EUGENE, Ore. -- A local nonprofit is turning a former Lane County work camp into a treatment center for veterans. The project's founders said their approach is less traditional and more about an experience.
Veterans Legacy is the local nonprofit leading this project.
Dr. John Lebow, a family physician in Eugene, is one of the project's founders. He said the goal of Camp Alma is to provide a safe and serene environment for veterans as they begin healing and start their transition back to the community.
It's a project that's been in the works for about two years, all starting with the idea of helping veterans in Lane County in a new way.
"I have dealt with veteran problems through my practice for years and I've felt the right resources weren't going in the right place," said Dr. Lebow.
Dr. Lebow said when he learned about the availability of the property in Alma, he knew it would be perfect: "We have a big winner here."
Nestled between forested hills, about 35 miles out of Eugene, the camp has been quiet and vacant for years. Lately, it's been a hub of activity.
Volunteers are working to transform the nearly 30-year-old facility into the Veterans Wellness Center.
"We have the unique capability of combining a residential endeavor with agriculture and also we will continue with clinical therapy," said Dr. Lebow.
A combination of treatments that Dr. Lebow said is a first in the country. Their goal is to provide integrated treatment in a rural setting, while using farming as a form of therapy.
Most importantly, Dr. Lebow said veterans will be able to have input on what treatment works best for them.
"I think we can be a prototype for the rest of the nation," said Dan Buckwald, Veteran Legacy's Board Vice President.
He said the facility used to be a forest work camp and housed up to 100 inmates.
"The forest work camp started out here in 1991 and we shut down permanently in 2008. Since that time, 2008, it's sat vacant," said Buckwald. He said it closed due to a lack in funding.
He worked for the Lane County Sheriff's Office during that time and worked with inmates at Camp Alma for years.
Buckwald knows firsthand just how much potential this property really has.
"What you're doing is watching elk graze. You're watching the wildlife. We're tending to the farm, we're tending to the animals. So it creates a peaceful, calming environment for our veterans to start that rehabilitation," said Buckwald.
He said there are more than 30,000 veterans in Lane County, the highest per capita of veterans in the state. It's a number that includes him.
"I feel like I'm paying it forward. I've been blessed in my career and my military experience. It's an opportunity to help those veterans who need a hand," said Buckwald.
Erik Holmes with Comfort Flow Heating is also a veteran. He and several co-workers donated their time to update the facility's heating and air conditioning system.
"When vets do come here to live, they're going to have the comforts of home and safety and all that they need for their assimilation back into society," said Holmes.
Dr. Kevin Bourgalt, an Army veteran, said the transition out of the military can be really difficult.
"Unlike a lot of other people in my cohort...where their PTSD became expressed through alcoholism or drug abuse, I put mine into education. So I got my Ph.D. in education out of having PTSD," said Dr. Bourgault.
He said the center will provide treatment for PTSD and other conditions for 50 veterans. It's to fulfill the nonprofit's promise of taking care of their own, so that no one is left behind.
"They can be the ideal person they want to be every day, and I want them to know I'm here to help them be that person," said Dr. Bourgault.
It's something Dr. Lebow said is seen in the wooden sign built and donated by students at Sutherlin High School.
"I see the logo as a metaphor," said Dr. Lebow. A metaphor of planting seeds for a better quality of life and also a dream for what this center can become.
The board members said they hope to have the center open in spring of next year, just in time to plant gardens and orchards.
Along with renovations, they're working to do more fundraising. Veterans Legacy is having a fundraiser at Texas Roadhouse next week, on November 13th and 14th.
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