Camp Freedom in Lackawanna County is relatively new as a recreational retreat for military veterans, first responders and Gold Star families. Its rapid growth has caught our attention. At the hands of its dedicated staff, the camp has directly impacted thousands of guests since it opened in 2018.
The need has never been greater, executive director Matt Guedes recently explained. Isolation is the biggest nemesis of men and women fighting PTSD and other mental issues upon returning to civilian life. Pandemic-related shutdowns left too many people alone. The national average suicide rate among veterans and first responders, Matt told us, increased from 22 to 48 people per day.
Camp Freedom offers outdoor healing adventures on their 1,800-acre property. According to Matt, clients are often seen fishing, hunting, hiking or relaxing on the lodge deck overlooking ponds and forests. Being outdoors gives them new perspectives and opportunities for important discussions among their peers – that peer-to-peer interaction evolves into camaraderie.
As Matt put it, Camp Freedom’s programs aren’t designed to confront clients about their struggles. Instead, once they’re comfortable, they’ll open up about the trauma they experienced and the challenges it creates in their lives.
“Veterans and first-responders are true American heroes who run towards danger on a voluntary basis,” said Matt. “You can’t unsee the things you have seen. Trauma affects everybody within our sphere of influence. And family members see trauma from an entirely different perspective.”
Matt admits that Camp Freedom founders didn’t know how effective the camp would be until they saw the reactions of their clients. Many immediately became volunteers or staff members. In 2019, they had more than 700 guests, a number that doubled in 2020.
“We’ve learned so much in just three and a half years,” Matt remarked. “There’s only one level of care that can happen here – and that’s excellence. We want to give everybody a five-star experience.”
Excellence requires efficient management of funds, a large pool of dedicated volunteers and continued monetary and material support from donations. Together, these help Camp Freedom maintain their annual budget of $1.6-million.
Last year, Cabot partnered with RLE Enterprises to donate a significant amount of decommissioned drilling pipe that was used for fencing. Other industry partners that have become supporters include Keystone Clearwater Solutions, PTW Energy Services and RHL Companies, the latter of which will build a road and clear trees for the construction of a 3D rifle and clay shooting range this summer.
For a second year, we have helped support a partnership between Camp Freedom and America250PA. Every week, a different veteran is highlighted on America250PA’s social media platforms, raising awareness of Camp Freedom’s efforts.
This year, we provided a $2,500 match when Camp Freedom participated in the NEPA Gives initiative. We also purchased a table at their annual banquet, inviting our employees and landowners to learn what the retreat is all about. It was an honor to help Camp Freedom raise $212,000 towards operating expenses.
We continue to work with Camp Freedom to identify supply needs and invite employees, contractors, and friends to visit and support the camp.