An organization with an inspiring mission is looking for a permanent home in Burke County.

Lynn Marilla, founder and CEO of Eagle Rock Camp, a nonprofit organization founded in 2011, stopped at the Morganton Community House on Oct. 30 to speak to local community leaders about how the group is transforming the lives of veterans and their families.

The camp holds free week-long retreats in secluded, natural settings around western North Carolina for veteran families in crisis. Smartphones and internet access are restricted to decrease distractions while volunteers provide interactive workshops and activities to help military families communicate better and heal from a variety of issues. Camp volunteers, who are veterans who previously have gone through the program, address the health of participants physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Marilla described the challenges veterans face when they come home from service that makes a program like Eagle Rock Camp vital.

“When they leave the military, they’re not taught how to come home and be moms and dads again,” Marilla said. “They see how much their family has changed while they were gone. They lose their cohort, so nobody has their backs. There are no orders to follow. They’re lost and don’t know how or who to ask for help. A lot of them are told that they are broken. What we do is we change families and we stabilize.”

The children who attend learn the same skills as the adults, taught at their level of understanding.

“We believe at camp that when a military service man or woman serves, the whole family serves,” Marilla said. “An active-duty military service member has a direct impact on 16 immediate family and friends.”

Some of the skills they teach include mindfulness, intentional living, communication, conflict resolution, parenting, relationship building, financial readiness and self-care. 

“When they arrive, a lot of times, they’re not speaking to each other,” Marilla said of the families that come to the retreats. “They’re not touching or holding hands, but over the course of the week that they’re with us, we watch them come together. We watch their body language change. We watch the way they talk to one another change. We watch them pull back into a family unit again.

“They learn skills and share experiences that promote love and understanding of one another and remember what makes them special as a family. When our military families put love and family first along with us, they’re open to learn, share, grow and conquer fears.”

Veterans often find it so difficult to adjust to civilian life that their suicide rate is far above average, about 22 veterans per day. Veterans also struggle with unemployment, domestic violence situations, substance use disorders and post-traumatic stress.

Marilla said that since the group’s founding, members have “diverted” eight suicides — meaning that when a veteran’s spouse called to let them know the veteran was expressing suicidal thoughts, the organization got the person some help.

She shared statistics measuring the success of the retreats:

» 97 percent of participating families remain together

» 72 percent committed to applying financial readiness skills

» 65 percent committed to implementing self-care techniques

» 78 percent reported improvement in overall life satisfaction

» 65 percent reported improved “hope for the long-term success of their families”

“It’s important to measure hope, because that’s when suicides go down,” Marilla said. “We’ve had zero suicides among our participants and those on our waiting list, and we have almost 500 families on our waiting list today.” 

She said veterans are three times more likely to divorce than civilians, with some elite military groups experiencing a 95 percent divorce rate.

“Our divorce rate is less than 3 percent — unheard of,” Marilla said. “Nobody in the military can touch it.”

She shared the story of one couple who arrived at a retreat with divorce papers in hand, but tore them up before they left.

The retreats have become so popular that the group has hosted military families from 26 U.S. states, and has accepted applications from all 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, Canada and Germany. 

The five-year strategic plan for Eagle Rock Camp includes increasing the number of retreats to 30 per year, hiring eight full-time and four to five part-time positions and to acquire its own facility, preferably in Burke County, that would serve as a “military family wellness campus.” 

Currently, the group rents existing facilities belonging to other organizations, such as the YMCA, to hold retreats. The group also is looking for a one- to two -year lease of office space while a permanent facility is built. 

“We’re looking at almost a $1 million payroll to do 30 retreats a year, so it would definitely bring some jobs to the community,” Marilla said, a significant change from the group’s current $300,000 annual budget.

She hopes that establishing a permanent home for the camp will allow the group to offer ongoing therapeutic activities, skill building and other resources for veterans and their families. She estimated that such a facility would cost approximately $6 million to build, with a $1.5 million annual operating budget. She suggested the building could be rented for events to help defray costs. She said they are looking at a particular property in Burke County, but did not provide specific details.

“In everything we do, we believe in strengthening, encouraging and supporting our military families that live with the stressors of long-term deployments and the visible, invisible and moral injuries of war,” Marilla said. “Our mission is to inspire our military families to walk on a solid path toward healing and restoring hope for their future, both as individuals and as an empowered family unit. It’s our obligation to welcome them all the way back home. The program we have today is as solid as anything I’ve seen in the United States. It’s imperative that we expand our program, so that our families can receive the report they desperately need.”

Marilla would like people in the community to learn more about the organization and consider getting involved by visiting www.eaglerockcamp.org.


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