‘Moms on a mission’ try to help with the healing.
Never underestimate the power of two impassioned women who have joined forces. Especially when what has brought them together is a combination of personal tragedy, love and the desire to change the world.
“We’re just moms on a mission,” said Dorothy Sills and Melony Butler, founders of Eagle’s Healing Nest on the north side of Sauk Centre. It’s the determination of mothers outraged at the treatment of their veteran sons that has led the two to serve as chief financial officer and chair of the board of directors of a facility for healing the traumas of war. Their identity as “mothers” is broad, and their sons are many.
Dorothy’s son, Johnny, and Melony’s husband, Blaine, served in the military together. Melony’s stepfather was a Vietnam veteran. He and Johnny both suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and both died as a result of the failure of the system to acknowledge the need for timely treatment.
Mayo Clinic staff defines post-traumatic stress disorder as, “A mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”
Untreated, PTSD can lead to homelessness and suicide.
“We lose more veterans on home soil than in combat,” said Melony. The national statistic is 18 per day. That number is unacceptable to mothers who nurtured their sons and then watched them go off to war, only to see them return traumatized and unable to function. The men need a loving home first and access to helpful services immediately thereafter.
“It’s unacceptable to lose vets on home soil,” said Melony, a family readiness leader who has taken in veterans and listened to them for 22 years. Her stepfather took his own life seven years ago, on Father’s Day. She had made a promise to reach out to veterans and yet she knew it wasn’t enough. “The system is broken and overloaded,” said Melony, whose husband and three children also serve in the military. “They (veterans suffering from PTSD) need therapy and counseling.”
Several years ago, Dorothy’s son was working with her to get a peaceful setting opened for PTSD victims. They had considered a rental property. As the department president of Blue Star Mothers (an organization for mothers of children who are serving or have served in the military), Dorothy had already witnessed more anguish than she cared to see. Then three years ago Johnny, apparently in the midst of a flashback while riding his motorcycle, crashed. He died before his own symptoms could be effectively treated and before he could witness what others said couldn’t be done: to create a place of healing.
Both Dorothy and Melony were trying in their own communities, and taking on various government entities, to find a solution to not having space for crisis treatment, of losing a young generation to homelessness and early death, and the loss of family benefits when a death is deemed suicide. Dorothy was working with a group that was considering the old Home School property in Sauk Centre for some kind of treatment facility. Then someone suggested to Melony that there was a Sauk Centre woman she needed to meet. Dorothy got a phone call that there was a lady who wanted to meet her. She knew she needed to go.
The two joined forces in June of this year. In September, after three months of hard work by an incredible number of volunteers, Eagle’s Healing Nest opened its doors as a licensed board and lodging facility, one that connects needs with services. Nonprofit status has also been approved.
An eagle flew in front of Melony’s car one day as she arrived at the site she and others were considering.
“Eagles nested on clean-up weekend,” she said. The eagle and the home-as-nest metaphors were too strong to ignore. The name Eagle’s Healing Nest was an obvious choice for what already includes two buildings and the barn (and six donated horses) of the former Home School. A flock of 30 chickens has recently moved in, and next summer there will be a garden.
The first building, which houses 17 people and is already at capacity, has been named Promises Made. The second building, now open with 20 rooms, is known as Promises Kept. A third building, in the planning stage, will be Songs from Heaven.
Dorothy and Melony, both faith-filled women, insist they will turn no one away. God will provide for this nest where veterans regain their strength, reconnect with family, have assistance in finding jobs, and laugh and cry together. Women veterans will also find solace when a building opens for them. “We won’t have cohabitation here but hope to also have family space,” explained Melony whose long-term goal is to buy the property rather than lease it, as well as create nests across the nation. There are no other known transitional housing facilities like it in the country.
Tom Anderson, whose son has PTSD, serves as the administrator. He is also a proponent of natural health. Melony explains the personalities of the three who are in leadership positions of Eagle’s Healing Nest. “Dorothy is warm and fuzzy. I’m the bulldog. Tom keeps things moving forward.” The volunteers, and that includes these three, are what make the nest possible. No one is receiving a salary, though they hope with nonprofit status the potential for grant support may make that possible. Right now, donations of all kinds and the $35 per day from residents (those who can afford to pay) keep the electricity on and food in the kitchen.
“Everyone pitches in: working in the kitchen, cleaning, doing repairs, taking care of the horses,” said Melony, adding that the award-winning Belgian is blind and as a special-needs horse accepts unusual empathy from its caretakers.
Melony is on a fast track to earning a degree in psychology. Her intent is not to use her degree as a counselor but to be more able to understand and work with the social system. “We live with this; we’re totally involved with our own family structure. We know what our vets need.”
Eagle’s Healing Nest hosts a calendar full of activities, therapy groups and counseling. It does not provide these services but provides space for them. The facility is not locked and is alcohol, drug and weapon free. It is a place to build trust, experience love and acceptance and heal from life’s traumas.
“The guys know how to deal with each other. In the military they’re trained to never leave anyone behind. This is not a business; this is a family,” said Melony.
Eagle’s Healing Nest has already saved the life of a veteran who was found on the street homeless, hopeless and critically ill. After recovering from his acute illness, he came to the Nest and found a long-term home. Though he’s chosen to move south for the winter months, he knows he has a place he can always come back to. “He said he’ll be back,” said Dorothy. He had asked her to take him to the freeway where he would hitch a ride south. “I just couldn’t do it,” she said, the mother in her unwilling to let a fledgling go.
As advocates for doing what is right concerning those who have served this country, Melony and Dorothy accept invitations to speak with groups of any size. With a mission built on love and acceptance, they model the action of embracing our veterans who are our sons, daughters, husbands and wives. “I know I have to be the voice. We need change,” said Melony, who traveled to Washington on Dec. 12, 2012, to testify before Congress.
Melony and Dorothy feel very protective of the nest. Never underestimate the power of women who say they’re, “just moms on a mission.” Learn more at www.eagleshealingnest.com.