By Project Sanctuary founder and CEO Heather Ehle
Every person, every organization will always be faced with challenges and obstacles. How we react is more about our character and often sets our future path. It is far too common to react by sitting behind a screen and blogging, complaining, or remaining stuck. The other option is to shut up, step up and choose to thrive.
Thrive. In 2015, the Project Sanctuary (PS) team did a bit of reassessment. Our tag line, “where military families reconnect,” no longer seemed to tell our story accurately. Thriving. That is what our families experience through our program, no matter where they are starting from. There is always room to better their selves, their relationships, their lives.
Project Sanctuary also recognized that although we rock (in our humble opinion) and are best known for our therapeutic retreats, those are only a fraction of what we actually do. We often assess and provide services to military families who may never attend a retreat. Project Sanctuary reaches out and mentors other nonprofits, and we work nationally through R4 Alliance to ensure that all those serving the veteran community have the best tools and practices available.
Project Sanctuary also follows our families for two years post retreat. This has created a national safety net for our families in 47 states.
The super-cool PS admin team came up with a new tag line, “The A.R.T. of Project Sanctuary” – Assess, Reconnect, and Thrive – because what we do really is a bit like art, interweaving through years spent with our military families, supporting them however they need to be supported. More about “The A.R.T. of Project Sanctuary” can be found here.
As our waitlist hit 1,800 and the needs of our families became more critical, Project Sanctuary had a choice. We could continue to the same great work but not change anything, or we could “shut up, step up and thrive.” That meant kissing our children goodbye for 6 days at a time and taking our program on the road. After establishing a wonderful partnership in Utah with National Ability Center in 2014, we set our sights even higher. 2015 brought a new partner in California – Mount Hermon Conference Center. Mount Hermon was where our families and team really reached new heights, literally, zip lining though the redwoods.
The most important part of our growth, other than being able to serve more families, is that we were able to maintain quality. Of the more than 650 military families served to date, 90% remain married, and of our 2,400+ individual participants, none have succumbed to suicide. Our success lies both with our phenomenal retreat and follow-up team, and with the families we serve. We empower rather than enable the families, enabling them to find hope. And they continue to thrive.
One of our biggest successes of 2015 was the growth of our program veterans. Some have shut up, stepped up and taken on added responsibility. Our Project Sanctuary veterans are now retreat administrators and are leading retreats, and our veterans and graduate military families are some of the best peer mentors and volunteers, period. They accept challenges head on; they know what is at stake, and they want to provide hope, healing and a chance to thrive for other military families.
The new year will bring new challenges as we once again shut up, step up and head out of state. In addition to Colorado, Utah and California, Project Sanctuary will host retreats in Texas and New York in 2016! Our families need us, and we will continue to meet their needs. If that means taking our program to them, that is what we will do.
People are what sets Project Sanctuary apart and make us a truly impactful and great organization. We are led by our (also thriving) Board of Directors, a group of dedicated professionals. Our admin and retreat teams are made up of a combination of the best-of-the-best civilians (who actually get it) and veterans. By staying true to the philosophy of “families first and mission-focused,” the PS team is united and driven. But we can’t do it alone. Our volunteers, donors and sponsors round out this dream team.
Some of our oldest and dearest sponsors also stepped up in 2015. We give HUGE thanks to AIMCO, The Center for Relationship Education, and May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust for excelling this year at addressing the needs of our military families. And Project Sanctuary is thrilled to now be partnered with The Kendeda Fund, who also sees and understands the needs of our military families and believes in Project Sanctuary’s vision.
There will always be challenges on our journeys, but as long as we are surrounded by passionate people who see the need and choose to do something about, who choose to shut up and step up, I must believe that we will continue to thrive. We have to. Thousands of military families are counting on us.