Blythewood nonprofit Red Barn Retreat expands offerings to first responders through $100k grant from the town

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Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 10:56 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 6, 2022 at 9:01 AM EDT
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BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. (WIS) - The Big Red Barn Retreat, a local nonprofit, is expanding its offerings to first responders struggling with job-related trauma and stress through a $100,000 grant from the town of Blythewood.

The funds are made possible through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

The grant will provide funds for up to 14 first responders from the Blythewood area to attend the Warrior Progressive and Alternative Training for Helping Heroes (PATHH) program.

This is a three-month-long training program that aims to help participants heal from trauma.

“There’s a lot of different ways to spend that COVID money, but I think spending it on the first responders and their mental health and their mental wellness is a great investment,” Big Red Barn Retreat’s Executive Director David Williams said.

According to Williams, who went through the training program himself, first responders return to their communities after Warrior PATHH stronger, and as better public servants.

“They’re going back to these organizations in a lot better place they were when they left,” he said. “So it’s helping these first responders, it’s helping these communities.”

Williams said the program should help with retention rates for police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers as well.

The program focuses on the concept of post-traumatic growth, helping attendees on their healing journey.

It starts with a 7-day residency at the Big Red Barn’s 75-acre campus. Attendees experience 52 modules of training, including workout periods, equine therapy, and an outdoor campfire setting.

The PATHH program continues with 90 days of follow-up. This period includes Zoom calls and the opportunity to connect with fellow Warrior PATHH alumni on a social media app.

“No one’s been harder impacted than first responders by COVID, whether directly responding to incidents, worried about bringing it back to their family, or indirectly,” Williams said. “You had a lot of stuff go on the last couple years that impacted first responders.”

Former law enforcement officer Robert Stevens was among the first class to partake in the program at the Big Red Barn in October of 2020.

Stevens said the program “completely” changed his perspective on life.

He said his career in law enforcement was taking a toll on him, and he went to a dark place following the death of Forest Acres police officer Greg Alia.

Recalling Greg’s widow Kassy discuss her young son in interviews, Stevens said it hit home for him, as his wife was six months pregnant at the time.

“After we had my first son, I always knew going to work I might not come home, but once I had kids that was kind of like a whole change of mindset for me, and it really caused anxiety to the point of panic attacks,” Stevens said.

Stevens found hope and purpose through the Warrior PATHH program.

“It’s brought me to a level where I went from this guy who didn’t want to leave the house, didn’t want to get in the car, didn’t want to go to the store to now I’m a leader at my church, and I’m leading a small group, and I’m teaching people how to connect and build relationships, and teaching my children how to connect and build relationships, and rebuilding the relationships that I neglected for four years while I was dealing with PTSD,” he said.

There is no other program like this for first responders, Stevens said.

Wanting to give back, he now serves as a PATHH Guide at the Big Red Barn Retreat where he leads training sessions.

This is one of nine locations across the country that offer this type of program and the only one in South Carolina, Williams said.

The Big Red Barn Retreat is also in the process of requesting ARPA funds from Richland and Lexington counties for the program.

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