HUMANS OF PROJECT SANCTUARY:  Why We Give Back

Robert Steinhoff | Board Member
After completing my Army service, I initially struggled with finding a meaningful way to give back to the military community.  That all changed after meeting Project Sanctuary’s founder and CEO, Heather Ehle, and attending a Project Sanctuary retreat.  I immediately felt at home with this incredible team of dedicated professionals providing assistance to military families.  The core value of Project Sanctuary that continues to stand out to me is its focus not just on the veteran, but that individual’s closest support system: the family.

My wife and I know first-hand the toll that multiple combat deployments can have on individuals and families, and I am grateful that an organization like Project Sanctuary is there to help place veterans and their families on a path to a rewarding and successful future.  I firmly believe in Project Sanctuary’s mission, and I am honored to be a part of this outstanding organization.

Kelli Sands | Family Coordinator
I LOVE MY JOB! Project Sanctuary is a family that invites their extended Military family to a retreat for healing, bonding, and relaxation. I have the privilege of meeting families first hand when booking them for their retreat. This process is heartwarming and exciting all at one time.  Every person has their personal story with struggles and triumphs.

I also have the opportunity to give back to our soldiers and their family through volunteering at different retreats.  The amount of sacrifice that our military families give to our country is unlike any other. The joy that I receive from seeing families reconnecting and walls crumbling down is transforming.

Jennifer & Brice Shepherd | Volunteers
We moved to Granby, Colorado because of Project Sanctuary. We wanted to give back because of what they gave us. A way to live better and love as a family unit. Taught us how to slow down and enjoy one another and spend time outside of the house. We know they are always there for us and to support in anything that we need. It feels great knowing that you can always depend on them. The people you meet are just amazing and we have created a little community within the Project Sanctuary family and that’s a family that is forever.
Scott Harper | Outdoor Recreation & Logistics
Scott retired after 20 years in the United States Air Force including deployments to Southwest Asia for Desert Storm and Operation Southern Watch.  Before joining the Project Sanctuary team, Scott was a Park Ranger with the National Park Service. He was the coordinator for Post to Parks: a national program that connected thousands of Active Duty, Veterans, and military families to our public lands and the outdoors. Outdoor recreation is a vital component in the healing process that Project Sanctuary provides. Scott’s passion for the outdoors and helping military families led him to Project Sanctuary. Scott spends his free time skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, golfing, ballroom dancing, and hanging out at his remote mountain cabin.

Prince Humphries | Youth Program Coordinator
Project Sanctuary is one of the very few organizations that are true to their mission, focus and intent. I say that from 100% experience with PS. Because of Project Sanctuary, I’ve been able to regain the pride of my service again, the strength to be present with my family, and now, the will to share my experience.
Pam & Rob Utesch | Healthy Marriage Facilitators
We experienced our first Project Sanctuary retreat in early 2009, just one week after completing our training to facilitate the Healthy Marriage class, whew! We hit the ground running and didn’t know what to expect. From that day on we have come to love the families and staff we are privileged to know through these retreats. The highlights for us have been seeing the power of community and intentional vulnerability bring healing. It’s been an amazing ride to join them in experiencing some of the most beautiful parts of our country, as families reconnect and hope together again Although being from Colorado and having met in Grand Lake, we may be a bit partial! Thanks for letting us be a part of the fun and this great vision!
Bonnie Walton | Administrative Assistant
After Brian’s suicide, I couldn’t think of a better way to honor his memory than to work towards helping other veterans and their families. We were a Project Sanctuary graduate family and I hold the memories we had from PS very close to my heart. I am grateful to be a part of the PS family and to get to witness families coming together and regain their hope for the future. The Walton’s Warriors program has been successful in saving lives and letting other veterans know that they are not alone. PS has an amazing success rate for keeping families whole because the entire family is involved.
Rand Case | Board Secretary
After completing my Army service, I initially struggled with finding a meaningful way to give back to the military community.  That all changed after meeting Project Sanctuary’s founder and CEO, Heather Ehle, and attending a Project Sanctuary retreat.  I immediately felt at home with this incredible team of dedicated professionals providing assistance to military families.

