Bison Peak Lodge in Lake George teamed with Challenge America’s music therapy program for service members and veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Over the weekend of Oct. 3 through 6, 14 veterans, six song writers, seven music instructors, and three volunteers from Challenge America enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of Bison Peak Lodge at Puma Hills with their hosts John and Lily Kessel, all free of charge.
Challenge America is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit out of Balsalt, Colo., who has made it their mission to connect service members, veterans and their families to resources and solutions that build community and give purpose to their lives.
By leveraging technology, creative arts and community solidarity, they challenge America to think differently about how we serve our military. The music therapy program was launched in Nashville in 2016 at the family farm of county and western stars Vince Gill and Amy Grant. They have presented the program in Cleveland, and now in Colorado.
“As a Colorado-based national nonprofit, we are thrilled to introduce this successful music therapy program in our home state, where we can serve the deserving veterans who live in our local communities,” said Dallas Blaney, executive director of Challenge America.
“We are incredibly grateful to the amazing folks at Bison Peak Lodge for donating the space for this program and look forward to building on this relationship to serve many more veterans in the coming years.”
The music therapy program was directed by Susan Bock, board certified music therapist from Peoria, Ill.
“Music uses the whole brain; it levels the brain and builds focus and is effective in reducing depression symptoms and improving health-related quality of life,” Bock explained.
Each veteran was teamed with a music instructor and song writer, and given a specially decorated guitar provided by the Heartstrings Foundation. Various sessions were held to define PTSD and traumatic brain injury, needs of veterans with discussions and idea sharing, and how music therapy works.
Teresa Howef, a retired veteran of the National Guard, served for 21 years. She was deployed to Kuwait in 2004 and retired in 2007. She noticed something was wrong during her deployment due to the stresses of war and was diagnosed with PTSD in 2009.
In 2015, she was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis, which was brought on through the PTSD. Howef now lives in Julesburg, Colo., with her husband and service dog and came to Bison Peak with an open heart and found the program inspiring and something she wants to continue.
“Managing the MS and PTSD is what I have to live life with and I am trying to make friends with it to work through it,” Howef reflected.
She feels her experience during the weekend was calming and will help her deal with her life. She also remarked that she was thrilled the system worked and she was given the information about the program way out in Sedgewick County by the Veteran’s Service Office.
Ross Kohlman lives in Denver and was originally from Houston, Texas. Kohlman served in the Army for five years as a combat engineer. He served 15 months in Iraq and got out of the service in 2010. He struggled and needed help to decompress and vent.
When he heard of this program, he was somewhat reluctant, but since he had played trumpet, could read music, and two others he knew were coming, he thought he’d give it a try.
“I didn’t know what quite to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised,” Kohlman remarked.
He said he has been going to counseling and has a service dog, which has enabled him to go back to school. Kohlman attends the University of Colorado in Denver studying architecture. He said his experience over the weekend “has been calming and rewarding. It’s a very good program and would highly recommend others to attend,” Kohlman remarked.
On Sunday, for the conclusion of the program, the participants, accompanied by their song writers and instructors, performed a concert of songs they had composed over the weekend for family and guests. The songs were emotional and reflected each veteran’s own experiences and feelings. It was a cool Colorado evening, but the warmth, encouragement and achievements warmed you from the inside out.
John and Lily Kessel purchased Bison Peak Lodge at Puma Hills a year and a half ago with the intention of being able to provide a special retreat for veterans and first responders. Bison Peak is open year around to everyone and offers a variety of camping opportunities.
They have tipis, Conestoga wagons, tree tents, cabins, and the lodge. Bison Peak Lodge at Puma Hills is located on County Road 77 just four miles from Tarryall Reservoir.
“Lily and I were thrilled to have this opportunity to serve those who served and are looking forward to more in the future,” John Kessel said.