Interview With Heather Ehle Founder/CEO, Project Sanctuary

Being a civilian without direct ties to military families, Heather reached out to the community for support and education. Led by veterans and her board, she carefully listened to what the military families needed and then structured Project Sanctuary’s programs to meet those needs, pulling from her background as an RN to establish an evidence-based program that encompasses physical and emotional healing. 

Thanks so much for doing this interview. I understand that you founded Project Sanctuary in 2007 while working as a nurse when you found that no other organization existed to serve the military family as a unit. What factors led you to believe that retreats were an effective way to help military families?

I knew that military families need something more than a vacation. And most people don’t really begin to let their walls down or begin healing in just a few days. Six days seems to work and gives the families enough time to really begin to absorb and practice the topics that are covered in our classes.

What are the different retreats offered by Project Sanctuary? Can the entire family attend each type of retreat?

Family retreats: Are just that. Six-day therapeutic retreats for the military family. Family is defined as those in your intimate circle that support you. It may be a mom caring for an injured veteran or a single veteran attending with a battle buddy. 

Couples Retreats are for couples wanting to strengthen their relationship. There is more focus on communication and intimacy. 

Can you discuss some of the research findings about Project Sanctuary? Also, who conducted the research?

A few years ago, we worked with Clemson University to see how long the positive effects lasted after a retreat. Our families continued to show improvement six months after their retreat. We are just now setting up more sophisticated software so we can better track and better tell our story. 

Are your retreats for active military families and veterans?

Our programs are open to all active duty and veteran/retired military. Any era, any service.

Are there any special stories you can share about families served by Project Sanctuary?  

There are so many stories... what is really being highlighted for me now, is that our kiddos from our therapeutic youth and teen classes are growing up, enlisting and deploying. We really are serving the next generation and teaching them how important mental health can be. 

Your retreats are held in various locations across the United States. What are your top three destinations and what makes them special?

What makes a retreat center extraordinary is the feeling. We look for “sanctuaries,” beautiful locations, scenic, quiet..... But our secret sauce will always be our staff and volunteers. They are what make our program outstanding.

What are some exciting new happenings at Project Sanctuary?

We are launching an organizational matching capacity grant! That is fancy nonprofit talk for saying that we have a donor that will match each dollar to help up create a savings account to cover expenses for three to six months, just in case of another pandemic or zombie attack. Most nonprofits are at great risk because we spend everything on mission and helping others. Having “money in the bank” for emergencies is pretty exciting.

How do you believe Project Sanctuary has brought a sense of relief to military families during this time of great need?

I think by simply acknowledging that families serve together, they hurt together, and they should, and can, heal together. So many wonderful organizations just focus on the wounded warrior.... that is great. But, by providing support and services to the family, you create a larger bond and better educated support system.

Can you share with us a self-care practice you use in your own life that you learned from the retreats your organization offers?

For me meditations are key. And that can take so many different forms. Just calming yourself and focusing on your breath, repeating a mantra while stuck in traffic. Walking purposely on a hike or a beach and my new favorite tool... sleep hypnosis. Because, we all can use some better-quality sleep.

How can people learn more about Project Sanctuary and contact you if they have questions?

Website: ProjectSanctuary.us

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-ehle-0083b68/

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