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FRIDAY FOCUS: Operation Warrior Refuge, Inc.

By Stefanie Cusick • February 12, 2016

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” This simple but powerful quote by Helen Keller sums up perfectly what Operation Warrior Refuge, Inc. strives to promote. They are a non-profit organization dedicated to helping local veterans, active duty military, first responders and their families overcome the emotional wounds brought on by serving our country. While speaking with Julie Devine, LCPC, licensed mental health professional of Operations Warrior Refuge, Inc., we learned how therapy with horses and natural settings can help influence our warriors to overcome the many challenges they may face and their PTSD after service.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: Operation Warrior Refuge, Inc.’s mission is to provide licensed mental health therapy to local veterans, active duty military, first responders and their families free of charge. We are not connected with the VA or The Wounded Warrior Project. We are Southern Maryland local people who saw a need to create a program for local veterans and first responders to get the therapy they need and have trouble finding.

We provide licensed mental health therapy in the form of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. This means we conduct our therapy sessions outside in a paddock or arena with one or more horses. Clients interact with and do activities with the horses, facilitated by two licensed mental health professionals, both of whom have years of horse experience. All activities take place with clients' feet on the ground – there is no riding involved. Activities are designed to bring about powerful and thought provoking experiences that relate directly to events, patterns and issues in the clients' lives. We treat anxiety, depression, PTSD, family issues, trauma, challenges with reintegrating into civilian life and more.

We are lucky and thankful to work out of The Greenwell Foundation in Hollywood, Maryland.

We hope that our form of outdoor therapy, taking place in a beautiful farm setting, which requires less talking and direct interaction than regular “office therapy,” will be appealing to our local community of veterans and first responders. Our Mental Health Professionals, Dr. Jamie Spohn, PsyD, and Julie Devine LCPC, are trained in this therapy through the international organization EAGALA – The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: It is truly incredible to see the changes brought about in a person, in family dynamics in just a few therapy sessions. We can't give any details as all sessions are confidential. We can say that we have seen this therapy make a positive difference in some of the most difficult situations imaginable.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Our biggest challenge right now is funding. We do our own fundraising to be able to pay our licensed mental health professionals for the work that they provide. Each therapy session costs $200, all of which is currently paid for by fundraising. We are in need of donations and fundraising opportunities.

Our second biggest challenge is spreading the word about the work that we do, so that folks in need of services can find us.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: We have a number of events in the planning stages coming up this spring and summer.  Last year we had a great time with our Poker Run in July and Blue Crabs fundraiser in September.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: Visit our website – www.OWR22.org. Donate and spread the word! We have partner and sponsor opportunities available. You can also find us on Facebook/OperationWarrior.