The core value of Project Sanctuary that continues to stand out to me is its focus not just on the veteran, but that individual’s closest support system: the family.  My wife and I know first-hand the toll that multiple combat deployments can have on individuals and families, and I am grateful that an organization like Project Sanctuary is there to help place veterans and their families on a path to a rewarding and successful future.  I firmly believe in Project Sanctuary’s mission, and I am honored to be a part of this outstanding organization.

 

Doug & Ann Petersen | First Command Facilitators
I retired from the US Army after 20 years, and Ann was an “Army Brat” before that, so we are very much aligned with the military structure and camaraderie. We are all “Brothers” and “Sisters” in so many respects, and Project Sanctuary gives us a way to serve our veterans and their families. The Project Sanctuary mission is so important, and the need is great. So many families have had an awakening, a resurgence in their spirit, and a new level of cohesiveness within the family directly attributed to the staff, mentors, volunteers, and contributors.

It is an honor to serve those who have served as well. It’s just not about the service member, but equally as important the spouse and children. We’ve been there, and want to be part of the solution. After attending our first retreat in October 2016 as a volunteer, we witnessed the power of the retreat and the changes in the families from day 1 to the last day. We believe in the cause, and see the need for Project Sanctuary. We feel, by volunteering and presenting First Command’s Money Matters class, we help, in some small way, in making the lives of the families just a little better. We’re a part of the Project Sanctuary family because we love it.

Danny O'Neel | Peer Mentor
I became a Peer Mentor because veterans understand other veterans, better than anyone else. I wanted to make a positive impact in other warriors lives by empowering them. I want to remind other veterans how strong they truly are. I believe in the mission. Initiative is a responsibility at this point.
Sharon Thomas | Volunteer
After attending retreat #22 in March 2012 with my family I knew I wanted to give back by volunteering with PS. Being a military spouse with a husband who was gone half the time while raising our son I have empathy for what our PS families have gone through. Volunteering has enabled me to gain a new perspective with other military families and PS. I love watching the families thrive and reconnect with HOPE during the retreats. The feeling that I can support someone’s life for the better is unexplainable. Lasting relationships have been created through PS.

PS gives me the ultimate paycheck when they have helped us during deployments, challenges and being there when we needed support. I believe that when I volunteer I am filling in the gaps that are essential for a successful retreat. I wash dishes, cook (not as good at TR), help with youth program, play games, talk with families, represent at PS fundraising events and more. I implore everyone to volunteer, not only will you be helping others, you will be helping yourself as well. Be the driving force behind social change and how PS advocates for military families.

Maria Vrba | Peer Mentor
I want to be able to try and take the pain away from my warrior brothers and sisters. I want to know they are never ever alone and I will always have their backs. I want to take my heart and put into all of their pain. Their pain is my pain and I hate it when someone hurts my family. This is why I want to be part of this family. They haves the same mission and heart that I have in helping my warrior family. I want to someday be able to shed no more tears.

Neil Pappas | Retreat Administrator & Peer Mentor
For over 16 years I have been given the incredible opportunity to serve and take care of my brothers and sisters in arms. I operate with the philosophy that “if you love what you do you never work a day in your life,” and being a part of Project Sanctuary and Walton’s Warriors has shown me that I can still do what I love even leaving the military. The war is never over, the battle field just changes, we must be there for the new generation of warriors coming home, making sure they never feel lost the way some of us did.
Sophia Villegas Oliveira | Grants & Development Coordinator
I started working with Project Sanctuary because I wanted to better serve a community which is lacking necessary support from other programs. Project Sanctuary’s programs serve all branches of the military, current and prior service members, and their families, so they’re really an incredible community resource. I’m so moved by what we do as an organization and love that our therapeutic retreats are outdoors, providing a holistic and nurturing environment for healing. Supporting programs out in nature is so important to me.

As the first U.S. American in my family, I’ve always felt a deep commitment to helping returning soldiers, and working with Project Sanctuary allows me to continue this commitment.

