You may be surprised to learn that our community has a remarkable nonprofit organization that offers support, training, and respite for veterans and first responders and their families
Located on the former Apache Springs Ranch near Sonoita, Boulder Crest Arizona (BCA) is a beautiful and peaceful 130-acre site offering outdoor gardens, patios, a pond stocked with fish, playground, archery range, a labyrinth, hiking trails, and many shady spots to sit and reflect.
One of two sites owned and operated by the Boulder Crest Foundation—the other is in Bluemont, Virginia—BCA opened its doors in 2017. Joe Wood, an Iraq combat veteran,
has been executive director of BCA for the past five years. Wood himself has been a beneficiary of Boulder Crest’s programs. After separation from the military with nine years of service, Wood began a business career which eventually had him leading a private
company that contracted to provide services to the US government. But something wasn’t right.
“I was supposedly living the American Dream: a good job that paid well, a nice house and family,” he said. “It sure did not feel that way, though. I lacked purpose, was unfilled in both my work and home lives, had few friends, became increasingly depressed and eventually suicidal. Some big changes had to happen, but until I found Warrior PATHH I could not see a positive way forward.”
Warrior PATHH—Progressive and Alternative Training for Helping Heroes—is Boulder Crest’s signature program, specially designed for combat veterans and first responders who have experienced trauma. Boulder Crest Arizona is currently offering 12 Warrior PATHH trainings per year, ten for men and two for women. Each session is limited to eight individuals. The program begins with a one-week intensive on-site training, followed by 90 days of follow-up after warriors return to their homes. During that first week, participants build trust and connection with their teammates, unpack their own trauma, identify what reactions to their trauma do not serve them well, begin their journey to live in the present, and plan for the future.
This all happens in BCA’s high desert setting, which offers amazing canyon views and impressive night skies. The campus has considerable space to deliver programs and to house participants. There are three houses with a total of eight bedrooms, two bunkhouses with a total of 12 bedrooms, and eight fold-out bunks, a commercial kitchen, a gym, and several large multi-use common spaces. All the rooms are well appointed and welcoming, reflecting the typical décor of Southern Arizona.
Retreat participants are supported by a staff of ten, about half of whom are focused on programs and half on operating and maintaining the campus. Many of Wood’s team are multitaskers. Codi McCaw is the operations lead and also heads up the community outreach initiative. Denise Purvis manages the myriad of native plants and gardens on the property, and does all the cooking, providing three square meals a day of home style cooking. She calls it “comfort food that is healthy too.”
BCA’s staff are supported by volunteers drawn from the local community. One is Marilyn Van Epps, a veteran and Sonoita resident, who started volunteering at BCA shortly after its opening in 2018. Van Epps has the mien, correct and alert, of the Army MP she once was at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Although she will tell you that her stint was brief and not very exciting, Van Epps did her bit and went on to contribute two sons to the country’s service. She cites her sons as the reason that she volunteers at BCA. She feels that over a combined 46 years of service, they gave their all, and that she wants to “give back” by helping the soldiers and others who come through the program.
Van Epps’ first job as a volunteer at BCA was folding laundry which she stacked in the cupboards. She’s progressed to working in the kitchen, working four-hour shifts to make and serve lunch before setting up for dinner. Typically she only sees the participants at breakfast and lunch. Whoever is running the show that day will take the time to introduce the volunteers to the lunch crowd. It is here that she can sit with the vets, break bread and keep company. Then it is back behind closed doors, and there is quiet. “No radio, no nothing,” she said. “You try to be very, very quiet so that they can focus on getting better, on getting healing.” At the end of a day spent at Boulder Crest, Marilyn said that she feels good, if exhausted, driving back out on Gardner Canyon Road.
BCA’s Family Rest and Reconnection program offers families of combat veterans, as well as Gold Star Families (families who have lost a loved one during military service), the ability to reserve a single-family home on the BCA property for two to seven nights. There are three single family residences available, the smallest a two bedroom/one and a half bath and the biggest a four bedroom/four and a half bath. Family R and R is unstructured, allowing families full use of all the amenities on the property, as well as opportunities to visit the area’s tourist attractions. Staff assists families to schedule whatever activities they choose. About 100 families come each year from all over the western states, most with children. Upon arrival each family gets a large welcome basket with an array of small gifts to make their stay more comfortable and fun.
The Military Team Retreat is delivered one weekend per year to teenagers from military and Gold Star families. Its goal is to assist young people who may have had a disrupted childhood due to frequent moves and absences of parents for military duty by providing tools to help them understand where they are now and to create a plan for the future they want.
Struggle Well is the only program not delivered on the BCA campus. Unlike Warrior PATHH, which is an intervention program, Struggle Well is a prevention program that is targeted to first responders. This training is done in partnership with organizations that employ first responders and is delivered in the cities where they work; Boulder Crest has provided Struggle Well training to over 400 members of the Tucson Fire Department, as well as five-day training sessions for the entire, 1,200-strong Tucson Police Department force. Struggle Well training helps participants create the life they want to live. It assumes struggle is inevitable but can also be valuable—that struggling well makes a person stronger.
When asked what he is most proud of at BCA, Wood is quick to say, “We are a learning organization. We are constantly adapting, reviewing our programs and their results and then making them better based on our experience. And we work to be a good community partner. Our property is available to support evacuation and water supply needs for emergency and rescue providers during medical emergencies and fires. We have helped other nonprofits, for example by providing food for distribution to families during Covid to the Patagonia Youth Enrichment Center. We try to hire locals, purchase local goods and services whenever possible, and send families to visit local events and attractions.”
Asked about the biggest challenges facing BCA, Wood quipped, “You mean besides the road into the property?” While the road really is sometimes difficult for low riding vehicles, another challenge is managing demand to better accommodate clients. “We are working on evening the flow to serve more people in a timely way,” said Wood. “Another challenge is finding enough volunteers to supplement their relatively small staff. We have some great volunteers who have been very loyal, but we need more.”
Lastly, Wood mentioned that as a nonprofit 501c3, Boulder Crest relies heavily on private donations to fund their property maintenance and programs. “We have been fortunate to have some very generous private donors and foundations who have supported all the programs delivered through the Boulder Crest Foundation, but few of the donors who support our Arizona based programs actually come from Arizona,” he said. “We definitely need more donors from the Southwest.”
If you are interested in volunteering, or can donate to support the work of Boulder Crest Arizona, contact Joe Wood at email@example.com. He will be happy to talk with you.