Recreational camp in Hardenville provides retreat for ‘warriors’
Tucked away down County Road 519A in Hardenville, a quiet project is coming to life that is sure to make a big impact on veteran and first responder communities.
Donna Nasr, founder and president of the Warriors2US Foundation, has started building a recreational camp aimed at providing veterans and first responders with a quiet place to retreat, relax and transition themselves back to civilian life. Nasr and her business associate, Josh Shoaff, former law enforcement officer and Army SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) school contractor, worked all last summer to establish the organization, dig the building’s foundation and remodel the main house for the project. Many people from around the country have come to volunteer their time to be a part of the worthy effort. Nasr’s brother Dominic Brezo is in the US Navy and will be working with her to promote the facility through veteran channels.
The camp currently provides 183 contiguous acres of land to be utilized by veterans and first responders for a variety of recreational activities. The 2,800-square-foot barracks lodge and a 2,060-square-foot home are also available on the property. The guests will be able to stay and take advantage of the Warriors2US camp free of charge for a week’s stay.
A special Hardenville property
Nasr, an Orlando, Florida, resident, began looking for rural property to purchase in 2009 for her own recreational and vacation use.
“I had absolutely no ties to the area. I found the property on the internet when I was looking for somewhere to hunt and fish, which I love to do,” Nasr said. “I wanted something with an abundance of natural resources, good clean water sources, and a good value for the money, as far as buying acreage. I found that here.”
Nasr fell in love with a native-stone octagon-shaped home along with the 28 acres nestled in the rolling Ozark County hills it was nestled in through an online ad. The home, located in Hardenville, was being sold by Bill and Nancy McConkey, who had built the unique, open-floor plan structure as their dream retirement home in 2005. While building the home, Bill suffered a heart attack that eventually caused the McConkeys to put the home up for sale so they could relocate closer to family.
“Bill struggled deeply with selling the property because his blood, sweat and tears went into building their dream retirement home,” Nasr said. “He couldn’t even be around when people would come see the house because he was so emotionally upset about having to sell it.”
Nasr purchased the property in 2009 and cherishes the home and land as much as the McConkeys had. She’s also purchased 155 additional adjoining acres from various neighbors, like Calvin, since buying the home.
What she also found in Hardenville was a lot of wonderful people she considers her family. The Strong and Riley families have been near and dear to her since they met as neighbors in 2010. They adopted each other as family and have cared for one another as family ever since. Nasr credits the progress of the 2,800-square-foot barracks to Jeff Riley and Bryan Campbell, saying, “The building would not be where it is today if it were not for their tireless efforts.” Nasr is very grateful for all they has done.
Several volunteers have come from Oklahoma to Maryland, Texas to Illinois and many states in between, Nasr said. However, almost all of the materials and skilled labor on the construction project has come from local resources and has been funded by Nasr personally.
Once the building is complete, donations will be necessary to fund the operation of the Warriors2US camp facility. Fundraisers are planned locally as well as nationally through military channels. The mission of Warriors2US Foundation is to keep American families, who protect and serve our country, together and ultimately reduce the veteran and first responder suicide rate, Nasr said.
The property to be used by the Warriors2US Foundation provides a quiet and serene getaway from her busy life in Orlando. While in Florida, Nasr currently serves as the director of Strategic Business and Proposal Operations for the technology company Riptide Software, an intense and fast-paced position. Prior to being at Riptide, she spent 14 years managing multi-million, sometimes multi-billion, dollar bid and proposal efforts within multiple federal government contractors. Her work was generally focused on bidding on simulation training contracts to support soldiers/warfighters.
“It could be a Marine Corps operation job where we’re trying to build training modules from helicopters. So, we were contracted to build a trainer where they can shoot out of the windows, sides, rear, of different configurations of helicopters, or it’s teaching the guys how to operate the various stations of a tank, or it’s teaching them how to fly an aircraft… whatever it is, we build the components to recreate a life-like experience so it’s effective training for our soldiers - or warriors - before they go into combat.”
Nasr said sometimes the “trainers” built by the team are as large as a house; other times the trainer is built within a tractor trailer. Whatever the contracting job, the company’s primary goal is to make the experience as realistic as possible.
