A Place for Veterans to Heal

Camp Alma’s peaceful ambiance and tailored programs will support veterans

By Craig Reed

Mark Oberle, executive director of Veterans Legacy, wants Camp Alma to be a healing place for veterans.

The 105-acre meadow in the Coast Range valley offers a therapeutic setting of peace and quiet. In the midst of the meadow is Camp Alma, a facility that has been empty for nine years.

But now there is a vision to bring this place of tranquility to life again, bringing veterans to the mountainous location so they can experience its qualities, receive treatment for their health issues and learn skills to reintegrate back into society as productive citizens.

Veterans Legacy is the public benefit nonprofit organization behind the vision. The nonprofit’s mission is to use Camp Alma—previously a Lane County work camp—and the surrounding meadow for residential treatment and to provide support activities and therapies for veterans.

“We want the camp to be a quiet place for veterans while they heal,” says Mark Oberle, the volunteer executive director of Veterans Legacy. “We want to provide a hub where a variety of treatment options are available, where there is ongoing counseling and where vocational training is available. Our goal is to help veterans re-enter society. We want to give them a sense of belonging.”

After not being used for years, volunteers have put in a lot of time fixing up the camp. From left, John LeBow, president of Veterans Legacy board; volunteer Dee Boshaw; and Dan Buckwald, board vice president.
Photo courtesy of Mark Oberle

The development of Camp Alma into a center for veterans was first visualized by John LeBow of Springfield. John’s original intention was to develop a food production program involving veterans to help with the hunger issue in Lane County. During those discussions, he learned about Camp Alma and that Lane County was looking for someone to put the facility back into use.

“Hearing about Camp Alma was a game changer in my book,” John says.

Mark says the camp was costing the county approximately $250,000 a year for maintenance and security. The camp opened in 1991 and was an alternative to jail for low-risk inmates. It was designed to house about 100 inmates and staff, and to teach the residents food handling skills in the commercial kitchen and gardening, landscaping and wildfire fighting skills outside.

The facility closed as a work camp in 2008 due to funding issues. It sat empty until earlier this year.

Veterans Legacy was one of three nonprofits that submitted proposals to Lane County regarding Camp Alma. Veterans Legacy’s proposal included an explanation of the nonprofit’s mission and how the camp would be used.

“All five county commissioners liked our mission,” Mark says.

The camp consists of an administration building with offices, the kitchen, a dining hall and a recreation room. There are three dormitory buildings, a building with a classrooms and office space, a shop, a laundry building and a drying room for boots and clothing. Outside is a garden, a small orchard of 15 trees that produce apples, pears, peaches and cherries, a volleyball court and a softball backstop and field.

“We want to provide a reset point for men,” says John. “We are building it and hopefully they are going to come use it.”

Facilities for female veterans are also part of the vision.

Dan Buckwald, an Air Force veteran and a member of the Legacy board, was the camp sergeant at Camp Alma for 13 years while a member of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office. He is eager to see the camp renovated to benefit veterans.

“The camp has a healing quality to it,” he says. “Your only neighbors are the elk. It’s hard to get angry when you’re watching elk graze.

“We’re looking to create an environment for veterans to let them know we care

about them. There’s no other place in Oregon for veterans that offers residential treatment, mental health treatment and agricultural therapy. We need to get the doors open, and good things will happen.”

Kevin Bourgault, an Army veteran, is another Legacy board member. He is a disabled combat veteran and a 23-year Veterans Affairs patient. He has participated in many post traumatic stress disorder programs offered by the VA.

“I know what those programs don’t do,” Kevin says. “This camp opportunity not only provides therapy, but also the chance at integration. That is something that really hasn’t been offered to veterans.”

Kevin says what the VA offers is in a classroom once or twice a week. He explains the camp will offer continuity of care and a peer-to-peer network that hopefully will be maintained beyond the experience at camp.

“We want veterans to experience that camp as a safe place of wellness that extends back into the community through four primary re-integration plans,” Kevin says. “Those are occupational (finding them jobs), vocational training, higher education in order to provide a path to a community college or to a university, and entrepreneurial, providing them with planning and funding to create a job they want.

“We want veterans at the camp to learn skills of empowerment,” he adds.

John describes the work to get the camp up and running as a grassroots effort. Since taking possession back in February, Veterans Legacy has had many partners help renovate the camp. The Rebel Rally motorcycle club of Lane County donated $14,000 for plumbing work. Tunnel Radio of Corvallis contributed $20,000 for general upgrades.

Twenty members of Keller-Williams Real Estate in Eugene contributed a day of mowing, landscaping and spreading gravel on walkways. Lane Forest Products contributed bark mulch, and a Lane Electric Cooperative truck made two trips to deliver the mulch to camp.

Lane Electric also provided the truck and auger to dig two holes for the new sign at the entrance to the camp. Gene Stringfield Lumber of Eugene donated the timbers that frame the sign and the posts that hold it; Dr. Gerry Harper of Eugene created the design; and the Sutherlin High School wood shop class routed the design onto a board and donated it.

“Veterans Legacy has no association with the VA,” John says. “There is no attachment to any governmental agency. We can write the therapy manual any way we want to. We are developing a collaborative effort. This is grassroots.

“I’ve had a number of veterans in my practice over the years, and I’ve heard the issues they have had dealing with the VA. When you start listening, you hear how much services are needed and how many are not available.”

The initial plan is to have five to seven resident veterans at Camp Alma by 2018 and gradually build up to 50 residents during the next three years.

In addition to writing grants to help fund the camp renovation, Veterans Legacy accepts memberships at $60 a year. Donations of any amount can be mailed to Veterans Legacy, 1116 S. A Street, Springfield, OR 97477. Donations can also be made electronically at www.veteranslegacyoregon.org. Look for more information on the nonprofit and on Camp Alma on the website. n

Correction— On pages 45 of the October issue, we inadvertently swapped photos for Bea Goad and Mary Rigsby. We apologize for the error. The online edition has been corrected and can be seen at http://ruralite-lec.or.newsmemory.com. Look in the Editions tab for the October magazine.