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The Bull Run Warrior Retreat set to expand its Haymarket campus

Larry Zillox created the culinary visitors program at the Bull Run Warrior Retreat .

Near the base of the Bull Run Mountain, a favorite retreat for wounded warriors is expanding.

A $300,000 donation from the Pen Fed Foundation will allow the charity “Serve Our Willing Warriors” to build a second, cottage-style home on the 37-acre property in Haymarket called the Bull Run Warrior Retreat.

Construction on the new structure will begin next month and should be complete by next summer.

It will sit next to a massive 11,000 square foot, single family home where each week a wounded military serviceman or woman, their families, or friends, come to stay or escape from the doldrums of a life in the recovery wards at Walter Reed or Fort Belvoir hospitals.

The new home will accommodate up to 10 people and is one of three new cottages planned on the property. The charity was founded in 2012 and is now feeling growing pains, and is in desperate need of people to volunteer to care for those suffering from PTSD, and from the loss of limbs.

“This house does not drive itself. I need people to cut grass. I need people to volunteer. I need people to be ambassadors,” said Serve Our Willing Warriors Executive Director Jeffery Sapp.

Serve Our Willing Warriors Executive Director Jeffery Sapp speaks with business and government leaders about the work done by the charity.

Many suffer from depression and have suicidal thoughts

The charity invited business owners, and government employees for the tour of the facility on Nov. 2. They got an earful about what the organization does to serve the military members on and their families who come here.

All combat veterans, many suffer from depression and have suicidal thoughts. Others have returned home to find their marriages on the edge of ruin and then decided to come to the retreat.

“When they come here that gives them a chance to do normal things,” said Sapp.

Those ordinary things can be something as simple as cooking a meal or eat together as a family. Spend time outdoors on a walking path, or sit together on a leather sectional sofa to watch a movie.

“We can get them on to their lives, and to the lives, they want to live and stop thinking dark thoughts, and we do it in six days,” added Sapp, who credited the retreat for helping to save the marriages of at least eight service members on their spouses.

A view of one of the master bedrooms in the warrior retreat.

A massive retreat 

The warriors check on Friday morning, where they find a freshly clean and sterilized house fit for any family. There’s a large kitchen and dining area upstairs, complete with master bedrooms, and smaller children rooms.

The downstairs has a library, game room, and family room complete with entertainment center and a small kitchen. The warrior’s favorite dessert is waiting for them when they arrive, and an executive chef comes on Sunday nights to prepare a culinary delight for the visiting family.

For weeks leading up to the visit, the charity’s staff work with their soon-to-be guests to find out about their interests, and about what activities they want to do when they arrive. For many, it’s to sit and enjoy peace quietly.

The bathrooms are all handicapped accessible, and the showers large. Outdoors, the large firepit, patio, and deck are all surrounded by woodland views and Bull Run Mountain.

A view of the warrior retreat.

‘It wasn’t as easy as that’

It takes about 20 people to run the warrior retreat, to serve the current guests, and on Thursdays prepare the house for new visitors. There’s a waiting list of about 100 people who wish to someday visit the retreat.

All visitors must be cleared by their doctor to leave Walter Reed or Fort Belvoir to make the trip to Haymarket. This usually means having the right medications prepared, and any necessary medical equipment packed and ready to go with them.

Over the years, the center’s staff had to learn who was eligible to visit the retreat and who wasn’t. As it turns out, federal regulations allow a combat wounded veteran can accept nearly any form of charity, but it’s not the same for those who weren’t injured in war.

“When we started, we had the mentality that “if you build it they will come.” It wasn’t as easy as that,” said Larry Zillox, who sits on the charity’s Board of Directors.

Serve Our Willing Warriors, like any other business or organization, had to put in years to build relationships with the military, and medical providers to convince them of the healing powers of the retreat. Today, those visitors are the greatest advertising for the retreat.

“When they get back to the hospital, they’re telling everyone about us,’ said Sapp.

The charity was founded in 2006 over the course of 40 days when members began visiting wounded warriors in hospitals with the hopes of brightening their days. After 40 days, they kept doing it.

The warrior retreat is valued at nearly $1 million and was purchased by the charity in 2013. More than $1.2 million in donated materials and labor helped to turn the dilapidated, 40-year-old home that today, really is a shining at the base of a mountain.

The patio of the warrior retreat.

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