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Giving Veterans and Their Families a Chance to Heal

For many veterans returning home from combat, reconnecting with their families is a challenge. It takes time and understanding to readjust after living apart – often for more than a year – and for many veterans’ families, there is no help.

Location: Crosslake, Minnesota, USA

The Lions Step In

Lions in Minnesota saw a need to help veterans and their families so they worked with Minnesota’s Veteran’s Affairs Department to establish Project New Hope. Through this Lions-funded project, veterans and their families attend retreats free-of-charge and receive time and counseling to reconnect and grow together.

Lions at the camp work hands-on; organizing the retreats, cooking and cleaning, and providing daycare and counseling around the clock. Open to all combat veterans, the Lions are currently working to take the program nationwide.

Receiving Help Leads to Helping Others

After being hit by three roadside bombs during his tour in Iraq, SSG (ret) Mike Mills had burns on 35 percent of his body. Mike and his wife came to one of Project New Hope’s first retreats and received help.

“When you’re in the military, you’re told to suck up and drive on. If you accept help, you’re weak. And if you go for help, you’re going to be passed over for promotion and that’s not true. ... We need the help,” said Mike.

Mike and his wife are now Lions and members of the project’s advisory panel.
After donating their time at these retreats, many counselors from the Veterans Administration also became Lions. All of the counselors are veterans, including one active duty major who is on the project’s board of directors. She recently became a Lion as well.

Fast Facts

To date, 150 veterans and their families have been helped by these retreats. Retreats have been attended by single veterans, couples and families as large as eight. Leisure activities at the retreats include hiking, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, archery, sledding, fishing, ice fishing, arts and crafts, and more. It takes approximately 10 to 15 Lions to plan and execute each retreat.

Tips and Tools

Make It Happen: Help veterans and their families

Why did the club decide on this project? »
Lions are linked with veterans by our service. Lions serve their communities and soldiers serve their countries.
How was the idea of this project conceived? »
Resorts were giving free weekends to the veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars and their families. I thought Lions can and should do more. That is when the model of bringing combat vets, their families and licensed professional counselors to a retreat like setting came about.
Did you receive support from any other organizations? »
The founding of Project New Hope was supported by the Minnesota Veterans Affairs, American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary and the VFW. In 2009, Wisconsin and New York adopted Project New Hope with 10 other states also in talks to begin the retreats.
Are there currently similar projects outside of Minnesota? »
There are other projects that are similar to Project New Hope but we feel that because of our model, relationship with the Veterans Affairs, and the ongoing support of Lions across the United States and Canada, we will be the leader that others are measured against.
How do you fund the project? »
Project New Hope is funded by contributions by Lions Clubs, American Legions and VFWs. We also receive private donations and actively pursue grants.
How can Lions support veterans? »
To develop a Project New Hope retreat near you, or donate airline miles to support the expansion of this project, e-mail (info@projectnewhope.net). We can connect you with your state Veterans Affairs and provide the information you need to get started. Also, consider helping families left behind by soldiers who are serving. Just knowing you are there in case of an emergency is comforting.
Any special words of advice? »
Project New Hope is not about the politics of war. Project New Hope is about serving those that have served for us. At its core, Project New Hope is about helping families.
"People just sit around and they open up. You can’t do that in an office. You know there’s only so much a white painted room can do for you."

Bruce Billington,
Pequot Lakes Breezy Point Lions Club/Project New Hope Founder

"People bounce ideas off each other cause it’s not about becoming bullet-proof. It’s just using what works in the moment and doing the best we can so we can move forward."

Dustin Oosten,
Project New Hope Counselor

"After being in a place where everything is noise and bombs … this is the total opposite. So this is very important for a family to reconnect."

Simon Garcia,
Served in Iraq

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