ACA Blog

Chris Allen
Jun 22, 2011

Meet The Vine and Branch Staff

Meet The V&B Staff: what follows is a lengthy description of some fictitious Vine and Branch Staff members. I wrote these descriptions while in Afghanistan and have chosen to include them in a post today. It’s easy to use this material for today’s post, because I’ve already written everything. My goal is for the reader to get a feel for what an integrated staff will look like while I work on writing Day 3 stuff. Sometimes my writing style makes it appear that the V&B is reality already, but it’s just the way I think.

As all of you can appreciate, sometimes you must take break in studies, writing, hobbies, etc.. due to life. Times where you must put personal endeavors on hold may cause stress if you do not take these times for what they are, life.

I’m behind in writing about the Vine and Branch because for the past week our family was house hunting in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. We found a home that Jen and I both instantly fell in love with and are now in the process of planning the move, garage sales etc… We are first time homebuyers, so you can imagine all of the ups and downs faced over the last week.

Right now, Jen and our three girls are out of the house for the next couple of hours, so I have some time to compose my thoughts. All I can hear while writing at my desk is the sound of the washing machine and some classical music in the background.

With that said, what follows is a description of some fictitious Vine and Branch Staff members. I wrote these descriptions while in Afghanistan and have chosen to include them in a post today. It’s easy to use this material for today’s post, because I’ve already written it. My goal is for the reader to get a feel for what an integrated staff will look like while I work on writing Day 3 stuff. Sometimes my writing style makes it appear that the V&B is reality already, but it’s just the way I think.

Clinical Psychologist: Dr. Robinson is the V&B Staff lead. Everyone calls him “Dr. Rob” though and the shortened name fits his easygoing personality. Doctor Robinson grew up in the Midwest and loves the outdoor lifestyle. His wife and 4 kids ranging in age from eight to fifteen also enjoy the outdoors. Dr. Robinson received his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Northern Ohio (UNO) in 1994. He continued in his education, earning a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology from UNO in 1997, receiving his Ph. D in Clinical Psychology from North Eastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in 1999. Dr. Rob is also a Registered Nurse (RN).
He is also familiar with the Veterans Administration (VA) system because he worked for the VA upon graduation from Eastern Ohio University.
Having practiced in a variety of counseling settings, Dr. Rob has a passion for Veterans, Veteran’s families, community psychology, multiculturalism; strength based psychological models, community outreach and training, leadership development and supervision. He has proven skills at conducting intake clinical interviews, conducting and interpreting psychological assessments, treatment plan formulation, and recommendations. Dr. Robinson also has a strong ability to identify, define, innovate, implement, and evaluate programs and to plan and develop strategies and solutions in a complex organization like the V&B.

Psychiatrist. Dr. Fred Guilee grew up in the South East and spent 4 years in the Marine Corps as an enlisted Marine prior to attending college. Dr. Guilee has two grown children, a wife, and a passion for horses and gardening.
He provides medication prescriptions as needed to V&B Clients. When prescribing medications to our guests, his goal is to reach therapeutic levels that allow for growth and further progress as guests interact and learn from other V&B Staff Members.
Dr. Guilee received his Bachelor of Science in Pre-Med from Florida Southern College in 1975 and his Medical Degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX 1979. Fred has worked in a wide variety of settings and began his career with the Veteran’s Administration. Dr. Guilee holds a valid Psychiatry Board Certification with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Dr. Guilee has also contributed to and published several articles and books.

