South Dakota retreat to help veterans, first responders
DEADWOOD, S.D. (AP) — “Where the hills heal the heroes.” That’s the motto for and mission of Sacred Mountain Retreat Center, a nonprofit set to open outside of Deadwood in short order, meeting a tall mission.
“The goal of Sacred Mountain Retreat Center is to bring our military, first responders, and their families to South Dakota for a time of respite and healing,” Sacred Mountain Retreat Center Founder and President Jerrid Geving told the Black Hills Pioneer. “To create an opportunity to strengthen and renew each individual, and the family, as a whole. It’s a place to connect with others at an all-inclusive lodge in the beautiful Black Hills.”
Geving, who is originally from Baker, Montana, recently purchased the retreat center after his family celebrated his grandmother’s 80th birthday at the facility and he fell in love with the place and its potential.
“I said to my folks, ‘Why don’t we buy that retreat center in Deadwood and turn it into a healing center for veterans and first responders?’” Geving recalled. “I’ve always had a very strong passion for our military, for our first responders, and I always wanted to someday give back. I didn’t know how, but I knew I would, give back to the men and women who have served our country.”
Once he and his family made up their minds, the retreat center purchase moved swiftly; the Gevings began negotiations on the property in September 2018 and closed on the sale in February.
Sacred Mountain Retreat Center is a 10,000-square-foot lodge located off Highway 385 outside of Deadwood. It sits on 65 acres, bordered by Forest Service on all three sides. There are eight bedrooms in the main lodge, as well as a one-bedroom suite.
“We’re revamping all the rooms,” Geving said. “They had twin bunk beds in them and we’re in the process of taking those out ... in order to sleep 32 comfortably and to accommodate wheelchairs.”
There is no charge for veterans and first responders who come to the retreat center.
“We’re hoping to have first group of people in the middle of March,” Geving said. “It’s a smaller group of warriors or first responders. Our ultimate goal when we’re up and running, is we’re hoping to bring in six to 10 warriors or first responders for a six-day program. We’ll fly them in, house them, feed them, give them access to some counseling, some mentors, some therapy massage and yoga. We’ll have an equine program, nature hikes, team building, logging, blacksmithing, welding, different skills of that nature.”
Nature and natural are key words in the Sacred Mountain Retreat Center visitor’s journey.
“Our main thing behind this whole thing is we want it to be all natural,” Geving said. “The big thing right now is trying to get them off the opioids, the antidepressants, and all of the things that these guys are not necessarily addicted to, but it’s not helping them. And replace that with physical and therapy programs. We’ve got two infrared saunas that heat you from the inside out. It’s huge for inflammation and for detoxing. It helps regenerate you. That’s one of our big pushes.”
Stationary bikes, a row machine, yoga, and Pilates will also be part of the program.
“We’ve also got these Wellness Pro Plus machines, they’re a vibration sound wave machine and are amazing for depression and anxiety, migraine headaches, aches and pains,” Geving said. “They’ll be able to go for walks, just look at things and find peace, quietness, that’s one of our big things.”
Geving, who has a long family history of military service, became interested in helping veterans and came up with the idea of a retreat center, following the development of his friendship with double amputee Dana Bowman, who lost both legs in a training episode while serving on the Golden Knights parachute team.
“We hired Dana to come to Baker, Montana, to jump into the rodeo,” Geving said. “He and I just hit it off as friends and he invited me to a couple more events. One, in Sheridan, and it was the best weekend ever, spent with a group of warriors suffering from PTSD, just enjoying a weekend of fun and entertainment. I helped put it all on and we became very close friends and it just snowballed from there. I helped in Dallas, an event in Ohio, and back to Sheridan, where a group of parachutists would come in and you’d jump these warriors, 30-40 guys over a three-day period.”
Fast-forward to today and getting the word out about Sacred Mountain Retreat.
“We have a Facebook page,” Geving explained. “And we have a vetting group. A team of volunteers with backgrounds in the military, police, a firefighter, but no one will ever be turned down. If someone reaches out, we will bring them in ... there are 33 veterans a day, on average, committing suicide right now. That’s more than drunk driving accidents and with that, we don’t see any of that on the news. That’s been my biggest drive. Why aren’t these things being published? Why aren’t we hearing about the other side, as well? Give a veteran a helping hand.”
And how has interest been for potential veterans and first responders to visit Sacred Mountain Retreat and access to counseling and a network of individuals in various fields to assist with follow-up and after-care, as needed?
“I can’t even tell you how much interest,” Geving said. “Since our Facebook page opened right after Thanksgiving, there have been, I’d say 8-10 messages a day asking ‘How do I qualify?’ ‘What do we do?’ I don’t think we’ll have a problem filling the facility with eight guests every other week for the first six months. Once that’s over, we’ll re-evaluate and see if we need to expand to more or what we’re wanting to do. We want to be successful and we want to help these guys.”
Ensuring success will also entail a follow-up program.
“For six months, we’ll follow up with one of our mentors or staff every day, then every other day, then weekly,” Geving said. “The follow-up is going to be huge.”
Initially, the center will employ three people, part-time. Once it’s up and running, the goal is to employ between six and eight, including a cook, mentors, counselor, doctor, groundskeeper, and others.
“The employee mix is a work in progress,” Geving said. “I don’t want to overstaff ourselves right now. As things develop, we’ll develop more staff.”
Geving said the staff will hold credentials in their respective areas of expertise and some will be paid positions; others, volunteer. For example, one of the counselors will fly in from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to help train. A potential therapist is just finishing up four years of schooling and is interested in taking over the therapy program. A doctor who currently resides in Tennessee and would eventually like to make South Dakota their home plans on coming up and spending a week every month.
Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, http://www.bhpioneer.com