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Canrobert: Camp helps struggling military families

Canrobert: Camp helps struggling military families

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I wondered about the business that had moved in not long ago at 113 First Avenue South in Conover. It’s called Eagle Rock Camp. The space it inhabits is more of a sliver than a suite, hardly room for cabins and singing around a campfire. Definitely no swimming.

Then I read in an issue of the Conover Neighbor that there’d been a Sept. 11, 2020, ribbon-cutting ceremony for Eagle Rock Camp’s headquarters in Conover. Ah ha! Headquarters.

I also read that the camp was founded in 2011 by Lynn Marilla and “is a family-saving, suicide prevention [nonprofit] organization that serves [at-risk] veteran and military families ... Eagle Rock Camp fills a critical gap to rebuild, preserve, and reconnect military families who struggle with a range of issues such as marital difficulties, communication, financial stability, and loss of connection between family and community.”

At the bottom of the short article was the question, “How can you help?” followed by the answer: “Help us get the word out!”

I can do that, I thought, so into the headquarters of Eagle Rock Camp I went. I met Teddy first, a super cute, ultra-friendly schnauzer, and then I made the acquaintance of Lynn, an Alabama-born, Michigan-raised, big-hearted woman who’s devoted herself to improving, even saving, the lives of military families.

Lynn, who enjoyed a successful career in the staffing industry before pretty much giving over her life to the betterment of military families, has known heartache and challenges herself. After her husband died at a young age, Lynn raised her sons as a single parent. And, she has a brother who’s been a quadriplegic since a 1974 car accident.

It was the brother who got Lynn to thinking some years ago about what she could do to honor him. She said people with life-altering injuries usually can get physical help — wheelchairs, physical therapy, prosthetics, etc., but not social/mental/emotional/spiritual assistance. She said her initial vision was a sports retreat, a place that offered therapeutic recreation. Lynn even had a 5,000-acre site on Lake Superior in mind for her venture.

Of course, she wasn’t going to do anything without conducting research, which included interviewing catastrophically injured adults. “Some were angry and bitter that there were no services for adults in their situations,” said Lynn, who then talked to a man with serious physical challenges due to injuries sustained during war.

This got Lynn to thinking about and investigating veterans and active military personnel suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and their families. “I learned that the veteran and his or her family have to heal together,” said Lynn.

“God tapped me on the shoulder on Dec. 23, 2010,” Lynn announced, explaining that God made it clear to her on that date that she needed to start building a program.

I wondered how she set it up, got things going, secured funding. “First and foremost, I was in unchartered waters both in running a nonprofit and in helping veterans,” Lynn responded. “I reached out to subject matter experts, held roundtable discussions with veterans, and soaked up information like a sponge. I looked at the marketplace to see who else was in the niche ... I volunteered at a retreat in Colorado, and that's when the concept of Eagle Rock’s agenda, (a camp), was formalized. In the early days, we partnered with a sociologist at East Carolina University who initially taught our classes.”

As for the financial side of it, “initial funding came from a few individual donors, a golf tournament hosted by a men's golf association, a Rotary Club, and one corporate sponsor,” said Lynn.

Lynn assembled a governing board to oversee the nonprofit.

Just so you know, Eagle Rock Camp is for military families anywhere in the United States or deployed to other countries. The fact that its headquarters ended up in Conover is simply because Lynn already had moved to Catawba County, and, in researching office space, she found the cheapest in Conover. She could have set up the organization anywhere — and did check out places like Charlotte. Just too costly, though. Money’s tight and a lot of cash is needed for the camp: staff, materials, lodging, food, recreation, etc. Other than transportation costs, participating families pay nothing to attend Eagle Rock Camp.

Now, about the camp. Like the office, its location is not really that important. It could be in a lot of settings and has taken place in and out of North Carolina, but for the most part, it’s been happening at Camp Harrison in Boomer, NC. Well-trained individuals, including staff and volunteers, oversee the weeklong activities that moms, dads, and kids experience, and there’s follow-up care. Plus, families can attend a second Eagle Rock Camp retreat one year after the first.

Lynn said most of the veterans helped by Eagle Rock are “Gulf War forward.”

Granite Falls mom Becky Parker teaches the kids at the camp. According to Lynn’s research, PTSD has roots in childhood suffering. “Childhood trauma is where you learn to stuff it,” said Lynn, “internalize it, don’t talk about it. You just let it fester.”

Lynn said a 6-year-old told Becky he didn’t say bedtime prayers. He told her he said them in the morning because, quoting the child, “the first thing in the morning, I have to jump out of bed and get down on my knees and thank Jesus my daddy didn’t get killed while I was asleep.” Lynn indicated that “much comes out at retreats from kids who haven’t shared their feelings, fears, and beliefs with their parents, and they need these feelings addressed.”

Lynn continued, “The camp uses chaplains [with military experience] rather than psychologists or psychiatrists because feedback suggested participants felt no judgment from chaplains and didn’t feel they were being evaluated.” One such chaplain is a major in the National Guard, holds a PhD in divinity, is certified in mental health first aid and suicide prevention, and trains chaplains at Ft. Bragg. His wife, who assists him during the camp’s marriage and family workshops, owns a dance studio, “so we have dance therapy on talent night,” said Lynn with a smile.

While the parents attend their workshops, the kids, divided into age groups, go to theirs: outdoor recreation, art therapy, etc. Evenings include date nights, talent shows, teas, games, campfires, smores, and singing silly camp songs. Said Lynn, “We have children who stop singing and turn and look at their parents with wonder in their eyes because they’ve never seen their parents be silly.”

To date, there have been 23 retreats with folks coming from 31 states. “We’ve served about 130 families,” said Lynn. “We need to serve a million. We have a wait list of over 800.”

“Ninety-five percent of the military members of the families have PTSD,” Lynn shared.

“We do two to four retreats a year. We need to be doing 30. That’s why the budget needs to grow,” Lynn emphasized. “Our divorce rate is 3% among the families that are program graduates. We have participated in averting 16 suicides. Those are the ones I know about.”

Because she’s seen the need and the results, Lynn is more driven than ever to find funding for more Eagle Rock Camp retreats. “Our top three goals going forward,” she shared, “are fundraising, fundraising, and fundraising.”

OK, I did my part. I got the word out. Now, if you’d like to know more or help with the expenses, visit www.eaglerockcamp.org, email Lynn at lmarilla@eaglerockcamp.org, call 704-325-3350, or stop by the office. If you see the lights on and a cute dog running around inside, Eagle Rock Camp headquarters is open for business.

Share story ideas with Mary at marycanrobert@charter.net.

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