Counselors:
Kamiah Simms: Kamiah grew up in Jamaica and moved to the Miami, Florida with the rest of her family when she was 15 years old. Upon moving to Miami, her parents started several small businesses that rapidly became very profitable. While helping and watching her parents succeed, Kamiah developed a passion for career counseling after learning about the concept during a summer course.
Kamiah is married and has one son. She has passions for both career and marriage counseling. She is Baptist.
Kamiah Simms, LMFT, LPC, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from the University of Miami and a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Florida State University. Kamiah is a member of the American Counseling (ACA) and of the International Association of Career Management Professionals (IACMP). Many of our V&B Staff Members have the time to conduct research and write. Kamiah is no different; she is co-authoring a article that will describe the cultural affects of military family transitions from the active duty service to civilian life.
Seth Berghauer: The last place that Seth refers to as his home is Bryan College Station Texas, where he received his BA in Sociology. Prior to receiving his Masters of Arts in Counseling and eventual LPC, Seth traveled the world as part of a military family. He is Catholic and comes from a very large family. Seth has considerable experience helping people suffering from the affects of domestic violence, substance abuse, and PTSD. He has no military training, but he does have a passion for children. Seth is working towards a Registration in Play Therapy (RPT). He holds memberships with both the ACA and the Association of Play Therapy (APT).
Lisa Jennings: Lisa grew up in a small neighborhood just outside of Portland, Oregon. She left home at the age of 18 and immediately enlisted in the Army. Lisa’s parents are both diseased, and she has no other family members in her life. Lisa has a ten year old daughter who lives with her now. During Lisa’s eighth year of service, including two deployments to Afghanistan, Lisa’s husband who was also in the Army divorced her.
At the time of the divorce, both Lisa and her husband were suffering from PTSD. Facing a third deployment and unable to find care for her son, Lisa left the Army for a logistical job with a national trucking firm. Because of her military experience and two year degree in business they hired her.
Having never fully dealt emotionally with the divorce, PTSD, and under the constant pressure of being a single mother, Lisa found herself and her son homeless in Portland. Homelessness is a growing trend among female Veterans.
Lisa began her involvement with the V&B as a guest 6 years ago. One of our Best Practice Volunteers was associated with the homeless shelter Lisa and her son were currently in and referred her to V&B’s network. V&B needed a logistics Manager, and Lisa was hired for the position pretty much right away. Through daily interactions with our Staff as a regular part of her logistics job, Lisa began to develop a passion for counseling, so V&B paid for her education.
Note: We know talent when we see it, and V&B consistently encourages and resources its entire staff in furthering education, training, and publishing endeavors.
Lisa holds a BS in Business from the University of Texas and an MA in Counseling from the University of Texas. She is currently completing her hours and will fulfill LPC requirements within the next three months. Due to her background, Lisa is passionate about the homeless Veteran population.
Robert Stark: Robert married his college girlfriend while attending the University of Auburn. Addison was a member of U of A’s Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) when the two met. Upon graduation, the two were married, and Addison received her commission as a Second Lieutenant (2LT). They were married two years and stationed at Fort Benning, GA when Addison deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). While the two were in Fort Benning, Robert worked for the U.S. Fish and Game Commission because his undergraduate degree was in biology. The Starks were planning to start a family upon Addison’s return, but she was instantly killed by a sniper one week prior to her return from Afghanistan.
After a year, Robert was still working for the Commission, and his Supervisor realized that he needed some help. Robert’s supervisor was familiar with the V&B and made reservations for him. Like Lisa, Robert was a Guest first. He completed his three week vacation at the Ranch and returned to work. The visit to Vine and Branch really made an impact on his life, and for a year Robert wrestled with the thought or “calling” as he will describe it to return. There was a job opening at the Ranch for a position requiring agricultural and land management skills, so he applied and was accepted. Much like Lisa, Robert developed a passion for counseling, especially for people suffering from grief. Robert really enjoys working with the “Gardening Group” whenever possible.
Robert earned a BS from the University of Auburn and an MA from the same university. He holds his LPC and is a member of both the ACA and the American Horticulture Therapy Association (AHTA).
Mike Card: Mike is one of three Counselors on the ranch who is also a Vietnam Veteran. Mike grew up in Oklahoma City and was drafted in 1968 at the age of 18. He served for two tours and left the military in 1972. For the next thirty years, Mike served on the Oklahoma City Police Department and retired from law enforcement. While serving in law enforcement, Mike was dismayed at the number of Veterans getting into trouble. Feeling compassion for them, he worked on establishing Oklahoma City’s first Veteran’s Court. (Fictitious for Oklahoma City as of this writing, but the concept is out there.)
It was through this Veteran’s Court Program (VCP) that Mike Card first learned about the Vine and Branch. Intrigued by V&B’s web site, success stories, and mission statement, Mike volunteered to participate in the Ranch’s three week Best Practices Group. “I simply wanted to learn something about counseling so that I could pass along what I learn to these younger guys in the Department.”
“Heck, the place was so great that I ended up wanting to do counseling full time at the Ranch when I retired.”
Mike went on to retire two years later. While working full time, it took Mike eight years to earn his BS in Criminology from Oklahoma State University (OSU). Once retired, it only took Mike 3 years to complete the requirements for his MA in Counseling from OSU. V&B provided the atmosphere, supervision, and hours required to fulfill his LPC requirements. A sizeable grant from a well known Veteran’s Service Organization (VSO), is being used to fund Mike’s salary for the next 10 years. He was hired because we are currently and actively looking for Vietnam era Veterans to assist with an aging retired Veteran population and their unique needs.
Mike is married and has two grown children who are serving in the military.

