure, recreation and play to reduce barriers to participation and provide opportunities where the individual and families may choose to participate.

“All retreats will help families find peace within everyday rituals, including preparing meals and doing dishes,” Kinnison said. “In the summertime, we take families hiking, white-water rafting, horseback riding and rock climbing, [and we also have] hay rides and roast marshmallows around campfires. In the winter, families go skiing, tubing [and] snowmobiling, experience sleigh rides, and build snowmen. Each family is given ample time to do their own thing and the facility is ideal as it includes many other recreational facilities.”

Michelle Bruce, who attended the retreat last year with her husband, Air Force Tech. Sgt. David D. Bruce, and their three children, said she initially was skeptical of the retreat.

“We wondered what the organization was trying to sell,” Bruce said. “To our complete surprise, we truly enjoyed ourselves. It was so wonderful. My husband, Dave, had just returned from deployment, a week prior to us going. As with many families, we were having a bit of a hard time reintegrating back to living together. The retreat was so fun, relaxing and romantic for Dave and me. It was truly life-changing for all of us.”

Michelle Briggs, whose husband, Robert Briggs, is in the Iowa National Guard’s 224th Combat Engineers, agreed.

“Bob was severely injured when a [rocket-propelled grenade] entered his [forward operating base] in Ramadi, Iraq,” she said. “I have always been searching for retreats or meetings on how to help our family rebuild.

“For our family,” Briggs continued, “Project Sanctuary was a hope with help of rebuilding our family, to show our kids that their dad is getting better, that he is still their dad. While we were there, our entire family hiked up a mountain, some two miles, and we did it as a whole family. We fished as a whole family again. We did everything as a whole family. This is what we are trying to do to help our family be whole again.”

All retreats are in Colorado, and most participants reside in Colorado. Project Sanctuary tries to include at least one out-of-state family per retreat.

Program officials take retreat applications on a first-come, first-served basis. All servicemembers are considered, but servicemembers who recently have returned from deployment are ideal candidates, Kinnison said. Families may apply for a retreat by filling out an application at the Project Sanctuary Web site.

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