Colorado retreat comforts military families

Heather Ehle runs Project Sanctuary, a popular and successful program for families who need to reconnect after being torn apart by war.
CBS News

(CBS News) GRANBY, Colo. - Whenever a service member is deployed, an entire family sacrifices.

But there is a place where husbands, wives and children once separated by war can learn to be a family again.

It looks like a carefree hike through the Colorado wilderness, but it is really about military families struggling with years of deployments. They're here because of Heather Ehle.

"You remove the distractions from the cell phone the TV by being out here," Ehle explained, " and it helps bring walls down."

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Bringing the walls down is exactly why Ehle started Project Sanctuary, a weeklong retreat for troops and their families.

Ehle got her first taste of how a family pays a price for military service when she was a volunteer nurse during the first war in Iraq.

"The stress of deployments, ten-and-a-half years of war, really have taken a toll," Ehle said. "A lot of these children have grown up with one parent, having birthdays by Skype. It's very difficult for them to reunite, to connect."

Staci and Ty Taylor, with daughters Kameron and Kenidi, came here from Oklahoma, where he is still being deployed as part of National Guard air crew.

For Staci, there is a comfort just from being with other military families facing the same challenges.

"We can say anything and somebody in the room is gonna know exactly what we've gone through," Staci said.

Things for Taylors were made tougher since their five-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare brain disorder.

"Our youngest, Kam, has had two brain surgeries in the last year so she's had a lot of stress in her life for a young girl," Ty said. "So this has given her a chance to play and be a kid for a change."

Besides all of the outdoor activities, there's plenty of practical learning. The program also offers classes on family finances and marriage.

One measure of Project Sanctuary's success is a waiting list of more than 1000 families. Ehle personally raises the $30 thousand to pay for the week through fundraisers and private donations, which means the families can come here for free.

Ehle said she watches the families' facial expressions to see if the program is working.

"You start seeing some smiles, you start seeing some hand holding," Ehle said. "You watch spouses support one another, and then you watch the kids mingle with each other. It becomes one big community, one big family."

What war has taken from these families, time in the Colorado Rockies can begin giving back.

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