Note: As part of our philosophical approach to counseling, V&B believes that service is to country significantly impacts the entire life cycle for some people, including the years following retirement or separation.

Leisure Focused Counselors (LFC’s) These Counselors are trained and certified just like the traditional Counselors above, but they focus on leading groups and or programs that are conducted outdoors.
Areas of interaction on the Ranch for LFC’s are the following: Gardening, Livestock Management, Hunting, Fishing, Cooking, Massage Therapy (specific license), and Games. LFC’s provide crucial continuity between what happens during the vacation and what happens during standard / more traditional individual and group counseling sessions. V&B Counselors are encouraged to rotate between these two areas of concentration to avoid the inevitable burn out.
Isabelle Smith: Isabelle’s fiery personality matches her red hair. Growing up in France on the outskirts of Paris, Isabelle was always getting into trouble. The third in a Catholic family of six girls, Izzie was always getting into trouble, and she seemed to have a natural talent in the kitchen. Recognizing her talents and desiring direction for their daughter’s crazy life, her parents enrolled her in the On Rue Tatin School in Louviers, France where she studied under Susan Herrmann Loomis. The school specializes in preparing top French chefs and U.S. visitors in the latest and more traditional culinary techniques. Izzie’s original goals were to find work in Paris that is until she met her current husband Dave.
Dave is also one of our LFC’s. The two met while Dave was visiting Louviers on a site seeing tour. Little did they know that Dave’s four day pass would change both of their lives forever. They dated for six months and were married and have been in the United States for over 10 years now. Isabelle has a passion and skill for interweaving her counseling skills with her cooking skills. Her group is one of the most popular with V&B guests.
Isabelle has her BS in Culinary Arts Management from the Art Institute of Washington and her MA in Counseling from Michigan State. She has her LPC and is currently co-authoring an article titled “Counseling in the Kitchen” for the American Counseling Association. Isabelle is also expecting her first child in March.
Dave Sanderson: Dave was raised as a Methodist and an only child. His parents were very wealthy, and Dave grew up attending all the best schools. Academically talented, Dave easily received an appointment to West Point, graduating in the top 10th percent of his class thirteen years ago. Upon graduating from West Point with a BS in Mechanical Engineering, Dave was commissioned as a 2LT in the Army as an Armor Officer. Like most Veterans, Dave is a natural born Leader, always prepared to meet any challenge or mission placed before him.
2LT Smith’s first duty assignment after graduating the Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox, KY was Friedberg, Germany. Barely out of college, Dave received an assignment as a Platoon Leader, responsible for the lives of 15 other men in one of the bloodiest battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Recently married to a beautiful woman, Dave was living his dream, until in an instant of torn flesh, stench smells, and curdling screams, he lost two men and both of his legs on his third and final patrol.
Dave has a passion for fishing, hunting, humor, living life to the fullest and loving people. He holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) from Michigan State and is Licensed Marriage & Family (LMFT) certified.
Eric Johnson: Eric is an avid hiker and self described “dare devil.” He came from a military family. His father served as a Special Forces Operator in the Jungles of Vietnam, and Eric followed in his father’s footsteps by enlisting in the Army, eventually being selected and trained as a Special Forces Operator too. He spent a little over nine years in the Army but realized that the lifestyle, deployments, and lack of romantic relationships simply weren’t for him. “I just wanted something different really.”
At the age of 28, Eric left the Army Special Forces community to attend college at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. As luck would have it, Eric met his now wife Rose while they earned their BA’s in Psychology. Married during their sophomore year, the two never looked back. It took them 5 years to finish their degrees and in the process had a son.
Desiring to further their educations, the Johnsons enrolled in the Lindenwood Institute in New York. Eric earned his MA in Counseling Psychology while Rose earned her MA in Industrial Psychology.
He is quiet, focused, and intense, yet retains a unique quality for being patient and understanding. Eric is a certified Marriage Family and Child Counselor (MFCC).
