On December 19, 2023, the purchase of the new Project Sanctuary Retreat Center in Pagosa Springs, Colorado was finalized.
This property features:
- 42 acres of land in Archuleta County, Colorado surrounded by the San Juan National Forest.
- A Main Lodge with a commercial kitchen, five private bedrooms, game room, meeting space and a fireside lounge.
- A secondary Guest Lodge with 15 private rooms and central meeting area.
- Two additional Duplex Cabins, four RV full hook-up locations, a stand-alone office/storage building, pole barn and additional outbuilding as well as heavy equipment for property upkeep.
"Having our own retreat center and ensuring military families will have a place to call their own, a place of hope and healing, has always been a dream of Project Sanctuary,” said Project Sanctuary Founder and CEO Heather Ehle. “After losing our primary summer retreat center partner in the 2020 East Troublesome Fire and navigating rising costs of hosting our program at partner sites, it became clear we needed to identify a place we could call home for our therapeutic retreats. We will still utilize retreat center partners around the country, but this new location will allow us to expand our program to serve even more military families throughout the year.”
Ehle continued, “We are incredibly grateful for the lead donors who helped make this dream a reality, The Milanovich Trust and The Bill Ackerman Estate, as well as the Project Sanctuary Board of Directors who gave so generously toward the acquisition of this property.”
Project Sanctuary is currently working with an architect to plan out needed renovations and additions to host families more effectively and plans to launch a capital campaign in 2024. Minimal programming will take place during this time, as 2024 contracts have already been signed with retreat center partners for the upcoming year of programming. The full 2024 retreat schedule is here: https://projectsanctuary.us/retreat-schedule/
Project Sanctuary treats the whole military family understanding that the veteran is not the only person experiencing service-related challenges. Spouses often have higher rates of depression, experience frequent job changes (if they are able to work) and can become caregivers if the service member experiences an injury – physical or invisible. Military children change schools every two/three years, experience anxiety, and lack the consistency of having both parents around due to deployments.
Since 2007, Project Sanctuary has partnered with retreat centers across the country to host therapeutic retreats for military families. We dedicate our mission to serving at-risk military families who are living with the effects of their military service. Of the servicemen and women Project Sanctuary has served over the past year, 79% self-reported an injury/medical condition and 72% self-reported PTSD and/or TBI. A therapeutic environment is critical when providing services to veterans and their families, allowing for a safe space where healing and growth can occur.
Project Sanctuary has experienced many challenges utilizing our current model, to include:
Year over year increasing prices of food and lodging, typically increasing every year at most locations.
Lack of family style lodging versus bunk bed style lodging (Project Sanctuary is not able to utilize bunk bed style lodging for the families we serve).
Seasonal availability of locations is especially difficult in the summer months as retreat centers operate their own programming.
Retreat centers scheduling of other groups simultaneously with Project Sanctuary, causing challenges to the therapeutic environment needed for our programs or availability of needed family lodges.
Cleaning/disinfecting protocols created by partner site, versus managed by Project Sanctuary team ensuring the safety of families.
Appropriate meeting space to have dedicated space for youth, teens, and adults to participate in their programs.
Onsite recreation so we do not need to transfer families to various locations.
Of most significance to families is the lodging. When participating in a therapeutic retreat, families are there to work on pieces of their lives that they are struggling with individually and as a family. Many retreat centers’ lodging accommodations have characteristics of barracks, do not allow separate rooms for the parents away from children, or are in close proximity to other families. Lodging is a critical element of a therapeutic retreat center.
Meeting space design and availability requirements can also make it difficult to find suitable retreat locations. We need separate spaces for the youth (birth to age 12) that has restrooms close to ensure staff/volunteers are able to abide by the Project Sanctuary Child Protection Policy; space for teens (13+) that includes a comfortable set-up where conversations can take place; and additional space for adults where couches are available and an area where they can be comfortable during their carefully-crafted workshops. Most retreat centers have rooms that are set up like classrooms or a dining area that needs to be converted to a space to meet and there is little privacy.
Colorado is home to six military bases and 8.4% of the adult population are veterans, making Colorado the 19th most popular state with veterans (https://www.thecentersquare.com). In the past two years, more than 200 participants call the great state of Colorado home. Project Sanctuary is proud of our commitment serving active-duty service members, veterans, and their families within Colorado.
Project Sanctuary’s program is built on a foundation of first addressing the critical mental health needs of the service member, the spouse/partner, and children in the family as a method to stabilize the family dynamic, better preparing the family unit for ongoing program education. Retreat workshops focus on communication skills, conflict resolution, financial literacy, and living with Post Traumatic Stress. Our program consists of two parts: Family Support and Therapeutic Retreats.
Our programs are run by a professional team that includes a registered nurse (retired), licensed professional counselors, medical social workers, certified therapeutic recreation specialists, peer mentors, and ~125 trained volunteers, many of whom are veterans and “graduates” of our program. Moreover, our team is staffed by culturally competent civilians, veterans, and military family members. Our collaborative partnerships with veteran-serving organizations, healthcare providers, foundations, and businesses help us provide cutting-edge solutions and a continuum of care for at-risk military families. Project Sanctuary’s program team focuses on counseling, education, suicide prevention, and therapeutic recreation to help families achieve success.
Led by a diverse and highly qualified board of directors, Project Sanctuary benefits from their unique backgrounds and expertise to help our organization remain fiscally responsible and strategically plan for growth to meet the needs of military families across the country. Project Sanctuary’s board includes business owners, attorneys, entrepreneurs, veterans, and financial management experts. Most recently, Project Sanctuary added an associate professor in recreation therapy with a deep understanding of data-driven program excellence. Additionally, we are fortunate to have board members who themselves have personal experience running and maintaining large ranch properties within Colorado.
Ranch Renovation & New Construction:
Estimated Goal pending
Key elements include:
By acquiring a new retreat center, we would be able to help a minimum of 1,000 unique individuals, or approximately 250 families annually through therapeutic retreats. An additional 16 retreats would be held at designated partner sites across the country, adding another 160 families per year in addition to those served at our new retreat center in Colorado.
“This retreat has helped our family build a closer bond. During the retreat our children learned to identify and communicate their emotions better. As parents we learned to be the person they need. Also, my husband and I learned a lot during the relationship class and the PTS class. We will definitely be using the skills and tools we learned for the rest of our lives. We also got to meet our military families and watch our children bond was great. I would recommend this retreat to anyone listening.” Jessica, Army veteran, Snow Mountain Ranch retreat