Vail Today: Vail Veterans Program offers caregivers retreat
By Tricia Swenson
Since 2004, the Vail Veterans Program has provided rehabilitative sports and recreational activities to help build confidence and provide a sense of freedom to United States military members who have suffered catastrophic injuries while serving our country. The program has evolved and now includes a caregivers retreat to help those taking care of the wounded in their day to day lives. This multi-day retreat brings spouses to Vail and provides them not only with opportunities to relax and have fun in our environment, but it also gives them practical tools they can take home. Wellness, mindfulness and empowerment workshops are held throughout the retreat. The group bonds quickly since even though their situations may be different, they can all relate to what each is going through. “For a lot of us, caregiving is all we know, it’s all we do and we have a tendency to lose ourselves and forget that we are women, and mothers and sisters and wives and this retreat gives us an opportunity to take that identity back. We can take these skills back home and we’ll have better marriages, be better parents, better friends if we have our identity back. It’s life changing,” said Summer Simmons, whose husband was exposed to high levels of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster and suffers from paralysis and eventually had to have a bi-lateral above-the-knee amputation. “This is the first time in six years of caregiving that I’ve taken a break. The things that we’ve been learning give me a snapshot of who I am naturally versus who I am during a stressful situation. I can learn to take the “should be” out of the equation and go back to who I will be. What we are learning in these workshops is the ability to take back that power to change our lives for ourselves,” said Simmons. The Vail Veterans Program received a grant award of $10,000 from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation Hidden Heroes Fund to add a second Caregiver Retreat in 2017. The Hidden Heroes Fund supports organizations providing innovative programs that directly impact the lives of military caregivers. The remainder of the Caregiver Retreat program costs were covered by Vail Veterans Program donors. Cheryl Jensen, founder of the Vail Veterans Program, says the change that is seen from the beginning to the end of the retreat is remarkable. “Within a day, two days, the transformation to a more calm, positive outlook is evident. That just shows you that if you allow them to have time to themselves, time with other caregivers, their mood shifts dramatically,” said Jensen. “I wish I would have taken a picture of the group before and after they had been her a few days. It’s so amazing to watch their stress melt away and for them to emit true happiness. You can see the difference and we are excited to hear how it goes when they return home rejuvenated,” said Jensen. To learn more about the caregivers retreat or any of their other programs, go to http://www.vailveteransprogram.org.