Alex Perez: Alex served in Vietnam from 1970-1971 as an Army helicopter pilot. Leaving the Army immediately after his first tour and taking advantage of his GI Bill benefits, Alex began attending classes at San Jose State. He will say that “making the transition was tough” but always adds with a smile that “grace got me through the bullshit.”
As the oldest of six brothers, he would often send most of his paycheck home to support his family in Mexico. The epitome of responsibility and duty to family, Alex continued to work odd jobs to send money back home to his family, even while earning his BS in Aeronautical Engineering.
Alex began his professional career flying for Delta Airlines. He easily excelled on the Boeing 707 as an Engineer, making the jump to pilot of the 707 in two years. Feeling the challenge for something different, Alex accepted an Engineer job on a 747 and four years later became a 747 pilot.
During his transition to the 747, Alex met a woman at Church named June. They were married one year later and things were going well. June worked as a School Teacher in Houston where the couple lived. They were starting to plan a family, and life was progressing quite well for Alex and June until a Saturday morning flight from Houston to Seattle changed everything.
Alex had his MA in Counseling from Texas Tech and finds great satisfaction in working with Veterans suffering from PTSD and holds numerous PTSD related certifications.
Rose Johnson: Rose has a passion for female Veterans and Servicewomen suffering from PTSD, specifically women that have served in combat, either in Iraq or Afghanistan. After enlisting in the Air Force Reserves at the age of 19, her primary job being a Logistical Support Specialist, Airmen First Class (A1C) Johnson found herself serving with a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Southern Afghanistan. On a hot summer day in July, Rose was on a convoy to a “female engagement strategy meeting.” During these meetings, Rose would meet with local women and assist the PRT’s medical team with providing care and basic medical advice. She looked forward to these kinds of missions because she was able to engage with a completely different culture, making many new friends along the way.
July 3rd’s particular convoy was supposed to be ordinary and turned out to be far from it. Twenty minutes into the convoy, A1C Johnson’s HUMMV struck an improved explosive device (IED). Rose was sitting in the back right seat of the HUMMV and lost part of her left leg in the attack. The other four crew members were killed instantly.
As Rose fought to control the bleeding with a tourniquet, the battle raged around her because the convoy was in the midst of a complex attack / ambush from both sides. For thirty minutes, the battle continued around her, so fiercely that Rose actually hoped she would succumb to her wounds. The smells of diesel and burning flesh were everywhere, coupled with the concussions of RPG and mortar rounds could be felt and hopefully forgotten. Her fiancé of two months was also killed in the attack. He was the HUMMV’s driver. She spent over a year recovering from her physical injuries and is very open with V&B’s Clients about her struggles. Her favorite possession is her cat that she named “Vandengo.” Vandengo changed her life, and she’ll tell the story if asked.
Rose has a BS from Oregon State in Nursing and her MS in Clinical Counseling. She is currently 20 hours from earning her LPC.
Cheryl Wilson: At the age of 30, Cheryl is the youngest V&B Staff Member. Growing up in Starkville, MS as the middle of three sisters, Cheryl grew up a Mississippi State “Bulldog.” Like many other freshmen in college, Cheryl had trouble figuring out what major she would choose. She likes people and decided on a BS in Industrial Psychology. Finishing in four years, Cheryl’s first job directly after graduating from MSU was working for a major road construction firm where she had interned the year prior to graduation.
Working for the firm of Holtz & Smith was great for about the first six months, and then like a lot of us do when first starting out lives, Cheryl realized that she didn’t like being an Industrial Psychologist at all. Assessments, numbers, studying patterns, and making recommendations were not exciting to her. She saw the value in what she was doing, just not enjoying it.
Cheryl did notice that she seemed to have a fondness for working with Veterans, a population that her company actively recruits and retains. In fact, the retention of Veteran is a top priority for her company. When interviewing Veterans for potential employment or while conducting interviews with employees leaving the company, Cheryl felt a connection to the Veteran experience. “I was called to work with these guys” she’ll tell you.