Kevin Kessell | Counselor & Peer Mentor
I joined Project Sanctuary because I was stripped of my uniform thru my medical retirement. I had to find a new way to help our troops. I had to re-purpose the mission. I was lost without any assistance when I was retired. No veteran or family member should ever have to feel alone. Project Sanctuary has allowed me to help soldiers and their families deal with PTSD and give them hope plus the support they need.
Dreya Kirkland | Retreat Quality Coordinator
I came into Project Sanctuary with the intention to offer a sincere listening ear and to continue my personal mission to help military families whether active-duty, retired or somewhere in-between. I wanted to ensure their children have a safe place to discover themselves and recognize they each have meaning and are gifts to one another and their communities. I started as a licensed counselor with the organization and have since expanded my role as quality retreat coordinator to ensure our mission continues and all our FAMILY [current and future families along with the project sanctuary team (staff and volunteers) ] are heard, and encouraged.

As we all know Heather’s arm reach far beyond any one person and I truly feel she is a role model to show each of us how much farther we can reach to make a difference.  I stayed with Project Sanctuary after discovering that one person can make a difference with the love and dedication and the strength of community and belonging you find here.  It is my privilege to be part of an organization that focuses its energy and resources on families first and recognizes that everyone has worth.

Lynn Shore | Volunteer
The families served by Project Sanctuary have sacrificed so that I and my family may live a free and comfortable life. This creates a debt that must be acknowledged, although it can never be repaid. Washing dishes, vacuuming a floor or wiping a table, which facilitates the families interaction with Project Sanctuary counselors and staff, thereby making their lives better, is the least I can do to honor and respect their sacrifices. What I am giving up for a few days pales in comparison to what they have given up for me.
Shane LeMaster | Walton's Warriors Program Coordinator
Project Sanctuary provides the framework from which positive changes in the status of our veteran populations can be changed for the better. Though I am not a veteran myself, I am disheartened by the lack of services previously offered to our vets in need.

Simply put, the suicide rate of these warriors is far too high! We are here to change that. I am here, as a civilian who has lived the life of a warrior and who has the passion, understanding, empathy, and clinical training needed to connect deeply with the vets in the program to help them find that inner light they have sometimes lost touch with.

Geneva Moore | Chief Operating Officer
As the daughter of a veteran and family member to many others who have served, working with veteran-serving organizations always interested me. Eight years ago, I was finally able to make the switch professionally to the veteran-serving arena through another nonprofit, which is how I became familiar with Project Sanctuary.

Though I learned through my job about many of the transition issues our military families face after deployments, it was more academic than personal since my dad was already out of the military by the time I was born. A 2012 conversation with my cousin whose husband served for 19 years and who had just moved her family halfway across the country because Uncle Sam handed her husband a “pink slip” on his way home from his last deployment suddenly made it personal.

Seeing this strong woman whom I had known my whole life and had rarely seen shaken on the verge of tears as she talked about how difficult the adjustment had been and continued to be and listening to her talk about how her community – not just her husband’s – was gone really shook me and made it very real to me.

A week later – literally, one week – I was presented with the opportunity to work with Project Sanctuary. Some things just seem meant to be. And with every military family we help, I feel as if we are helping my family, too.

James Hollon | Peer Mentor
I suffered and self medicated for 5 years after Desert Storm, slowly destroying myself. The night terrors were just too real, and I feared sleeping. I’ve never heard of PTSD before or knew its symptoms, until I wound up in the ER at my local VA hospital.

I don’t want anyone else to suffer or struggle with PTSD. I want other veterans, and their families, to know what PTSD is and how to manage it. I joined Project Sanctuary because I believe in their mission, and have witness their healing affect on my family and myself. I volunteered to be a Walton’s Warrior to mentor my fellow veterans and their families. I want my fellow veterans to know and understand they are not alone, there is hope and healing.

