Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness founder Ken Falke has been named to the HillVets 100 list for 2016, while the Bluemont retreat was named the Nonprofit of the Year for innovation in the mental health care area.
HillVets is a bipartisan veterans’ organization in Washington, DC, dedicated to empowering fellow veterans through networking and education.
Falke said his reaction to Monday’s announcement was one of “complete surprise.”
He recalled that in the 1970s and 1980s there were many veterans serving in different positions in Congress. “There were a lot of them. Today the numbers are small, and what they’re doing is a very noble mission—trying to get more veterans on staff,” he said.
Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who serves as honorary chairman of HillVets 100, is an honorary board member of Boulder Crest Retreat. Hagel said he is continually impressed by the retreat’s innovative and strength-based approach to the combat stress recovery process.
According to HillVets founder Justin Brown, when the selection committee reviewed which nonprofits are making the biggest impact for veterans, Falke and the Boulder Crest Retreat jumped out.
“The issue of mental health is of utmost importance to the veterans’ community, and BCR’s innovative approach is a game changer,” Brown stated.
The retreat will mark its third anniversary in September, and Falke attributed its impact to the Progressive and Alternative Therapies for Healing Heroes program [PATHH].
“Basically, it’s a new approach to combat stress recovery, using ancient methods of healing and warrior recovery, including meditation and modern-day therapy in a peaceful setting,” he said.
The program seeks to find what fuels post-traumatic stress disorder growth [and] what makes an individual stronger after being “forged on the anvil of adversity,” Falke said. “We want people to be as productive here as on the battlefield.”
The Friends of the Senior Center at Cascades also has recognized the value of the retreat. The FSCC disbanded at the end of 2015 and after 20 years and gave its remaining funds, $150,000, to Boulder Crest.
Olga Ricciardi, who had headed the organization for 12 years, said the inspiration behind the donation was what veterans have given to the nation.
“We have to do more for them. They gave their lives for us and we have to do more for their families,” she said, recalling how she had cared for her wheelchair-bound husband, Mike, who was in the military. He died at age 50, after falling ill while serving in Guam. Many others serving with him also died young.
That decision to give the money to a nonprofit was also bolstered by a remark at the senior center that was passed to Ricciardi to the effect that “they’re all in their ’80s or ’90s, and it will all come to us anyway.”
“I said, no way,” Ricciardi, a determined and feisty 87-year-old, recalled. The remaining eight members of the FSCC voted to make the $150,000 donation to Boulder Crest Retreat—“to help anyone with PSTD in whatever way necessary,” Ricciardi said Tuesday. Many of those who attend the Cascades Senior Center are veterans, she said.
The group had one stipulation: None of the money can be used for administrative fees.
“We checked 23 organizations, and they all take a percentage for administrative fees. We said, no, no, no,” Ricciardi said.
Falke said the seniors’ visit to deliver the check was moving. “I saw veterans there and wives of the deceased. You could see in their faces how important it was for them to give, even with tears.”
The FSCC heard about Boulder Crest through a member who was inspired by a fundraiser held by River Creek residents.
“That’s what community is about—seeing where the needs are and where the community can support,” Falke said.