Holtz & Smith Construction has a partnership with the V&B. Cheryl heard about this partnership and asked to volunteer as part of V&B’s three week Best Practice Group. Holtz & Smith agreed to send Cheryl to the Ranch and the rest is history.
Cheryl has a passion for outdoor living, loves horses, and is completing a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) this fall at Texas A&M.
Adam Spafford: If you ask Adam how he describes himself, he will say that “I’m pretty much classic ‘LT Dan’ from Forrest Gump, ‘ya know, the guy with no legs.’ It’s a pretty good icebreaker for Adam. He doesn’t say much about his Vietnam experience, preferring to spend more time talking about what his life was like after.
After spending 1969 in a VA hospital and rehabilitation center, Adam ended up bouncing between halfway houses, homeless shelters, and his parent’s home in Lancing, Michigan for about three years. “I was angry at the world and couldn’t figure out why my life turned out the way it did. I drank way too much and hurt too many people, especially my family. I had this out of control sense of entitlement, like someone always owed me something.”
“The turning point came for me on a rainy night in November. You see, my parents had four other kids in the house to raise, so I know what I did must have been tough for mom and dad. Well, one night over dinner, I was intoxicated as usual and acted like a total ass to mom. I can’t remember what I said exactly, but I remember what happened next; it only took a second. Dad, a former linebacker for Michigan State and retired Army Colonel, jerked my ass up so fast from the dinner table that I didn’t have time to swallow mom’s stuffing. Dad used to laugh about the scene calling it ‘tough love,’ and it was.”
“Like he was throwing a sack of potatoes, dad tossed me into the front yard, my clothes and one of my legs quickly following. My temporary residence was now the family shed: awake, cold, wet, and alone with my thoughts that evening, I finally came to the realization that I’d really been an ass and was wasting my life in bitterness. For the first time in years, I felt a deep sense of remorse for everyone I had hurt since coming home. Dad throwing me out that night was life changing; it straightened me out.”
Adam is retired from the ranching business and is independently wealthy. He uses his success story as he challenges V&B’s Guests to excel
Adam has a BS in Agricultural Business and an MA in Counseling from the University of Texas. He received his MA and required LPC hours after being hired to manage V&B’s cattle and poultry operations.
Social Workers / Follow-on Care Planners: These Staff Members focus on securing follow-on care after V&B Clients complete their vacations. V&B’s Follow on Care Planners will work with local counseling agencies and Churches to provide / facilitate resources back at home. Working tirelessly to secure services back at home for our Guests, they all have experience and a passion for vocational rehabilitation. These people truly do not take “no” for an answer. Our Follow on Care Planners will also serve as recruiting / screening agents for our Best Practice Members described below.
Frank Maynard: After receiving a BA in Social Work from Texas A&M University, Frank’s initial job was with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. As a Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist, Frank developed a passion for helping people who suffered from life altering injuries or illnesses, and he thrived on coordinating and providing life changing interventions for people.
Frank particularly enjoyed working with disabled Veterans by coordinating for treatment services. He also liked helping disabled Veterans find meaningful employment. He will tell you that “there are generally two types of Veterans that I work with. The first, feels sorry for himself and the second doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” Frank enjoyed watching Veterans transform themselves from the first type into the second. “They just need to be empowered and see beyond the injuries. All of them joined the Military with specific goals in mind, and at V&B I get to put them in touch with the resources to achieve goals. Working with Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Veterans, and their families is totally infectious. They make me want to work harder for them.”
Frank recently completed his MSW from the University of Texas and has almost completed his licensure requirements for the State of Texas.
Linda Daly: After receiving a BA in Social Work from Texas A&M University, Linda’s initial job was with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. As you may have guessed, Frank and Linda met at A&M. The two are getting married in three months after dating for five years.
