Common vision brings together two moms on a mission
By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Patrick McCaffrey gave his life for his country in June 2004, while deployed to Iraq. His mother, Nadia, founded the Patrick McCaffrey Foundation to honor her son by helping veterans find resources to meet their needs for reintegration. The Foundation works to ensure that soldiers have a place to call home.
Eagle’s Nest was the vision of Melony Butler, military wife and Blue Star mother of three soldiers. That vision can be traced to a promise Butler made to her stepfather when she was 12 years old.
“He was a Vietnam veteran and I promised I would not let other veterans suffer by not having the resources they need to heal and find purpose,” Butler said.
The promise was reinforced after one of Butler’s sons returned from Iraq suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD, suicidal, and unable to find help.
Minnesota has the second highest suicide rate among veterans, according to Butler.
“One day he called me on his cell to say goodbye, and it was by the grace of God that my husband and his battle buddies found him,” said Butler. “The St. Cloud Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital told him they wouldn’t have space for him for 36 days, and to use outside resources.”
Butler spoke with retired Minnesota Adjutant General Larry Shellito, who told her to come back to him with a solution. That spurred Butler to obtain a degree in psychology, and helped form the vision for Eagle’s Nest.
“This will be soldiers helping soldiers and families helping families,” she said.
Butler was taking soldiers into her home and fielding phone calls asking how soon the facility would be open, when she called the St. Cloud VA and was referred to the McCaffrey Foundation.
McCaffrey and Butler joined forces this spring, and Eagle’s Nest is fast becoming a reality. “Nadia [McCaffrey] decided that we’re ‘Moms on a Mission,’” said Butler.
“More has been accomplished in the last 30 days than in the previous four years,” said Vietnam veteran Mike Weisser, now vice-president of the McCaffrey Foundation.
“Moms don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Butler said. “A mom’s determination is unstoppable.
Joining Butler as a “mom with a mission” is Gold Star mother Dorothy Sills, whose son was treated for PTSD at both the Minneapolis VA and the St. Cloud VA.
Two weeks after being discharged he died in a motorcycle accident. After two years of determined crusading, Sills’ and her son’s battle buddies’ efforts paid off when the accident was ruled “service related.”
“It is unheard of for a civilian accident to be ruled service related,” said Sills. “We believe he was having a flashback and was just ‘obeying orders’ by taking the ditch when he died.”
Weisser filed the paperwork registering the McCaffrey Foundation in Minnesota, as well as in California, where it was established. He is actively pursuing organizations and non-profit groups to support Eagle’s Nest.
“This community will give soldiers a place to heal with honor, to find everything they need to do that mentally, physically and spiritually. They will be shown how to find a productive purpose in their lives,” said Weisser.
PTSD often goes hand-in-hand with substance abuse. “The trust is often not there between the veteran and medical or other treatment resources, so the vet won’t obtain services,” said Butler. “Then too, the usual resources are often overloaded or unavailable. Then the veteran tends to self-medicate.”
What happens at Eagle’s Nest will remain completely confidential.
“We want to build that trust with veterans,” Butler said. “This is a place for soldiers to come and heal among their own.”
There are nine residential cottages currently on the property, and a number of service buildings. One of the first two buildings to open will be for vets suffering from substance abuse. The other will be transitional housing.
The stable will soon be filled with tack and 11 horses donated by vets and rodeo circuit riders from Minnesota, Montana and Texas. Therapists specializing in equine therapy will be donating their time.
Nadia’s passion is a self-sustaining organic garden. “Gardening to healing, giving the feeling of being useful and productive,” Butler said. The produce will feed residents and any surplus will be sold.
Farmers Veteran Coalition, based in California, will provide equipment, seed and instruction.
Courses will be offered for vets to obtain their General Educational Development (GED) test, as well as associate degree classes through a Minnesota State Colleges and University (MNSCU) institution.
There will be an industrial arts building where vets can learn a trade.
The chapel onsite will be used for nondenominational services given by visiting pastors. One of the very first items donated to Eagle’s Nest by a local family was an organ for the chapel.
“The bottom line is, we all need faith,” said Butler.
Cedar Hill Design Center in Texas has offered to refurbish one of the cottages into family suites.
“This is a national project, and we will accept vets from all over the country,” said Weisser. “No one will be turned away.”
“We hope to never again attend a funeral for another soldier who died because he or she did not have the resources to recover,” Sills said.
Eagle’s Nest will be hosting an “Extreme Home Makeover — Military Style” from June 22-24. Volunteers are asked to bring buckets, mops, rags, cleaning products and other materials necessary to clean two buildings. Also needed are tree and shrub trimming equipment and other lawn care supplies. Painters should bring brushes, rollers and any other materials. Plumbers are needed.
Blue Star mothers from around Minnesota will be serving a hearty meal each day about 1 p.m. for all volunteers.
Eagle’s Nest is located at 310 Highway 71 S., Sauk Centre, MN 56378.
For more information, contact Melony Butler at (218) 371-1570 or [email protected] or Mike Weisser at (760) 963-0352.