Opening the Outdoors for Therapy
Joseph R. Chenelly
Joseph Fowler (left), Jeremy Henderson (center) and Bobby Lee Lisek spend time at Camp Hope, building confidence, realizing they can still do the things they love despite their combat injuries.
Joe Fowler loves the distinct tug on a fishing rod as a bass takes the bait or the moment of exhilaration when a buck wanders below the tree he’s perched in with bow in hand.
“But tagging a deer would just be a bonus. This is all about building camaraderie, meeting new people, making new friends—the important stuff I miss no longer being in the military,” Army veteran Fowler said of his recent stay at a recreational therapy program at Camp Hope in Farmington, Mo., “We help each other just by hanging out, whether in a tree stand or around the campfire.”
Camp Hope, which recently received a grant from the DAV Charitable Service Trust, is one of several organizations reintroducing the outdoors to disabled veterans, enabling them to continue their rehabilitation doing things they loved before their injuries or illnesses. There is no charge for veterans.
Fowler, who was badly wounded in Iraq in 2005, spent eight days in November with several other veterans who learned from each other, learned about themselves and enjoying activities some thought they’d never be able to do again.
“Don’t tell me you cannot climb a tree anymore,” said William White, founder of Camp Hope. “We want them to see that they are capable of living full lives, much better than they thought. They inspire each other. We just let them become comfortable with each other.”
White and his wife, Galia, started Camp Hope with the life insurance money they received from the military when their son, Christopher Neal White, a 23-year-old Marine, was killed in Iraq in 2006.
“His mother and I were not going to profit from our son’s sacrifice,” White said. “We decided we needed to make a positive out of this negative. Chris and I used to hunt and fish together when he was growing up. After his death, I couldn’t do it without him. We decided to help those who were able to make it back. We know it has saved some people’s lives. It really has exceeded our expectations.”
Camp Hope is located on a 170-acre farm now dubbed Chris Neal Farm.
“Camp Hope has been a real blessing,” said Army veteran Bobby Lisek, who lost a leg and suffered a brain injury in Iraq.
After his first visit five years ago, Lisek said, “Thank you so much for this great opportunity. I have finally met someone who has been through the same stuff as me.” He was one of the first veterans to attend an event at Camp Hope. He now returns regularly to serve as a hunting guide.
“There are no professional counselors here. Everyone is a volunteer,” White said. “We all have a passion for this. Once the war is over and the money is all gone, we will still be here, doing whatever we can to help.”
“Every day, we’re inspired as veterans with service-connected disabilities to overcome physical obstacles,” said DAV Charitable Service Trust Chairman Richard Marbes. “Doctors can repair bones and muscles, prosthetics can enable an amputee to walk again, but the road to a full and rewarding life can be much more difficult, which is why we support programs that support veterans’ physical, emotional and mental recovery.”
Information on how to apply for a free stay at Camp Hope can be found at www.chrisnealfarm.com