Linda has a passion for rehabilitation involving children and developed her passion for working with children at an early age. One of Linda’s sisters was born with Down’s Syndrome. And while growing up, Linda watched the difficulties her parents went through to get her older sister the care and support she needed. She felt love and compassion for her sister and parents, resolving to help others in similar situations.
Linda caught Frank’s passion for Veterans, especially when noticing that Veteran families are often strained because of constant moves. Even worse, she noticed that families of Veterans often had a difficult time wading through the endless paperwork involved with getting children of Veterans timely and quality early intervention care. Like Frank, Linda has her MSW from Texas A&M and is completing licensure requirements for the State of Texas.
Lucinda Sanders: Lucinda was initially introduced to the V&B while staying in a homeless shelter for women Veterans. She enlisted as a Transportation Specialist in the Army at the age of 18 for a three year term in order to pay for college. During her first year in the Army, Lucinda met a fellow Army Private and the two married when they realized that Lucinda was pregnant, and a year later they were divorced.
After Lucinda’s first year in the Army, she was transferred from Korea to Fort Benning, GA where she was immediately deployed to Iraq, having to leave her six month old son in the care of her mother back in Idaho.
Her deployment was scheduled to last a year but ended after seven months un-expectedly because Lucinda was the victim of sexual assault by one of her supervisors. Her view of the Army and of herself was shattered in the aftermath. Unlike many women, Lucinda chose to report the assault. Noticing that she was severely traumatized and suffering from severe PTSD, Lucinda was sent back to Fort Benning, GA.
Instead of recovering, even after receiving the best psychological and medical care the Army could provide, Lucinda asked for and was granted a release from her active duty commitment. She desperately tried to put the past and the unfairness of it behind her, numbing her feelings with alcohol and drugs. Lucinda’s mother, realizing that her daughter was suffering and yet refusing help, retained custody of Lucinda’s son.
“My life continued to spiral out of control until a local church picked me up off of the street. First Presbyterian saved my life and got me enrolled in Covenant House. It’s a house for homeless women Veterans like I was. I needed more than just job skills, resume skills, and a place to live. I needed some serious counseling and people around who loved me for me. When Covenant sent me too V&B, I couldn’t believe what happened!“
Lucinda has a BS in Social work from the University of Idaho and her MA in Counseling from Covenant Theological in St. Louis, MO. She has her LPC and specializes in PTSD related to sexual trauma. She has a passion for helping both women military members and Veterans.
Erica Huckleberry: Erica began her involvement with Veterans by starting her career working with the VA. As part of her internship for her BA in Psychology from Mississippi State University (MSU), Erica worked under the supervision of VA Staff at the Jackson VA Hospital. She continued on to earn her MS in Clinical Psychotherapy and was eventually hired on to work at the Jackson hospital. Erica is currently pursuing her PhD in Clinical Psychotherapy from the University of Mississippi, and V&B is assisting her during the process.
Erica shows exceptional leadership potential and V&B is considering hiring her to lead the next V&B site treatment team. She is working with the Social Worker Staff in order to become familiar with V&B’s week three transitional / termination focus and methods.
Erica loves the outdoors and really enjoys making people comfortable.
Faiccos Cox: One of the funniest guys you will ever meet is Faiccos “the butcher.” Faiccos grew up in Brooklyn, NY and owned one of the most well known Italian Pork Stores in Brooklyn. His father Faiccos and his grandfather, also with the same name, owned this store just off of East Second Street.
Twelve years ago, Faiccos’ first son Faiccos the IV enlisted in the Air Force as a Combat Forward Air Control Specialist, breaking tradition of the first born son owning and managing the butcher shop. “I wasn’t happy with my son’s decision but as his father I knew that he always had a fascination with the military and with planes. I understood that if I had tried to intervene, I would have pushed my boy away, so I supported his decision. Besides, I had plenty of other kids who wanted to run the business.”
Three months into his son’s enlistment, Faiccos’ son was critically injured in a non-combat related helicopter crash while on a training mission in Arizona. After a stay at Walter Reed, his son was sent to the Stratton, VA Medical Center in New York, a three hour drive from the butcher shop. Faiccos’ son’s injuries were so extensive that the prognosis for living was not very high. “I was glad that they could send my boy to the Stratton Center because the family could see him more easily.”