“We want it to be realistic so that when you’re inside, you’re basically immersed. There will be wind, there will be sound, there will be vibration - rocking and shaking - so you get the actual essence of being in an aircraft or tank,” Nasr said. “For it to be effective training, they want it to be as life-like as possible. So, you need to be immersed into an environment like that and have that fear factor and adrenaline going on.”
An ‘Aha! moment
In order for Nasr and her team to build such a realistic experience, they rely on the expertise of those who know the real-life conditions of war-time locations better than anyone else, active and retired veterans who have experienced it firsthand.
“When we work on proposals, we’re all sitting in a room together. There are all the proposal documents, everyone brings their laptop and we’re working around a conference room table,” Nasr said. “You end up getting to be good friends with everyone who is on the proposal team because you are kind of sequestered into the room while you work - sometimes months at a time. So you learn more about people than you ordinarily would at work, right? And some people fly in because it’s a special mission kind of thing.”
It was during this work that Nasr said she was confronted time and time again with a gaping need within the military community.
In light of the nature of the close-knit proposal teams, the military subject matter experts often share experiences from their personal lives after they’ve left the military or to return home for a visit.
“I’ve gotten to meet a number of people, and all of their stories are similar, saying they come back and a lot of times their family falls apart,” Nasr said. “Or they come back and they can’t talk about what took place in their experiences with the military… and not the security, private aspect of it, not the parts they literally are not allowed to talk about. It’s the times when they say they can’t talk about their experiences with their family because whenever they do, they look back and see horrified looks on their faces. Or they tell them, ‘All right already. You’re home. Stop talking about it. I’m sick and tired of hearing about this stuff.’”
At the same time, Nasr said she became more aware of the increase in the veteran suicide rate, a number that climbed from 22 veteran suicide deaths a day to 25 veterans a day in 2018.
“What most people don’t realize is that almost every person who goes into the military, they leave home with their core family as their center safety space - inside their heart, inside their head. They go into the service and are broken down and taught to be that soldier, that warfighter. But that doesn’t take away that core heart and mind center that they’re always trying to get back to. It keeps them stable… it keeps all of us stable,” Nasr said.
“So when they come back and realize their family isn’t theirs anymore, or that they don’t have access to their children because their spouse is using PTSD as a weapon against them to get custody of their children, it’s a kind of bedrock element that is shaken inside of them. The mind-shattering effects of this stuff is partially the cause of the 25-a-day [veteran] suicide rate that’s going on,” she said.
Nasr felt a need to try to do something to help, but in the beginning, she wasn’t sure what to do.
“Then I just kind of had this ‘Aha!’ moment,” she said. “I mean, I have all this land that I rarely get out to see. I should do something with it.”
The idea for the Warriors2US camp was born.
The camp now aims at providing a place to serve the people who serve the rest of us.
“Our facility provides a recreational working camp for those who need occasional camaraderie, which helps to minimize stress and environmental conflict issues. Warriors2US is a place to find either an adrenaline rush and/or a space of peace in a non-clinical therapeutic environment at no initial cost to American Warrior guests,” the website says.
Guests can include active-duty service members, honorably/medically discharged veterans, law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical service personnel, emergency room staff and select and scheduled family and friends.
Building the barracks
Nasr, with a range of volunteers and local contractors, began clearing the land and building the large barracks structure in May.
The building is still under construction now, with an estimated completion date of summer 2020. A Warriors2US open house is tentatively scheduled for July 2020.
Nasr says the building team recently put up all the drywall, and they’ve nearly finished mudding and taping all of the walls within the structure.
“So, by Thanksgiving we’ll be ready to paint,” she said.
The first floor of the barracks will include a handicap accessible bedroom and double shower bay, giving handicapped guests who need assistance a place to shower.
“Initially we won’t be able to host severely handicapped veterans, mostly due to the rugged terrain outside,” Nasr said. “After we adjust the landscape some and get all the earth leveled out, it’ll be more accessible to those with more challenging handicaps.”
A space under a staircase leading to the second floor is being designed as a reading nook, Nasr says.
The first-floor handicap space has a doorway leading to an enclosed garage/workshop.
