Project Sanctuary helping Texas vets, their families

Contributed. Military families unwind at The Retreat at Balcones Springs near Smithwick as part of the Project Sanctuary program.

By Emily Hilley-Sierzchula

When people think about the men and women serving in the military, it’s easy to forget their families are also serving, just in different ways. That’s one reason why Project Sanctuary holds 6-day retreats for military families to go from “battle ready to family ready.” One of the wilderness retreats is right in the heart of the Hill Country, at The Retreat at Balcones Springs outside Smithwick (near Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge).

Eight Project Sanctuary families just finished a retreat during the week of March 12-17 and eight more families are getting ready for the second next week, from March 20-25. The Retreat at Balcones Springs will see veterans and families again for two more retreats in October.

The retreats are the start of a 2-year therapeutic program of healing the effects of war and reintegration into the family. Most retreats, which cost nothing to the families, average between 8 and 15 families that stay at the retreat location. “It lets them get unplugged from the rest of the world while they reconnect with their families,” said Shari Kingston Adams, Project Sanctuary spokeswoman. “It’s often the first time in a long time since they’ve been able to do that.”

Project Sanctuary is different from other nonprofits helping only the veteran or service member. “When a service member has 8 deployments in 5 years, the family endures a lot and there are many side effects,” Adams said.

For some families, the retreats are last-ditch efforts to save marriages suffering from emotional and financial strain. “Family members often don’t know how to help but the whole family has to be part of the healing process,” Adams said.

At retreats, “recreational therapy” activities help vets and families “be at ease and just have fun,” Adams said. “It often takes a few days to decompress because they’re emotionally wound up.”

Families relax with woodworking, horseback riding, spending time at the lake swimming and kayaking, game night, family kickball parties, karaoke, and “Hero’s Night Out” (which gives parents a night to themselves while kids enjoy pizza and a movie).

For more on this story, see The Highlander on Friday, March 18. 

For more information about the organization, visit

To volunteer, click on the “get involved” tab on the Project Sanctuary website, or email  

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (3 votes)