Bart Crowe | Peer Mentor
I like being a Walton’s Warriors so I can pay it forward and hopefully help my fellow combat vets know that they are not the only ones out there and alone with issues returning home. I have been lucky enough to be able to attend Project Sanctuary retreats and a few other events. Those programs have helped me and my wife out greatly and have also helped me in ways that I never thought would be possible in my recover process. I have also guided my fellow warriors on several fly fishing trips and have found out that doing that small task of taking someone fly fishing has not only helped them out but has also helped me in my healing process drastically. For these reasons I want to keep paying it forward so we as a war fighter community can heal together.
Missy Hyatt, CTRS | Director of Programs and Volunteers
I work for Project Sanctuary because I love recreation and what it does for the human spirit. I have helped many different populations experience recreation in a therapeutic setting and I have seen the impact it makes on lives. Military families are a resilient group of people and I enjoy creating schedules for every retreat with them in mind. What experiences can I plan out for them that would impact their family and make forever memories? What activities can I plan for the week that they can do at home after the retreat? What projects can I do with their kids to show the parent’s what is on their kids mind? All these things are impactful and unique to our retreats.
Sharon Harris, CTRS | Youth Program Coordinator
Project Sanctuary understands that it is more than just the military members who makes sacrifices for our country, but includes the spouses and children with those who serve and are affected.  That is why I love Project Sanctuary; they focus on the family as a unit.  My husband grew up in a Marine family and tells me how that time has affected him and how he wished a program like this was around when he was growing up.  Why do I work for Project Sanctuary? It brings families closer together and who could ask for a more.  I love working with the children, and grateful to them every day for the sacrifices they make.
Joshua Ochoa | Peer Mentor
My main reason for becoming a peer mentor for Walton’s Warriors begins with me taking an oath, as a soldier, to never leave a fallen comrade behind, to look out for each other no matter where we are. As veterans, we are a family, and we need to stick together to take care of each other. I have felt the difficulties of finding people that can relate to our experiences and emotions. I have only been able to find that in two places, in other Veterans and in Project Sanctuary. Project Sanctuary took in my family and I with open arms, they made the difference in my life when I most needed. I now want to give back, helping others grow stronger and giving back the purpose in life that we all need.

Joe Cutro | Peer Mentor
I got involved with Walton’s Warriors to give back some thing that Project Sanctuary gave me. LIFE. They gave me mine back and now I’m dedicated to helping others find their reason to live. Twenty-two suicides a day is too many and this program makes me believe we can change that. Both Walton’s Warriors and Project Sanctuary gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Simply put they are my family.
Heather Ehle | CEO
I came for the families, I stayed because of the love. As a “practical visionary”, I recognized that military families were not receiving the support they needed.  I decided to do something.  In the beginning, it was all about providing support and services.  It was all about numbers and business. Now, it is personal.  I have fallen in love with military families; their resiliency, their honor, their strength and their devotion to serve others.  I cannot imagine working for a more deserving group.
Todd Amen | Board Member
Todd Amen is a 3rd generation Coloradan and loves spending time with his family outdoors as well as running ATBS, the business he founded in 1998.  Todd has been blessed with a wonderful wife, Kelly, as well as four kids.  They all believe in giving back and sharing their love with others.  Project Sanctuary found the Amens through a mutual friend, and it seemed like a perfect place to share their passion for helping families to reconnect and strengthen their relationships.  With no direct experience in the military, the Amen family simply wants to thank and help the families that have given up so much to serve our great country.  Having witnessed first hand the incredible impact of the Project Sanctuary family retreats through volunteering, the Amen family feels blessed to be able to share time with such wonderful families.
Joel Steinman | Peer Mentor
My road post Iraq has been rough, but along the way I was pushed and encouraged by some stand up friends who had been through similarly tough times. Walton’s Warriors is a wonderful way for me to be there for the other hurting brothers and sisters I will meet along my life’s journey, and the formal training I receive will be the best advantage these people could possibly have.

Sara Turnley | Volunteer
My dad was in the Navy for 28 years so growing up in a military family made me appreciate everything not only that the service member sacrifices and experiences, but what the family experiences too. Growing up in a military family has made me the person I am today, it’s a part of me that I wouldn’t change that for the world and it’s inspired me to give back to the amazing group that has given so much to me.

