Finding New Freedom in the Mountains

The Special Liberty Project offers wellness retreats to Gold Star and veteran families.

Liberty is defined as the quality or state of being free. The Special Liberty Project understands that, for veteran families, this word has specific impact. Many veterans and Gold Star families are not free from the struggles and grief of losing loved ones during or after active-duty military service. There is a place designed for them that hopes to foster a special liberty—a state of mentally being free brought about through therapeutic experiences in nature. 

This place is the Special Liberty Project, located on a farm in Franklin, North Carolina, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Special Liberty Project welcomes “the entire veteran family”—healing veterans, Gold Star spouses, and family survivors of active-duty and veteran suicides—to enjoy outdoor, educational experiences that, as their mission states, “spark true camaraderie and encourage strength, both emotionally and physically.” 

Cory and Jessica Merritt founded the Special Liberty Project in 2016 during Cory’s active-duty service. As a Navy wife with two children, Jessica developed a passion for homesteading and a love for our country’s veterans. By inviting all veteran families to their retreats, the Special Liberty Project aims to heal and support through nature-centric activities that foster camaraderie with peers who are enduring similar struggles. They also pamper family members with special retreats such as the Gold Star spouses wellness retreats, which feature guided hikes, uplifting experiences to support mental health, and herbal make-and-take gifts and artisan workshops, all while staying in a personal tent made for glamping.

A featured program pairs Gold Star kids with veteran mentors. The mentors lead the children through outdoor activities that rely on teamwork and trust, creating “a bond that is truly impactful.” Another special program is the Equine Education program, which introduces kids to horses with therapeutic horseback riding and horse care activities. These activities are designed to assist in physical and mental healing and elevate the children’s lives. “By interacting with horses in nature, children are able to strengthen emotional bonds and rebuild trust and confidence.”  

There are also virtual offerings, such as the Fun with Flutes virtual music class for Gold Star spouses. In partnership with Flutes for Vets, participants learn to play the pentatonic scale of the flute, experiencing the potentially life-changing, healing properties of music. 

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Author: Arbus

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