Special Liberty Project held its first women’s retreat

Six women who lost military spouses participated in Special Liberty Project’s first Macon County retreat.

 Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

“So, so incredible,” is how founder and CEO Jessica Merritt described the first Special Liberty Project retreat in Macon County. Six women, all based in North Carolina, attended a three-day retreat hosted in the Holly Springs cvommunity by Special Liberty Project. Each attendee shared personal stories of the loss of a military spouse due to combat, accident, or suicide. 

Permanent tents, deck platforms, and spacious tent interiors for people staying at the Special Liberty Project property in the Holly Springs are the result of numerous local volunteers.

The nonprofit was started four years ago in San Diego, Calif., by Jessica and her husband, Cory, a recently retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief involved in search and rescue. The couple saw a need to provide respites for struggling and grieving individuals and families. And, since Cory grew up enjoying outdoor pursuits like hunting, and Jessica has always had a love of nature and a passion for understanding food origins and sustainable living, they decided to offer such pursuits to at least a half dozen individuals each month at their new Franklin location.

Sally DeLawter, of Nikwasi Dulcimer Players, volunteered to provide music all three nights during the retreat.

For the past few months, local volunteers have been readying the property in preparation for the April 8-11 retreat. 

“More than 100 people have volunteered in the past few months,” said Jessica. “Meta and Tim Sadlon (Sadlon and Associates) were a huge help. Tim brought his team over to do a lot of the construction work for the tent platforms and Meta provided so many gifts for the ladies and helped so much with the final touches on the 16-by-14 foot tents. The Knights of Columbus  participated in volunteer cleanup days. And local friends, the Holden Family, Dustin, Stacy, and Maddie, helped with building and whatever was needed. Morgan and Melonie Stewart, Stewart Communications, were hard at work behind the scenes making sure everything went smoothly. And countless other local volunteers worked hard to make this retreat the best it could be.”

On the agenda for the six women, who arrived on Thursday, April 8, was a pottery workshop, dulcimer music around a campfire, journaling, hiking, yoga, equine therapy, understanding bee keeping, and more. 

“Bees were donated to the organization and we were even taught a lovely workshop on how to create a sleep-better balm using beeswax, and bee balm was given to the retreat participants,” said Jessica. “Art Room did a wonderful journaling workshop and donated art materials, Sally DeLawter provided the gift of music with her dulcimer, and Sulky of America, our corporate sponsor, gave a generous donation for a sewing workshop so there could be a take-home activity for the women to practice mindfulness.”

Because Special Liberty Project is a family affair, the couple and their twins, ages 10 years old, helped with set up and clean up, serving the women, and much more. 

“We are very thankful to live in these beautiful mountains, surrounded by supportive patriots who want to work with us to give back to families who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” expressed Cory. “We are humbled and honored by the community’s contribution to the mission.”

“The women felt comfortable and some of them told me they rested for the first time in a long time,” added Jessica. “That’s our intention with these retreats. 

“One of the rewarding aspects was that the women relaxed and felt they could share. When I first arrived at this property, I could tell it was a majestic healing space and I wanted us to share it … to offer rest, peace, and breathe. Watching that vision become reality was wonderful. And seeing the women enjoy peer support … knowing they weren’t alone, means everything. What happened at this first retreat is exactly why Special Liberty Project exists.” 

The Special Liberty Project retreats are scheduled monthly through the fall and are offered at no cost to the participants. 

“We can offer these retreats because of fundraisers and our local and national sponsors as well as regular donors,” said Jessica. “We are so appreciative.” 

The Merritts said volunteers are always needed, as well as anyone with a skill who is willing to offer a workshop during a retreat. For more information, visit speciallibertyproject.org or call (828) 222-3105.