Special Liberty Project offers opportunities for Veterans Day

Special Liberty Project offers special Veteran’s Day-related activities, such as hiking and equine therapy.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

Franklin celebrates Veterans Day on Nov. 11 with a parade and sundry accolades, but a local organization, Special Liberty Project, with its main mission of serving veterans and their families, also has a lineup of activities. 

Special Liberty Project serves healing veterans, Gold Star spouses, and Gold Star kids, according to co-founder and director, Jessica Merritt. 

“This includes family survivors of active-duty and veteran suicides, who are welcomed and embraced just like all traditional Gold Star families,” said Merritt.

Recently, Special Liberty Project completed its seventh on-site retreat. Surrounding Veteran’s Day, much is offered, including: 

– Veterans Day Family Fun Celebration at the Farm, Nov. 11, 1-4 p.m. Veterans’ families and community patriots are invited to the Special Liberty Project retreat center and farm, where there will be lawn games, kids’ activities, pony play time, and a picnic lunch. This event is in partnership with WNC Veterans Purpose. 

– Veterans Exploring Together (VET), Nov. 13, 8-12 p.m. Interested veterans will meet at the BP gas station, 205 Sloan Rd., Franklin. The group will be hiking a section of the Bartram Trail: 4.1 mile out and back trail to William’s Pulpit.

– November SERVS – Veteran Spouse Equine Retreat, Nov. 13, 1-3 p.m. Wives of veterans have an opportunity to participate in a natural horsemanship clinic/wellness retreat series.

Plus, Merritt explained that Special Liberty Project’s miniature horses will visit the Macon County Library on Nov. 14 as an outreach event to educate and inform the community about how equine therapy can be a tool for veterans to heal and communicate. Anyone is welcome to attend.  

“The program was started by my daughter, Charlie,” said Merritt. “Our mini horses helped her during a difficult time of transition, moving across the country, leaving everything she knew behind. She knows firsthand the joy one can experience from being around horses. She loves using horses to help people and bring joy to others. The Mini Acts of Kindness Program (MAK) is a way Special Liberty Project is able to connect to veterans and veteran families who are not able to come to the farm due to various limitations.”

The Merritts, who relocated Special Liberty Project from California to Franklin in 2019, expressed appreciation for all the community support. At a recent retreat for Gold Star mothers, several local businesses offered services, including: 

­– Countryside Chevy Dealership donated a Yukon to use for the weekend so the six mothers at the retreat could travel together for functions in the region.

­– Gracious Plates on Main – hosted the women for lunch.

­– Bent Willow – provided pizzas.

­– Cindy Cavender with the Chamber of Commerce – made earrings for the mothers via her By Grace business.  

­– Carol Johnson – donated handmade fused gold stars. 

­– Honey Time’s Stacy Holden – made a sleep-better balm for the mothers.

­– Zonta’s president, Deb Williams – volunteers as a life coach. 

­– Salley DeLawter – plays dulcimer.

­– Sandy VanHorn – leads yoga.

­– Sweets Elderberry – offered nutritional mocktails. 

“It’s amazing … all the special, warm, welcoming things local people and organizations are providing for these retreats,” said Merritt. “People come to the retreats from all over the country. They are so special, and the women say they are so refreshed and they can do life again after losses.

“But Veterans Day enables us to focus on offering local individuals and families some special opportunities,” she added.

Although no more retreats are planned for 2022 at the Special Liberty Project center, they start back up in April and, importantly, Merritt said veterans’ events and activities continue locally throughout the winter. In fact, any veteran or veteran family member can contact Special Liberty Project about establishing a special event. 

For more information, call Jessica Merritt at (619) 726-9240; proof of service is required to participate in Special Liberty Project activities in the form of a DD-214 emailed to jessica@speciallibertyproject.org.