Rural Missouri - May 2017 - 22

Healing
in the
Hills
Kansas City builder Orin Jackson, center, completed work earlier this year on Hickory Hills Veterans Lodge with some help from volunteers like Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Javier Sandoval, left, and
retired Army Staff Sgt. Shane Zavodny. The nonprofit offers counseling and treatment for veterans and active duty members of the military and law enforcement alongside outdoor recreation.

by Zach Smith | zsmith@ruralmissouri.coop

F

or Kansas City-based roofer and remodeler Orin Jackson, the past year
has seen a lot of hard work done and progress made on his property
near Green City. Some folks have their hobby farms and others want to
build a new house out in the country, but Orin had a different dream
in mind when he started building. Inside the 1,200 square feet that is Hickory
Hills Veterans Lodge, there's a big purpose at work.
"There's become almost a cottage industry out there of programs with activities concerning veterans," Orin says, "but none with a tangible place to receive
treatment for PTSD or deal with traumatic brain injuries or physical injuries,
which many of our nation's veterans are suffering from. And none with a place
built exclusively for this purpose - all while relaxing and enjoying life."
Since 1999, Orin has made friends with Marines and Army Reserve soldiers
working at the former Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base outside of Kansas City.
Servicemen and women were invited over to his home for Thanksgiving dinners,
and many weekend getaways on the timbered, rolling hills in Sullivan County.
Orin maintained those relationships through the years. When troops were
deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, Orin would keep in touch with them via Skype. As they returned home, he began learning about posttraumatic stress disorder, which was affecting his friends,
their fellow veterans and those working in law enforcement.
Green
"Until about two years ago, I didn't really know what
City
PTSD meant," the North Central Missouri Electric Cooperative
member says. "When I did learn what it was and how people
can get through it, I think that shed some light for me that I
had the resources to help."
According to the National Center for PTSD, spending time
in the outdoors is one way to help veterans cope with traumatic stress reactions. Since he was already bringing veterans out
to the property, Orin decided to make it official and incorporate
Hickory Hills as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The lodge also offers treatment in the
form of group counseling and addiction specialists can meet with veterans on
an individual basis. And everything is free: Orin says no veteran is charged for
their visit.
"One of the biggest challenges that face the nonprofits is that none of them
have a place like this, and sometimes the places aren't (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant," Orin adds. "Since I have 40 years of construction
knowledge, I built this place to be compliant. We can get a wheelchair anywhere
in the facility."
Having donated the 100 acres and spent the last 15 months building the
lodge with the help of a few friends, Orin estimates a small fortune has been
put into its creation. Generous donations from 35 corporations including North
Central Electric, Crowley Furniture in Kansas City and Window World of St.
Louis made materials available for building the facility. Word of the getaway
has spread in military and law enforcement circles. Orin estimates more than
100 veterans and active duty personnel have visited Hickory Hills from all corners of the U.S.
Although not a veteran himself, Orin has become a valued member of the
military family. He was inducted as an honorary member of the now-deactivated 24th Marines Regiment for his work with the veterans, including helping with the annual Toys for Tots drive organized by the U.S. Marine Corps
Reserve. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Javier Sandoval, a neighbor of Orin's, says the

22

RURAL MISSOURI | MAY 2017

builder's motives are altruistic: He just wants his guests to relax, enjoy each
other's company, have a great time and receive the help they so richly deserve.
"He's not doing it for any reason other than to give back and have a positive
influence on someone," Javier says. "For a lot of veterans, especially those who
don't have the ability to do this - or don't think they have the ability - he's
here to help them get back out and do what they love doing."
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Shane Zavodny knows firsthand the joy to be found
for veterans at Hickory Hills. The recipient of numerous decorations during his
21 years of service - including the Purple Heart - Shane was the first veteran
to visit the property after the nonprofit was founded. He hadn't been hunting
for years when a friend from church connected him with Orin. Now, Shane has
a place to get back to the woods come deer season. He's also willing to help with
the work at Hickory Hills because Orin's vision is contagious.
"What he does is totally different than any other organization," says Shane,
who suffered a mild TBI in 2011 when his Humvee was hit by indirect fire and
rolled down a mountain in Afghanistan. "He will help any veteran. Whereas
some other organizations make you meet various criteria to attend, Hickory
Hills does not."
Although not a requirement for veterans who visit the lodge, there is plenty
to do during the summer months between hunting seasons. There are trees
to thin, native seed to replant on the property's bottomland and accessible
hunting blinds to be installed. Orin says volunteers and veterans who want
to be involved in these final stages of building and ongoing maintenance
are more than welcome to lend a hand.
A difficult but important aspect of treatment for those coping with
PTSD is readjusting to civilian life. Luckily, in addition to providing
a place for outdoor recreation, Hickory Hills also connects veterans
with a built-in support network: each other. Javier says sharing a
weekend at the lodge with others who come from the same background and have similar experiences is important for a service
member who might be coming off of active duty and starting school
or a new job.
"It can be the saving grace for a lot of these veterans who can make a connection with somebody," Javier adds. "If they have another veteran there to talk
to or help them out, it can do a lot for them."
While construction has been a labor of love, the process of getting Hickory
Hills up and running is far from over. Orin continues to host veterans at the
lodge, and he's also trying to raise capital and find much needed equipment.
The yearly operating expense is estimated at between $25,000 and $35,000.
The lodge still needs three more beds and a tractor for maintenance, plus a
truck and side-by-side utility vehicle for transporting disabled veterans around
the property. To that end, Orin created a donations page on the lodge website
and a GoFundMe page to help gather contributions.
Orin takes his role as facilitator of this healing process seriously, but he
views it as small sacrifice compared to what those in military and law enforcement communities give up every day to do their jobs.
"Only through the public's support and generous donation's will be able to
fund the work and help our nation's heroes," Orin says. "Veteran's aren't looking for handouts, just a hand up. And this is what we provide at Hickory Hills."
For more information, to make a donation or to volunteer at Hickory Hills Veterans Lodge, email Orin Jackson at ojackon06@yahoo.com, call 816-729-6443 or
visit www.hickoryhillsveteranslodge.org.


http://www.hickoryhillsveteranslodge.org

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - May 2017

Contents
Rural Missouri - May 2017 - Intro
Rural Missouri - May 2017 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - May 2017 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - May 2017 - Contents
Rural Missouri - May 2017 - 4
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Rural Missouri - May 2017 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - May 2017 - Cover4
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