Sunday, November 5, 2017

Higher Ground: A Path to Healing and Wholeness

This past week I had the opportunity to serve as a mental health resource for a program called Higher Ground. Based in Idaho. Higher Ground programs use innovative sports and recreation therapies to enhance the quality of life for our injured military community as well as children, teens, and adults with disabilities.

I was involved with the veterans program that was conducted at the Beaver Hollow Conference Center which is located in Java, New York, about 45 minutes Southeast of Buffalo. The center also serves a site for one of the four Biggest Loser camps, which pattern themselves after the long-running TV program of the same name. The participants all live with a variety of physical and mental concerns including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and Multi-trauma. There was also, professional staff on hand, including Higher Ground’s Director of Operations, Rich Cardillo, Military Program Specialist Chris Dooley, Recreational Therapist Natasha Rosenbloom and Northeast Regional Coordinator Patrick Welch.

Going in to the week I knew instinctively that it would be a great experience. Personally, I was looking forward to getting away and slowing down. Frankly, I was pretty fried. The two days of the work week leading up to the event I conducted three presentations and facilitated a panel discussion for my day job at the Mental Health Association of Erie County and Compeer Buffalo. While the programs all went well, I was ready for a break. But I digress.

The five primary days of the program each revolved around a theme: Day 1 was Building Bonds, Day 2 was Healing Tools, Day 3 was Live Your Passions, Day 4 was I Am Enough and Day 5 was Taking the Next Step.

Each day was comprised of a number of activities that served to establish camaraderie and shared experiences designed to support the participants. The men in the program live with a variety of physical and mental wounds of combat. These concerns significantly impacted their daily lives in some form or fashion. Along with the six veterans there were two companions that accompanied their family member and friend.

The start of each day included an hour of ‘gentle stretching,” led by Michael, a yoga instructor and one of the center’s staff. The other activities included kayaking (done in an indoor pool due to the inclement weather), a “catapult challenge” where the group was divided into two teams and each one had to fashion a device to launch three potatoes in an attempt to get as close as possible to a buoy in the lake on the property, and a trip to the center’s fitness facility which once again included more friendly competition utilizing the gym’s equipment.

There were also several opportunities to fish at the lake which proved to be exciting considering there were a number of successful catches over the last two days. Amidst the physical activities, there were also several learning opportunities centering around nutrition, wellness and goal setting.

Wednesday was devoted to a field trip to Letchworth State Park. This particular day I was away at a state conference in Lake George, New York presenting a 3-hour workshop on the theme of wellbeing.

Each day included an hour of “processing” at the conclusion of the day’s programming which allowed the folks to participate in a discussion about the theme of the day as well as any other topics that were relevant to the program. This included exercises to build self-esteem and bolster self-confidence.

To go along with the activities there were high quality, nutritious meals. They mirrored the meal plan that the other Biggest Loser camp was utilizing with the exception that the portion sizes were larger and there were some sugary beverages.

Now to the real thing. On the first evening, there was the sense that some of the participants were not exactly keen on being there. This was much due to their life situation and the sense of being uncomfortable with the idea of being away from the comforts and security of their homes.

But on the first full day, there was a miraculous transformation that took place. Almost immediately, the men began to bond with each other. They shared their common experiences of being in combat situations as well as the challenges of acclimating to civilian life. The level of sharing and intimacy was remarkable. As the week progressed, the men (and one family member) all opened themselves up to experience things they never had done before, not to mention sharing very personal feelings about military life.

I am not a veteran. So, I do not have the perspective that these men have. But being a witness to their courage and strength is something that I got so much from. I’ve always respected our military but this week’s experience greatly increased the amount of respect I have for our men and women in uniform. I learned that a soldier’s word truly is his/her bond and that there is a special connection between those who have served.

I also learned that there is healing in recreation and play. It’s a simple concept but Higher Ground’s approach to helping veterans work through their various combat-related issues is highly effective. I observed an incredible change in demeanor, attitude and behavior in all of the participants.

