MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (June 13, 2017) – In 2010, Gene Birdwell watched a short video on the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on combat veterans. “It tore me up to learn about it,” said Birdwell. “I had to do something.”
Jumping into action, Birdwell founded a non-profit and with the help of friends raised enough money to fund the creation of two manuals: one on handling the trauma of war for the soldier and one for the family when the soldier returns home. But three years later, Birdwell wanted to do more. “We needed boots on the ground,” he said. “We changed our name to the PTSD Foundation of America, and developed chapters around the country to serve our combat veterans.” But he didn’t stop there.
Birdwell bought a five-acre plot of land and, with the help of some generous friends and community members, started to build Camp Hope — an interim housing facility for combat veterans with severe PTSD. “A large number of these soldiers have lost everything because of PTSD. They’ve lost their wife, their job, their home and their car. They’ve lost all hope, and some even turn to suicide,” said Birdwell. With two donated and remodeled buildings capable of housing eight residents and a mission to provide intensive assistance to veterans, Camp Hope opened on Armed Forces Day in June 2012.
The residents are mentored by fellow PTSD-survivors trained in counseling. They receive job placement assistance and transportation, and attend peer support groups in an effort to help them develop rewarding and fulfilling lives. “We believe in a mind, body and spirit philosophy,” said Birdwell. “Residents go to the gym every morning and are kept in classes of one kind or another throughout the day. We teach them job and finance skills, take them to a professional counseling firm for anger management treatment and family counseling, and host several Alcoholics Anonymous sessions on campus.”
Growing and Serving
Since opening in 2012, Camp Hope has quickly grown to meet the needs of the veteran community. A large lodge and several housing units were added to the campus, which can now comfortably host 80 residents. “We’ve run about 1,000 veterans through the camp since we opened. And of the ones that stuck with us, we have not lost a single soldier to suicide,” said Birdwell. “We’re awfully proud of that.”
With a mission to help veterans recover free of charge, the camp provides everything a recovering warrior might need during their six-month stay. This can include clothing, a car and even the meals they eat every day. “We were given a large walk-in freezer and receive donations of meat to help feed the veterans,” said Birdwell. “This year, we received 16,000 pounds of beef, poultry and pork.” Providing robust meals for the soldiers ties in with the camp’s philosophy of mind, body, spirit. “I can tell when we’re reaching the veterans because they start smiling and looking healthier. They’re working out and eating well,” said Birdwell.
Ensuring the residents are well-fed and properly cared for means the industrial walk-in freezer needs to be up and running all day, every day. “We just couldn’t afford to have a power outage and lose all of the meat in our freezer,” said Birdwell.
Peace of Mind
It didn’t take long for the news about the work Camp Hope conducts to make its way to John Taggert, owner of the standby generator dealership Power Now LLC in Houston. He wanted to help. Taggert reached out to Birdwell and suggested the camp could benefit from adding standby power to its main building so it can continue its mission without fear of power disruptions. Then, Taggert contacted his manufacturing partner, Briggs & Stratton, and asked them to support this worthwhile cause.
The camp’s mission aligned with Briggs & Stratton’s vision to help power customers so they can achieve amazing things, and it donated a 60kW generator to the camp. Taggert offered to install and service the unit free of charge. The unit runs on LP gas, a reliable fuel source for the camp. Using LP gas as the primary fuel for the standby generator ensures it will never get shut off, which means the camp is ready and protected whenever a storm or power outage occurs.
“Because of John and Briggs & Stratton, we have a standby generator connected to the multi-purpose building and our walk-in freezer,” said Birdwell. The assurance provided by the generator means an unexpected power outage won’t impact the camp’s ability to feed and support its residents. And when Hurricane Harvey landed on the Houston coastline, the team at Camp Hope didn’t lose any sleep over whether their residents and buildings were protected.
Fortunately, the camp was spared any significant flooding or damage. “We had a lot of rain, but nothing flooded at Camp Hope,” said Birdwell. “We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had to use the generator yet, but it’s like an insurance policy. We’re proud to have it.” While the storm ravaged the area, the leadership team at the camp knew they had backup power if worse came to worse — protecting their thousands of pounds of generously donated meat and keeping the lights on in the main building.
Located in an area prone to unexpected weather and severe storms, the team at Camp Hope knows they’ll always be prepared to continue serving their residents no matter what’s happening outside.
Kelsey Batschelet, Two Rivers Marketing