In 2010, Gene Birdwell watched a short video on the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on combat veterans. “It tore me up,” said Birdwell. “I had to do something.”
Jumping into action, Birdwell bought a five-acre plot of land and, with the help of some generous friends and community members, started to build Camp Hope — an interim housing facility for combat veterans with severe PTSD. “A large number of these soldiers have lost everything because of PTSD. They’ve lost their wife, their job, their home and their car. They’ve lost all hope, and some even turn to suicide,” said Birdwell. With two donated and remodeled buildings capable of housing eight residents and a mission to provide intensive assistance to veterans, Camp Hope opened on Armed Forces Day in June 2012.
Camp residents are mentored by fellow PTSD-survivors trained in counseling. They receive job placement assistance and transportation, and attend peer support groups in an effort to help them develop rewarding and fulfilling lives. “We believe in a mind, body and spirit philosophy,” said Birdwell. “Residents go to the gym every morning and are kept in classes of one kind or another throughout the day. We teach them job and finance skills, take them to a professional counseling firm for anger management treatment and family counseling, and host several Alcoholics Anonymous sessions on campus.”
Growing and Serving
Since opening in 2012, Camp Hope has quickly grown to meet the needs of the veteran community. A large lodge and several housing units were added to the campus, which can now comfortably host 80 residents. “We’ve run about 1,000 veterans through the camp since we opened. And of the ones that stuck with us, we have not lost a single soldier to suicide,” said Birdwell. “We’re awfully proud of that.”
With a mission to help veterans recover free of charge, the camp provides everything a recovering warrior might need during their six-month stay. This can include clothing, a car and even the meals they eat every day.
Peace of Mind
It didn’t take long for the news about Camp Hope’s vision to make its way to John Taggert, owner of the standby generator dealership Power Now LLC in Houston. He wanted to help. Taggert reached out to Birdwell and suggested the camp could benefit from adding standby power to its main building so it can continue its mission without fear of power disruptions. Then, Taggert contacted his manufacturing partner, Briggs & Stratton, and asked them to support this worthwhile cause.
The camp’s mission aligned with Briggs & Stratton’s vision to help power customers so they can achieve amazing things, and it donated a 60 kW generator to the camp. Taggert offered to install and service it free of charge, ensuring the camp is ready and protected whenever a storm or power outage occurs.
“Because of John and Briggs & Stratton, we have a standby generator connected to the multi-purpose building and our walk-in freezer,” said Birdwell. The assurance provided by the generator means an unexpected power outage won’t impact the camp’s ability to feed and support its residents. And when Hurricane Harvey landed on the Houston coastline, the team at Camp Hope didn’t lose any sleep over whether their residents and buildings were protected.
Fortunately, the camp was spared any significant flooding or damage. “We had a lot of rain, but nothing flooded at Camp Hope,” said Birdwell. “We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had to use the generator yet, but it’s like an insurance policy. We’re proud to have it.” While the storm ravaged the area, the leadership team at the camp knew they had backup power if worse came to worse — protecting their thousands of pounds of generously donated meat and keeping the lights on in the main building.
Located in an area prone to unexpected weather and severe storms, the team at Camp Hope knows they’ll always be prepared to continue serving their residents no matter what’s happening outside.
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