Groups combine efforts to offer family retreat for veterans

·3 min read
Area  veterans formed a nonprofit several years ago to acquire the Gaylord Bowling Center at 1200 Gornick Ave. and save it from closure. Veterans now operate and manage the center.
Area veterans formed a nonprofit several years ago to acquire the Gaylord Bowling Center at 1200 Gornick Ave. and save it from closure. Veterans now operate and manage the center.

GAYLORD — Steve Ralston is the chaplain for the Ralph Holewinski VFW Post 1518 and a member of the Otsego County Veteran Affairs Board. For over a year, he and others have been organizing a retreat for veterans and their families.

Ralston, along with officials from the Warrior's Journey, Lost Valley Retreat Center and the Michigan Men's Ministry, will see their work pay off when the Warrior's Journey Family Camp occurs on Aug. 18-20 at the Lost Valley Center, 5724 M-32 in Gaylord.

The mission of the camp is to bring together resources, including a faith-based approach to unite and restore military families that are in or still transitioning back to civilian life.

Ralston said the three-day event is designed to bring faith into the mix of resources designed to help veterans and their families.

"Sometimes veterans get into the VA system (or) mental health treatment and they get lost. We were getting people into the right places for the needs, but we weren't getting the one-on-one fellowship or relationships that are so healthy," Ralston said.

Often the spouses and children of veterans are affected by what they are going through, noted Ralston.

"If you fix the family, nine times out of 10 you fix the veteran as well," he added.

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There is no charge to attend and Ralston said veterans and their families are invited to attend regardless of religious affiliation or observance.

"This is 100 percent non-denominational and we will have every single denomination you can think of," Ralston said.

He said Warrior's Journey is a national organization that has had success with faith-based initiatives. By bringing together resources and quality time for families in the fun and safe environment that a camp atmosphere can deliver, the goal for the Warrior’s Journey Family Camp is to unite and restore military families, the organization said.

Ralston said over 100 have signed up for the family camp and they have enough room for 200. Veterans can still register for the camp at www.michmen.org. Lodging that ranges from camping sites to motel-like rooms will be available.

"You can even bring your own camper," said Ralston.

Meanwhile, Ralston, Tony Sharkey and others recently celebrated the five-year anniversary of saving and revitalizing the Gaylord Bowling Center.

Ralston, Sharkey and other veterans formed a nonprofit several years ago (VETS, Inc.) to acquire the center, located at 1200 Gornick Ave., and save it from closure. Veterans operate and manage the center.

“Five years ago, we had no idea what we were getting into. It would take all of us and all we had to give, to make it work. We were blessed with skills, determination and vision. Today, we can look back and see the enormity of our accomplishment and be proud that we saved this Gaylord icon with so much history for all of the community to enjoy," Ron Lebourdais, commander of VFW Post 1518, said in a statement.

The center has been transformed over the last five years. Gone are the wood lanes, replaced by new synthetic glow lanes with LED accent lighting. The entry is opened up and updated with colored LED lighting and display technology. You can still see photos of the initial construction in 1978 and the bowling pin factory that once called Gaylord home.

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They’ve added an expanded and modern arcade while retaining historical throwbacks. The old ice cream shop/martial arts/arcade area is now the home of the local VFW Post with a 50-person meeting room used by other veteran groups like the American Legion, Purple Heart and Disabled American Veterans. It is open to the public for rent for any occasion.

Sharkey noted how the center has become a part of the community as it hosts regional events, high school competitions, instructional youth programs, senior drop-in events, group fundraisers, company parties, special needs outings, wedding receptions and anniversary, birthday and graduation parties.

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Groups combine efforts to offer family camp for veterans, families