My dad first heard about Project Sanctuary, passed the information along to me and I was immediately inspired with their mission of supporting the entire military family. I volunteered at my first retreat almost two years ago and fell even more in love with this organization, the staff, the volunteers and the families. It was truly a humbling and amazing experience, one of my favorite volunteer experiences. Since my first retreat, I have joined the Operation Project Sanctuary Gala squad on the marketing committee and I volunteered at my second retreat in 2016. I have been blessed to be able to work with such an amazing organization and I hope I can continue to volunteer at retreats in the future.

Jordan and Elisa Jacobsen | Healthy Marriage Facilitators
We’re the Wine ‘n Cheese couple with Elisa from Central New, your wine country, and Jordan hailing from Wisconsin, the cheese state thus making him an avid Green Bay Packer fan!   We have lived in Ithaca, NY for the last 10 years, raising our four kids, Ryan (9), Jesse (7), Ella (5) and Ava (2).  Jordan is a licensed real estate broker while Elisa homeschools the children.  Jordan loves to hunt and his love for the outdoors is shared by the whole family, whether hiking, biking, playing sports, or swimming.

Our home is the center of relationships, with family and friends bringing laughter and joy.  Project Sanctuary is one extension of our desire to be with people and the Healthy Marriage piece is an expression of what we truly believe is a healthy marriage for us.  Coming together to encourage couples/families towards a flourishing lifestyle is part of our calling and why we are excited to be part of the vision of Project Sanctuary!

Kara Pappas | Chief Development Officer
In many ways, my service to Project Sanctuary is a journey back in time. It’s an opportunity to be for military families what I wish someone had been for me. I can turn the clock back to sit with the young woman on 9-11, feverishly composing a letter to her boyfriend, asking what’s going to happen next month when he completes basic training. I can comfort the fiancé, when after three months there still hasn’t been any correspondence from Iraq, and the war coverage on TV makes him somehow feel close. I am a shoulder for the wife whose husband’s homecoming date has been pushed out two months, then one more week, then another day, and then the plane is delayed by four hours. I’m with her while she holds back tears until he’s out of sight once again, believing that deploying is hard enough without him having to console her.

Most importantly, I answer the call when he comes home and isn’t the same – and she’s terrified to think what demons may have followed him home. My work for Project Sanctuary is inspired by healing the heartache, calming the fear, building the memories claimed by years spend apart, and helping to put the pieces back together – even when those pieces seem to have changed.

Ron Testa | Board Member
Feeling blessed, out and about on a beautiful sunny day in my home town for the last thirty years – Port Orchard, Washington. Days like this remind me why I enjoy living here – people appreciate each other and are willing to give, which is exactly why I am so proud to be a Project Sanctuary Board Member and retreat volunteer. As a Navy veteran with two decades of active duty in the submarine service, I know all too well the toll taken on military families due to my frequent, numerous and lengthy deployments.

We ask much of military families to endure in the important work of defending freedom. As a Project Sanctuary volunteer, I’ve been able to bear witness to the good work that goes on at these restorative retreats. It is truly a blessing to be able to give our nation’s heroes and their families access to the healing, hope and empowerment they so deserve. Thank you, Project Sanctuary, and all who support!

