Relaxing retreat for vets

LAKE PLACID – Veterans, active-duty soldiers and their families enjoyed some quality time together here over the weekend at a military family retreat.

The Spring for Hope retreat was put on by Creative Healing Connections and Homeward Bound Adirondacks. Based at the High Peaks Resort, the event drew 264 participants, including 70 children, all of whom were offered a wide range of programs – from drumming and arts and crafts workshops to family wellness and soldier resiliency training sessions.

Attendees interviewed by the Enterprise gave the retreat positive reviews. Erica Haake is stationed at Fort Drum with her husband Philip, an Army private first class. She said they went on two guided hikes with Adirondack Mountain Club staff – one during the day and one at night – and participated in a mask-making workshop.

“We really enjoyed it because it was a nice getaway from our everyday lives,” Haake said. “We both learned a lot about the area. It was fun to get away, relax and do something different.”

Haake said she learned about the retreat from a post on a Facebook page for military spouses. Flyers had also been posted on her husband’s company bulletin board, she said.

“We had been wanting to go to Lake Placid to visit, and then we saw it was full of activities and special giveaways for the military, and the price was very reasonable,” Haake said. “We emailed, got some more information about it and then registered online for it.”

Daphney Bunyan, her husband Rodney and their three daughters also made the trip to Lake Placid from Fort Drum, where Rodney Bunyan is a U.S. Army captain and commander of a battery company. Daphney is no longer on active duty but served 11 years in the Army. She’s the Family Readiness Group leader for her husband’s unit, which is how she found out about the retreat.

“FRG is just a group or organization that comes together to, while the husbands take care of the soldiers, the wives take care of the wives,” Bunyan said. “We hadn’t been to Lake Placid before, so that’s why we jumped at the chance to do it.”

Bunyan said her younger children enjoyed the arts and crafts workshops, although she said there weren’t as many programs for her 14-year-old daughter as she might like. Bunyan said she and her husband took part in a family wellness session, a morning run around Mirror Lake, and mask-making and drumming workshops.

“We mostly enjoyed the scenery and walking in the downtown area,” she said. “Because (Rodney) is gone so often, memories and time spent are the number one priority for me. Even if they hadn’t had all these different workshops and things to do, which was a good plus, just being able to go off somewhere and have an opportunity to see a different place, and have those memories, that means a lot to me.”

The cost of the retreat was one of its biggest selling points, both women said. It was funded in part by a grant from the High Peaks Resort, and cost $75 to $125 per night, per family, based on rank. Some families received full waivers. The downtown hotel normally charges about $125 to $150 per room per night on weekends this time of year, according to its website.

“When I called to check out the resort and how much it was per night, and the way we were able to get a discounted price, that made it even better,” Bunyan said.

“Military families are always look for somewhere to get away that’s reasonably priced, with a lot to do,” Haake said. “We don’t have children, but what they did for the families that do have children, how they provided child care and gave time for the parents to go away and do some things by themselves, I think that was really cool.”

In addition to soldiers and families from Fort Drum, organizers said a number of attendees came up from the Albany area, including about two dozen veterans from Vet House, a transitional housing program for homeless vets run by the Albany Housing Coalition.

This was a major event for both of the retreat’s co-hosts. For Homeward Bound, an organization that aims to make this area a hub for veteran healing, it’s the biggest event to date. Creative Healing Connections has been hosting retreats for many years for cancer survivors and veterans, although none quite like this.

Organizers said it wouldn’t have been possible without a long list of partners.

“This event was a community production,” said Adrien Vlach, Homeward Bound’s director of business administration. “From the incredible support of the Adirondack Mountain Club to the generosity of the Palace Theatre (which hosted a movie night), from the partnership between HBA and CHC to the grant from the High Peaks Resort that made it all possible, everywhere we turned there were people and institutions willing to help.”

Creative Healing Connections President Gail Doering said the two groups pooled their talent and resources.

“With the help of the High Peaks Resort’s amazing grant, both nonprofit organizations realized their respective missions,” she wrote in a prepared statement. “Through the weekend’s rich offerings, Homeward Bound Adirondacks was ‘guiding our Veterans all the way home,’ and Creative Healing Connections provided ‘creative experiences that promote healing and growth.'”

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or