So for a month, Faiccos stayed at the Stratton Fisher House, directly across from the VA Medical Center. “The people at the Fisher House were great, and the place was so nice. There were volunteers to help and take care of us, really good people. I got into the habit of bringing meat from the shop almost every day to the people staying at Fisher House. Seeing people smile when I brought food or cooked in the house’s kitchen for them was the best part of my day. When I found out that my little Faiccos wasn’t going to make it because of an infection, I had some really nice people to talk to. There were parents and wives at the Fisher House going through similar things, and I felt like I was a part of another family.”
“As luck would have it, Fisher House had a volunteer working there who knew about V&B because she served for 3 weeks on our Best Practice Team. She could see that my wife Dianna and I were having a tough time with the loss of Faiccos and recommend that we check out V&B, so we did.” The transition from butcher shop owner to social work was interesting for Faiccos, but he loves sharing the story over a cup of coffee or out on the farm. His favorite saying is that “I’m having the best retirement ever.”
Faiccos has his BA in Social Work from Baylor University and is completing requirements for his MSW from Baylor as well.
Trip Planners / Facilitators (TPF’s): V&B Trip Planners / Facilitators partner with designated counselors to provide continuity of care throughout a guest’s experience. These individuals are basically guides for our guests and ensure that they have a truly wonderful vacation. While also ensuring our guests have a great time, they also assist our Counselors and Social Workers with providing valuable feedback about a client’s progress. We call it “counseling in the gap.” Guests are aware and agree to these behind the scenes interactions with their Counselors.
Our Trip Planners / Facilitators are generally not trained Counselors or Social Workers. Instead, they are likely exploring careers in Counseling, Social Work, or Psychology. All have a passion for Veterans or are Veterans themselves.
The TPF Program is highly competitive among individuals interested in working with the Veteran and Family population. There are many reasons for this. First, the Staff and Board of Directors have a passion for developing our TPF’s. Secondly, V&B ensures TPF’s are well paid and educated in the specific treatment fields that they are best suited for. Third and most importantly, TPF’s are drawn to V&B’s nurturing atmosphere, an experience that makes them feel like they are a respected and cared for member of the team / family. The ranch and vacation lifestyle are also great fringe benefits as well.
Mel Sanders: Mel is originally from Orlando, Florida where he grew up working in the tourism industry at an early age. He started off in the restaurant industry at the age of 15 working as a dishwasher. Instead of playing sports, Mel was helping support himself, his mother, and his three younger sisters. Mel’s father died when he was 10 years old due to complications from alcoholism. His father was a Vietnam Veteran that never received the help he needed.
As the oldest sibling in the family, Mel naturally assumed the role of father to his younger sisters. Throughout the years, managers noticed that Mel was very smart and responsible, so he steadily increased in knowledge, taking managerial classes after high school at Valencia Community College. At the age of 22, Mel was the Assistant Store Manager for a well known seafood restaurant chain. By the age of 25, he was promoted to Restaurant Manager with the same company. By the age of 30, Mel was promoted to Regional Manager and had earned his BS in Business Management. At 35 the company Mel worked for asked him to become their management talent scout and portfolio manager.
Always looking “outside the box” for new talent and improvement of his own skills, Mel accepted an invitation to work with V&B’s Best Practice Group for three weeks. His company sends Veteran employees all of the time and is a well established partner with V&B. In fact, Mel is the third individual from his company to work as a member of V&B’s Best Practice Group, and the company’s Veteran retention numbers have skyrocketed over the past four years.
About six months ago, Mel returned to the V&B in order to participate in V&B’s year long TPF Program. His company is planning a move into the hotel market in the near future and would like broaden Mel’s portfolio.
Mel will tell you that “I’m really enjoying my time. I learn so much. Not just about the business side of things, but I’m learning a lot about my past and my dad. I never want the next six months to end, but I know that I will look at Veterans differently from now on.”
