The idea for Camp Healing Waters originated as an afterthought to the already effective rehabilitation concepts offered through Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) activities. Something that could expand the trust and camaraderie that develops through the volunteer and participant ranks as a natural occurring byproduct of a productive day on the water or behind the vise. Something that would demonstrate that it is more than just the fishing.
In the summer of 2014 representatives from PHWFF and TU began to discuss how the Camp Healing Waters concept would look. The how, when, and where that were critical to create the impact that we wanted and the research that we needed to make sure we were truly addressing the needs of our disabled veteran population. After informally questioning participants and volunteers from PHWFF, TU, the Veteran Affairs systems, and other veteran based organization there were several needs that became apparent. The first, helping non-fly fishing spouses and volunteers understand the positive impact that fly fishing and fly tying activities can have on a disabled participant, and the second, a way to use the common interest and understanding of the group to introduce additional educational opportunities that individuals might be reluctant to pursue on their own.
It was decided that the Camp would be offered to disabled veteran participants of PHWFF, TUVSP, and other select veteran based organizations. It would focus not only on the disabled veteran but also the key component of their support staff the spouse. The initial CHW would consist of ten couples from NC, TN, VA, WV,SC and OH, and be held over a four day period comprised of classes on personal finance, nutrition, addiction and stress management, communication skills and of course a little fly fishing for good measure. The addition of Appalachian Mountain Brewery, a craft beer brewery run by veterans and dedicated to the health and prosperity of its local community, brought the final pieces together and the Boone Area of North Carolina, home to AMB, was picked as the camp location. Its natural beauty, fly fishing community and philanthropic residents made it an ideal setting for the inaugural event.
The first day brought weary travelers to the gracious accommodations of Chetola Lodge eager to meet their fellow camp goers and dive in to the ambitious agenda. Diverse in many ways but united in their service to this country they soon fell to the low pressure introductions so common to these events.
Where are you from? Where did you serve? Have you ever fished here before? The important stuff. Small groups of veterans and their spouses engaged in conversation filled every corner and topics from cooking recipes to the moral dilemma surrounding the use of squirmy wormys resonated in the halls. Satisfied that no one needed immediate expulsion the group settled into an informal Mellow Mushroom pizza dinner and a lecture on addictions and stress.
No Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing event is complete without an opportunity to create a few fishing memories and Camp Healing Waters was no exception. Biggest fish bragging rights were on the line and it was an interesting dynamic to watch those with fly fishing experience revel in the success of those new to the sport; most of which being their spouses. Attendees had an opportunity to fish public waters for finicky rainbows, private waters for monster trophies and even try their hands at Tenkara, thanks to our friends at Badger Tenkara.
In the end I think we accomplished what we set out to do; use what we know as the powerful impact of time on the water to broaden the platform by which information is shared, to make apparent the benefits of peer communications, and to strengthen the bond and understanding between, participants, spouses and volunteers. Planning for the 2017 Camp are underway and thanks to the commitment from Appalachian Mountain Brewery, TU, PHWFF and the Anderson family the expectations are that much greater. Check out the Camp Healing Waters Facebook page for additional pictures, videos and testimonials.