“It’ll be an area for people who want to work on things or build things,” Nasr said. “It’ll be finished off so it’s nice and toasty in the winter and cool in the summer. We wanted to make sure people had a place to do activities in a comfortable environment inside instead of being outside in the weather.”
The staircase leads upstairs to a large open lounge area that can be utilized for watching TV or visiting, or it can be transitioned into a meeting/classroom area for trainings and events.
“We would like to host things like resume-writing trainings for veterans or survival skill classes,” Nasr said. “We could also host veteran and first responder events here. There is a lot of possibility.”
The second floor will feature a full kitchen, where guests can prepare meals together, and three bedrooms with bunk beds. Two smaller bedrooms will feature two sets of bunk beds to sleep four guests, and the larger room will feature five sets of bunk beds where 10 guests can sleep comfortably.
A second-level bathroom will be available for guests who stay upstairs, along with a large storage closet that will include store linens, big pots and pans and other amenities for guests.
At the far end of the second floor, sliding glass doors open to a deck that spans the length of the building and provides a serene view of the nearby forest. Nasr says she plans to have a USMC veteran woodcarver carve a tree that is visible from the porch into a battlefield cross “ to commemorate all who have not come back.”
The octagon house on the property will mostly be used as Nasr’s personal space, but she said she’ll likely host dinners at the home throughout the year.
The lower level of the home includes a newly remodeled walk-out space that leads to an outdoor stone oven that can be used by guests. Nasr said she plans to eventually have tiered concrete platforms in the area and landscaping that will help create a great social gathering space for guests of the camp.
The 180 acres of land will be adapted to include hiking and ATV trails, a live-fire archery range, ax-throwing lanes, a gun range, areas for guests to hunt with bow, black powder or rifles and a recreation room for guests to play cards, pool or throw darts. Guests will also be encouraged to visit nearby Norfork and Bull Shoals Lakes, and the North Fork of the White River and Bryant Creek.
Become a part of Warriors2US
The Warriors2US Foundation is an IRS-approved tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity organization, and Nasr says monetary donations as well as volunteer labor are necessary and are gratefully accepted.
“When I came up with this dream, I started saving my money. And saving my money. And saving my money. I had a goal, and I met it. But this is about the extent of what I can do,” Nasr said, referring to the current barracks building and landscaping on the property. “I’m trying to fund everything that’s going on with the build here now, but for all the extracurricular kind of things, we’re looking for donations.”
Nasr says if donations can be raised, future plans include building individual cabins on the property for guests who are not comfortable in a social sleeping situation or who may have PTSD and prefer more isolated sleeping environment. Recreational opportunities, including equestrian therapy and other therapies, are also being considered.
Needed non-monetary donations listed on the website include ATVs, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, canoes, fishing gear, fly fishing gear, boats, hunting gear, tree stands, hunting blinds, compound bows and arrows, tools, a tool storage unit, flooring (1,400 square feet upstairs and 600 square feet downstairs), water heaters, bunks, mattresses, bedding, pillows, storage lockers, couches and chairs, tables and chairs and patio furniture.
“Every contribution will be represented here in the building or around the camp somewhere,” Nasr said. “All the donors and contributors that make this happen - they’re the heroes, in my opinion. We’re doing special things to make sure you know your gift was accepted and represented here.”
Nasr says all donors will be honored at the camp in different ways. Two current ideas she’s working on include an artistic chandelier that includes dog tags with the names of donors on it. Another idea is wood slices with donor’s names mounted on the main wood-plank-covered wall on the first floor of the barracks.
Nasr is planning to host a large Thanksgiving dinner this month for friends and volunteers with Warriors2US. She invites those who wish to check out the camp to contact her and join her at the camp for the holiday.
“I have seven siblings, so I’m pretty comfortable with cooking for large groups. Meals were a main project every day growing up. If you’re able to come, we’d love to have you,” she said.
Find out more
To find out more about Warriors2US Foundation or to apply to visit the camp, visit the organization’s Facebook page by searching for ‘Warriors2US’ or visiting www.warriors2us.com. Those interested can also contact Nasr at Nasrd@warriors2us.com or 1-321-750-3662.