Brian Smith and Irene Smith: Until six months ago, Brian and his wife worked for the City of Ardian, Minnesota. Brian worked as a school Guidance Counselor and his wife Irene was a school teacher. Both are Veterans and took advantage of GI educational benefits and the military’s Troops to Teachers Program after leaving the military. For three years, the Smiths worked for the Adrian County School System. The work was rewarding but like many of us, the Smiths wanted more from their careers and became restless. Simply quitting work to totally change career paths was out of the question, considering their first child is not even one years old
It just so happened that one day last fall, Irene heard about V&B’s TPF Program from a friend of hers. So, with her interest perked, Irene decided to check out V&B’s web site link to the TPF Program. On a whim, the Smiths filled out the applications to become part of the program for a year. The salary was good, housing was free, they would live in the country, and there was a great benefit package. “What excited me the most about V&B are the people” says Irene. “Everyone at the Ranch treats us like family, and the atmosphere here is so indescribably wonderful.”
Greg Allen: Greg is an Architect from Bangor, Maine. He is highly educated, receiving his BS in Architectural Engineering from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and his MA in Engineering Design from Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Widowed eight years ago because his wife died from cancer, Greg poured his efforts and talents into his work to escape grief. Instead of giving up on work, he became a self admitted “workaholic.” Designing some very large projects made him independently wealthy, yet Greg will tell you that “I still felt like I was missing something. I was at the top of my career field but wanted more. My Counselor at the time helped me see that I needed go “let go” of some things and to experience my pain and brokenness for what it was.”
Greg believes that God has given him talents so “I decided to use them for something differently.” “I had enough money to live three times over and maybe even a fourth if that were possible. I found out from Janette, my counselor, about how V&B was actively looking for an architect to design the next V&B Ranch. I didn’t know much about Veterans and had never really met very many of them, and yet I was intrigued by the thought. I had no counseling experience at all, but I’m learning through the TPF Program that working with Veterans is interesting stuff. I’ve never been a ‘touchy feely’ sort of guy, but the experience working as a TPF this year will help me design a better ranch in the next two years.”
Jennifer McGown: Up until three months ago, Jen was working for Military Community Youth Ministries, a non for profit organization that reaches out to military teenagers. Receiving her BA in Sociology from Texas A&M University, Jen was a natural Community Leader and friend to the military teenagers she had a passion for. She enjoyed putting on programs and the relational ministry with both military kids and their families. She was heavily tied into the community of Wurzburg, Germany and immersed herself into military culture for over 3 years.

Jen heard about V&B from a Chaplain she knew and decided to apply to V&B’s TPF Program. She has a passion for Veterans and their families and is also seriously considering pursuing a career in the Counseling profession. “I’m hoping my year here at V&B will help me figure out if Counseling is something I really want to do. I like working for V&B because the job is fantastic, and I have the opportunity to see so many different aspects of Veteran and family care. The Staff treat me as an equal, and I’m learning so much from them.”

Best Practice Members. Best Practice Members provide a number functions during their 3 week stay on the ranch. First, they bring a continuous fresh perspective to guests and staff during their visits. Because our Best Practice Group Members are leaders in V&B’s “key partnership areas” of the Church, Healthcare, and Civilian Industry, these men and women will gain valuable insights into Veteran and Family care. They will professionally develop themselves in various ways, bringing wide ranging benefits to the functional areas they represent and to Veterans and Family members they interact with outside of the V&B Ranch. Most importantly, they will be familiar and better equipped to interact with another culture. Like every V&B Staff Member, Best Practice Members have submitted to a previous background check and adhere to required confidentiality agreements mandated by local and State laws, and relevant accrediting agencies.



Chris Allen is a counselor and an Army Officer just returning from Afghanistan. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.

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