Port Clinton Park was filled with veterans, family members, supporters, music, food, activities and more on Saturday, July 19, for the River House PA fundraiser.
“We’ve been friends for 30 years and then one day we were sort of brainstorming and we thought ‘why not,’” said Elizabeth Schaeffer, co-founder of River House PA, on her friend Cindy Ross, also the co-founder of River House PA.
The goal of the organization is to help veterans and others who have been affected by trauma heal through experiences in nature. Rather than plan one trip and that be the end of the experience, Ross and Schaeffer want to help the participants continue to grow and give back to the community through volunteering and mentorships.
“We’re trying to help them find a way, not just send them on a fun trip,” said Ross, who previously worked with Warrior Hike a “walk off the war” program. “We know you can hike a long trail, but you still have to figure out life. They still have to figure out what to do with their lives after that trip.”
“We want to be the base and direct them,” said Schaeffer, who has a background in social work. “We really want them to self-direct.”
“Help them figure out the continuous layers of their life,” added Ross.
Ross and Schaeffer would like to see veterans who take part in their programs continue to come back and hope to have transitional housing in the future as well as a hostel for hikers passing through the area as the base location for the organization is Port Clinton. River House PA is not just for the veterans, but the whole family.
“We want to look at the whole family because if you have PTSD, it’s not just the veteran,” said Ross. At the first event, a Bike and Boat by Moonlight in Bethlehem, veterans as well as many wives and other family members attended.
While nature is a big part of the organization, Ross and Schaeffer want to help build a community for the veterans and have partnered with other organizations to be able to get to know the specific veteran and find what works for them as an individual not as a group. River House PA is for veterans of all wars.
“We really want to keep utilizing the community,” said Schaeffer. “We have wonderful people who volunteered to do our workshops.”
So far, the co-founders have had a number of organizations and individuals step up to offer help in a variety of ways.
“We have this phenomenal list of people that want to be a part of it,” said Ross.
“We have these key groups and it’s just everybody needing to work together,” said Schaeffer. “It’s all for the same cause.”
Some of those groups that River House PA has partnered with were at the fundraiser including Support No Stigma, Keystone Wounded Warriors, Keystone Military Family Pantry, Hike For Mental Health and Cultural Shock. Representatives from those organizations served as guest speakers throughout the afternoon.
“It is awesome that you guys have come out today to help support Cindy and Elizabeth and what they are doing here,” said Leo Walker, of Hike For Mental Health.
As for why Ross and Schaeffer picked Port Clinton as a base of the organization, they see the town has the opportunity to become a thriving trail town.
“We have the Appalachian Trail, the Schuylkill River National Heritage Trail and the bike trail,” said Ross. “So we’ve got three kinds of trails right here. We can get the veterans on the river, we can get them on the bike trail. This could be a great trail town.”
“Mainly we have the mindset that everything is here,” added Schaeffer.
“We have a lot of support in the town,” said Ross. “We don’t have a river house yet, but believe it is on the way.”
The fundraiser was a chance for veterans and the community to meet the co-founders and other organizations as well as ask questions. Currently River House PA is building up their events calendar and looking for volunteers that can offer any insight or suggestions on future trips and workshops.
“We’re getting more and more veterans coming to us,” said Schaeffer. “That’s wonderful because they’re choosing to come to us.”
For more on the River House PA, visit www.RiverHousePA.org.