So, what does this mean to the vast majority of the U.S. population that has not been in service to our country like our warriors. Basically, it demonstrates that we need to be more sensitive to the needs to those who have selflessly given their lives for our country. According to U.S. Department of Defense statistics, 20 veterans die by suicide each day. Programs like Higher Ground serve to preserve the dignity of our veterans and provide them with an opportunity to find healing in what to the outside observer may seem like “fun and games.” But it’s much more than that. And I can state that based on what I observed. I know that I was personally affected by the various activities (and I did participate in all of them).

I feel fortunate to have been “on the inside” to get a glimpse of the life that most have never seen. PTSD, TBI and trauma are all life altering in so many ways. The unique means of introducing recreational activities to assist veterans in finding a path to wholeness is unique and powerful. This is yet another example that follows my mantra of “Recovery is Possible.”


  1. Karl, Thanks for posting your experience with Higher Ground and our military veterans. Best regards, Patrick Welch

  2. Karl, great experience, thanks for sharing. There is a world of veterans out there that would benefit from this type of help. Where can they get more info on it?

    1. Check out Higher Ground's website at:

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I have planned to run a social activity on the mental illness diseases that online education is causing. I have suffered from the anxieties caused due to it and I think this month while I do this activity. I will hire a professional service provider to take my online class on my behalf. Like this, I will be able to help others to end all the mental depression online education has caused.

  5. I remember my university conducted a seminar on mental health awareness. Still, I could not attend because I was assigned essay projects, and I was busy on that day. So I take professional cheap essay writing services assistance while completing my essay papers. But whenever I again get a chance to attend any event regarding mental health awareness, I would love to visit.

  6. That is such a positive and refreshing activity you have picked. I like that fact people have finally started talking about mental health and how it has affected most people, be it any age, gender or race. I have been looking into laws for mental health. My essay requires me to do extensive research about mental health law and its benefits it has for the young ones. I got Law Essay Help to receive assistance for the structure of my essay.

  7. This was a really great contest and hopefully I can attend the next one. It was alot of fun and I really enjoyed myself. web design

  8. That is such a positive and refreshing activity you have picked. I like that fact people have finally started talking about mental health and how it has affected most people, be it any age, gender or race. Dog Booster Seat

  9. You can download tool hub to repair you quickbooks or You can visit our website where we tell you to repair your quickbooks. you can simply remove any kind of error which shows by quickbooks.Luchthavenvervoer Gent Zaventem

  10. While farewells are sad, they also tell you how important someone is in your life and how much is change and growth necessary to living. Glad, you accepted the farewell with warm greetings.Large Scale GC

  11. Amazing post it is very impressive and inspiring article thanks dude for sharing with us
    Site: yellowstone john dutton quilted jacket

  12. With the range of decisions that children have today, they have more openness to truly glean some useful knowledge and develop. You as a parent ought to keep your kids put resources into beneficial toy cart. There is a great deal to be acquired by taking part in play, creative mind - and talk.

  13. Providing work in a short span of time that too while maintaining the quality is actually an art that not everybody can nail. I took this Marketing thesis writing services and it was due in two days. Not only they did my work before time but also the work was satisfactory, it made me happy!

  14. embroidery digitizing online said...

    Thanks for nice information about the path of healinh and wholness this is very informative article and very helpfull article and once again thank you.

  15. I recently opted for custom iOS application development, and the results were outstanding! The team understood my requirements perfectly and delivered a highly functional and visually appealing app. I'm thrilled with the experience and highly recommend their services for iOS app development.

  16. I had an amazing experience working with an Android game development company. They created a captivating and immersive game that kept me hooked for hours. Highly recommend their expertise for Android game development!

  17. I read this blog. This is very informative and helpful for us. Your writing technique is impressive and enjoyable to read. I encourage you to publish more information so I can gain more knowledge on this topic. Now it's time to get chauffeur service birmingham for more information.