Olympic Park Institute hosts returning veterans

Becky Gates, Olympic Park Institute board member, greets families on Aug. 25, 2010 at the Operation Purple Healing Adventures Program held at NatureBridge's Olympic Park Institute from Aug. 25-27, 2010. Gates and her husband, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, were guests at the National Military Family Association program, which serves wounded veterans and their families.


This week, NatureBridge’s Olympic Park Institute hosted military families participating in the Operation Purple Healing Adventures program.



The National Military Family Association program serves veterans who were wounded or experienced emotional trauma or illness related to their service in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.


 It gives veterans and their families a chance to reconnect as they spend time together relaxing, fishing, boating, and enjoying adventures led by experienced outdoor educators.   


“Olympic National Park is the perfect place for these families to reconnect with each other,” said Tom Sanford, Olympic Park Institute director. “We feel honored to be part of such important work and very lucky to be part of a community where everyone rallies to support programs like this.”



The Operation Purple program, created in 2004 by the Association, has grown to include traditional camps, family retreats, and teen leadership camps.



All Operation Purple camps follow a curriculum developed by the National Military Family Association and are hosted at selected camp locations. Olympic Park Institute was chosen to host the third Operation Purple Healing Adventures retreat and has hosted five National Military Family Association programs in the past.



“Wounded service members have wounded families,” said Joyce Raezer, Executive Director of the National Military Family Association.



“Our Association recognizes that these families are learning to live in the ‘new normal’ and Healing Adventures helps them rebuild family bonds, establish new roles, and explore new activities to enjoy together moving forward. We were happy to work with Olympic Park Institute again to give these deserving families a memorable week together in a beautiful National Park setting.”     


Children attending the retreat had opportunities to fish and go canoeing, as well as participate in interactive counselor-facilitated discussion groups, while parents had activities to choose from that included massages, yoga, archery, and more.


Olympic Park Institute Field Science Educators led educational outings including a challenging hike up Mount Storm King.   


“One of the most important things I feel that we do here is to provide positive transformative experiences for young people through immersion in nature,” said Kent Chapple, Olympic Park Institute Field Science Educator.


“To be able to have the opportunity to provide those experiences for our wounded service men and women and their families is a privilege, and a great way for us to not only help these families in their healing processes, but also to thank them in the best and most meaningful way we can for their service.  It is an honor.”


The five-day program brought together a team of people to ensure that participants had a fun and truly healing experience.  The National Military Family Association and its partner, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress worked with Olympic Park Institute and their partners from local businesses, including Aglazing Art Studio, to make the program successful. Retired Marine Cliff Schluesner, president of Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishers, mobilized 20 volunteers for the program.



“Fly Fishing is just a great experience for the families,” Schluesner said.



“The kids have a ball. And whether they are casting or tying flies, veterans who have come home with disabilities are reminded of just how much they are still capable of.”



This important program attracted an impressive list of VIP visitors who came to support the families and learn more about what the National Military Family Association and Olympic Park Institute were doing to help returning veterans reconnect with their families and their communities.



Long time Olympic Park Institute supporter and Apollo 8 astronaut, retired General Bill Anders and his wife Valerie Anders were in attendance, as were United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his wife Becky Gates, Olympic Park Institute’s newest board member.



Said Becky Gates, “I’m so pleased to be joining the Olympic Park Institute family and to have a chance to be here and be part of this wonderful program.”



The Operation Purple Healing Adventures retreat is free to all participants thanks to support from TriWest Healthcare Alliance and the Col. Patrick S. Madigan, M.D. Foundation.


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