The Tuskeegee Airmen

Kelly Granado | Volunteer
I’ve always had a respect for the military, almost a captivation with it. I grew up loving the honor and strength it represented, and still do. But in many ways, that perception was theoretical and intangible – based on stories I’d heard and movies I’d seen. It wasn’t until people that I loved left to serve that I really started to understand. I couldn’t understand the strength until I saw the struggle, I couldn’t understand the sacrifice until I saw what was given, I couldn’t really understand the honor until I knew the people. And I’ve truly only started. I got to wait on a man, and wait on some brothers. I knew them before and saw them after. Loved them the whole time. It’s indisputably a privilege to have that place in their lives, and to have purchased the perspective it creates. And it ignited in me the desire to serve back. A sense of responsibility. To give from the chair that I sit in – in the ways I can to the people I can. The men and women that I’ve known are infinitely worth it, and if nothing else, I give on their behalf – as if it were to them. I pray often that God blesses our military. And figure I should do my best to help Him with the deliveries. Project Sanctuary gives me that opportunity. To get to spend time with the families, and to give a little back. To be part of the good that they stand to defend. To show honor in seemingly small ways to those who have earned much. Not because I can ever ‘pay’ them back, but because lots of small good, eventually becomes a big good…
Karen House | Volunteer
I discovered Project Sanctuary in 2012 when a friend returned from a retreat.  I personally volunteered at several subsequent retreats, and wanted to be more involved but work full-time and can’t afford much time away from my job.  I have watched Project Sanctuary grow its locations and services, and appreciate the passion of the entire PS team, volunteers and supporters.  I am involved with Project Sanctuary because I am impressed with its focus and dedication, and I admire the HOPE and healing that this program offers to returning service members and their families.
Joe & Dana Morrin | Board Member/Healthy Marriage Facilitators/Money Matters, Family Matters Facilitators
Dana and Joe have been volunteers at Project Sanctuary since 2013. They began with facilitating the Money Matters, Family Matters workshop for First Command Financial Planning. They fell in love with the mission, the families and the staff immediately, and now consider Project Sanctuary their second family. They love making connections and using their experiences to help make a difference in the lives of the PS families. Dana and Joe also recently became certified to facilitate Healthy Marriage starting in 2017, and consider it a blessing to have the opportunity to share the lives of these families and see the change that happens throughout a retreat. Joe and Dana contribute financially to Project Sanctuary, and Joe also serves as President on the board.  They are currently enjoying retirement (or semi-retirement!) on their small ranch near Fort Worth, Texas. Joe is an Army veteran, and served as a cavalry officer.
Michelle Kaye, LPC | Counselor
Project Sanctuary is the most authentic military/veteran-serving organization I’ve worked with that truly serves the ENTIRE FAMILY.  And I love that FAMILY means whatever it means to our participants, not what is defined by any paperwork.  If YOU say that someone is your family and you want to bring them to the retreat with you, then bring ’em on!  It gives me unending joy to watch all of the kids play together while all of the parents get to spend time together just hanging out and talking, getting acquainted, becoming friends.  People from all branches, all generations, all ranks, all ages, and all unique combinations of families come to Project Sanctuary to be together and get the opportunity to be themselves, to relax, and to reconnect with their tribe in a meaningful and impactful way. I continue to feel deeply honored and grateful to work with PS and our resilient, courageous, beautiful families!

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Carol & Frank Scaletti | Volunteers
I spent 20 years as a military wife wife, and was an ombudsman for many years. Now both of my children are active duty and I run a support group for military moms. I started volunteering with Project Sanctuary in July 2015 after my husband and I attended a retreat. We decided the program was so amazing and did so much for us that we wanted to help others, as peer mentors. We live in Arizona and help at as many retreats as we can each year. 
Chrysti Hagen | Volunteer
I never really gave much thought about what they and their families went through as service members until I was back in Colorado and came across the non-profit Project Sanctuary. I’m not even sure how my attention was drawn to them, but once I read about their program, something struck me and I began to think of not only my Alaska friends, but also my own family and how we were all affected by the act of serving, even later in life. It was one of those ‘mind blown’ kinds of experiences.  I then began to think of why someone would sign up to serve – I know people have many different reasons and I expect that many don’t really understand what they are signing up for, yet they do. Not that it was an option so long ago, and those who freely do today, I have the utmost respect and admiration for.
Scott Lee, MA, LPC | Lead Counselor
As a Mental Health Counselor, it is great to see changes within families during the 6 day retreat, how behaviors are changed and families get that bond back together in just 6 days. I love the 2 year follow up, we don’t just kick them out of the door and wait till the next retreat. I love hearing from families months or years from their retreat, asking how to do something they learned at the retreat. I enjoy helping others, as I Veteran I see/know the need for help. I work for PS because where else can I get paid to have fun with great and wonderful people.
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