Heal­ing place for heroes

Le­high Val­ley cou­ple’s camp aims to help vet­er­ans, first re­spon­ders

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Mark Demko

The own­ers of Le­high Val­ley Sport­ing Clays reg­u­larly host shoots for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. What Bill and Laura Bachen­berg dis­cov­ered is that many also are in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing the out­doors, but don’t have the con­nec­tions or re­sources.

“A lot of our tar­get shoot­ers were in­ter­ested more in the out­doors or get­ting ac­cess to hunt­ing or fish­ing, any of the out­door ac­tiv­i­ties that we all take for granted,” Bill Bachen­berg said. “The state doesn’t have [much] land that is ac­ces­si­ble. They don’t man­age the State Game Lands for ac­ces­si­bil­ity.”

Two years ago, the Bachen­bergs pur­chased an 1,800-acre prop­erty in Lack­awanna and Wayne coun­ties that the mar­ried cou­ple set up as the non­profit Camp Free­dom. They use the forests and fields for guided ex­pe­ri­ences for vet­er­ans and first re­spon­ders with dis­abil­i­ties and their fam­i­lies. The pro­grams are free and incorporat­e more than 100 vol­un­teers.

Camp Free­dom opened last fall and al­most 50 first re­spon­ders and dis­abled vet­er­ans par­tic­i­pated in the pro­grams in 2018, in­clud­ing Alex Dou­glass, the state trooper who was wounded by a sniper shoot­ing in 2014 at the state po­lice bar­racks in Bloom­ing Grove. In that shoot­ing, Eric Frein shot and killed Cor­po­ral Bryon Dick­son II and wounded Dou­glass.

“Alex is act­ing as a spokesper­son for us, talk­ing about what Camp Free­dom has done for him,” said Matt Guedes of Palmer­ton, the camp’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “He does that on a vol­un­teer ba­sis and has been spec­tac­u­lar for us.”

This year, more than 230 vet­er­ans and 50 first re­spon­ders, as well as 150 fam­ily mem­bers, have used the fa­cil­i­ties.

Guedes said work­ing with the en­tire fam­ily is a primary fo­cus for Camp Free­dom be­cause ev­ery­one feels the im­pact when a vet­eran or first re­spon­der suf­fers a dis­abil­ity.

“That’s a big point for us be­cause the vet­er­ans and first re­spon­ders have the trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences, but the fam­ily goes through the ex­act same ex­pe­ri­ence, but from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive,” Guedes said. “So, we are try­ing to be com­plete with the en­tirety of the fam­ily.”

All the out­door ac­tiv­i­ties are guided. They in­clude hunt­ing for tur­key, deer and bear, as well as fish­ing on two pri­vate ponds and cast­ing for trout on the Lack­awanna River, which passes through the prop­erty. There is also camp­ing, hik­ing, bik­ing, cross coun­try ski­ing and the Bachen­bergs are work­ing on build­ing a ri­fle range, 3-D archery range and sport­ing clays fa­cil­i­ties. In July, the camp hosted a fish­ing derby for first re­spon­ders and their fam­i­lies, with more than 100 peo­ple at­tend­ing.

Guedes and Bachen­berg said Camp Free­dom wanted to give first re­spon­ders an out­doors re­source.

“When you think about the first re­spon­ders, most of them are vol­un­teers from the fire com­pany or small po­lice de­part­ments, EMTs and they don’t have any of the re­sources of the Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion be­hind them,” Bachen­berg said. “They go home from watch­ing a fam­ily burn up in a car they couldn’t get to and they don’t know how to deal with it.”

Guedes saidCamp Free­dom par­tic­i­pants of­ten form “buddy teams” with peo­ple who have been through sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences, and it’s in those groups where a lot of the heal­ing takes place. Guedes and Bachen­berg said they hear pos­i­tive sto­ries from in­di­vid­u­als who have been through the out­doors pro­grams.

“Our guys and our ladies get a lit­tle bit lost be­cause of what they’ve seen and … in many cases the pat­tern is iso­la­tion, drugs and al­co­hol, lead­ing to des­per­a­tion,” he said. “They’re los­ing their fam­i­lies, their jobs, ev­ery­thing.

“I do be­lieve out­door ad­ven­tures is what has saved lives. That’s what we’re see­ing hap­pen. We’re see­ing lives lit­er­ally be­ing saved.”

Bachen­berg said in­ter­est in Camp Free­dom is grow­ing and the first Le­high Val­ley guests will par­tic­i­pate this fall. On Sept. 22, Le­high Val­ley Sport­ing Clays will hold a Cast & Blast fundraiser to sup­port Camp Free­dom’s pro­grams. Any­one in­ter­ested in spon­sor­ing or tak­ing part in the event, which in­cludes con­ti­nen­tal break­fast, catered lunch and fish­ing on LVSC’s pri­vate, 32-acre pond or a round of sport­ing clays, can learn more at www.lvs­clays.com or by con­tact­ing Lori Strohl at [email protected]­clays.com.

For more in­for­ma­tion on Camp Free­dom visit www.campfree­dompa.org.

Sport­ing Clay shoot to raise funds for child abuse prevention: Sport­ing clays en­thu­si­asts are in­vited to take aim for child abuse prevention when the West­ern Le­high Ex­change Club Foun­da­tion holds its 12th an­nual Clay Shoot Sept. 13 at Le­high Val­ley Sport­ing Clays in Co­play. The event, which starts at 8 a.m., costs $750 for a five-per­son squad or $150 for an in­di­vid­ual sin­gle shooter; sev­eral spon­sor­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties are also avail­able.

Each shooter re­ceives 100 clays, shells, food and more. To reg­is­ter or learn more, visit www.west­ern­le­highxc.com or con­tact John DeSanto at jde­[email protected]

Mark Demko is a free­lance writer for The Morn­ing Call.

CAMP FREE­DOM PHOTO

Camp Free­dom, founded by Bill and Laura Bachen­berg of North White­hall Town­ship, of­fers an­gling pro­grams for vet­er­ans and first re­spon­ders with dis­abil­i­ties.

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