Just south of the circle which marks the entrance to the Maryland SoccerPlex on Shaffer Road sits a one-lane farm road which leads to an old farmhouse, barn, stable, and a wonderful 80-acre vision of the future for our nation’s veterans returning from combat.
The farm will become the new home for the Warrior Canine Connection’s Healing Quarters. Last week, with help from the Steel Framing Industry Association, that vision took its first step toward reality as construction began on the welcome center for the Warrior Canine Connection.
The Warrior Canine Connection is in the process of preparing the site to be its new location for training puppies to become service dogs for veterans from throughout the United States. Currently, WCC is based out of the Patuxent State Park in Brookville, MD, but the group was told that they would not be able to continue at the location after this summer, according to WCC Chief of Staff Dr. Sara M. Kass. The State of Maryland offered the group the opportunity to move the new location in Seneca Creek State Park at an old farmhouse in Boyds, said Kass.
The Healing Quarters will sit on 80-acres of Maryland State Park land, just 20 miles from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and when completed, will provide WCC with a comprehensive facility where it can fulfill its mission to leverage the human-canine bond to help alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury in wounded warriors.
Last Thursday and Friday, veterans and volunteers convened at the site with a team of construction experts culled from the Steel Framing Industry Association membership to start building a 20-feet x 20-feet steel frame structure that will become the WCC Welcome Center. The center will serve as the first stop for visitors to the Healing Quarters, and function as a central facility for meetings, media presentations, and similar events.
“The construction means a lot of different things,” said Kass. “Symbolically, for me, it means the kick off of getting this project up and running. This is the first operational building that we are going to have up and running here at Germantown, and that is critical for us. But, it is also going to be the entry into the property for years to come. It will be a facility that will allow people to learn more about this program. It will be great to be able to put the story boards up in there, showcasing that great work that we are doing, and that we have great partners who have made it possible.”
“This whole adventure out here in Germantown is such an incredible opportunity for state, county, non-profits, corporate America, and foundations to come together around a great cause, which is veterans care and some pretty cute little four-legged therapists. It is wonderful,” said Kass.
“SFIA is honored to have a role in helping the Warrior Canine Connection further its goal of creating this important new facility,” said Steel Framing Industry Association Executive Director, Larry Williams. “As we build this new Welcome Center together, we also take a major step toward rebuilding the lives of more veterans and their families.”
Other corporate partners assisting in the construction and design of the facility include Aegis Metal Framing, Allied Distributors, All-Span Inc., ClarkDietrich Building Systems, and Simpson Strong-Tie Co., among others.
“Our critical mission to bring healing to those who have given so much to our country would not be possible without our partnership with organizations like SFIA and its member companies,” said WCC Executive Director, Rick Yount. “We are grateful to SFIA and our other supporters for their work in helping us to create a new facility to accommodate the important breeding and training necessary to expand the program to more of the 446,000 Veterans affected by PTSD and TBI.”
Terry Westerman, vice president of marketing at West Chester, Ohio-based ClarkDietrich Building Systems, who donated the steel studs used for the new construction, said his company jumped at the chance to help. “We have not had this kind of opportunity before,” said Westerman, “and as soon as we were aware of this organization, what they do here, and their need — we were interested. It is really hard not to want to be part of this. Once you know these guys are here and what they are doing, you want to help this organization.”
“The steel used in this building is more than a building material,” said Yount. “It is a fitting symbol of the enduring strength and resolve of the warriors who have risked everything to come to the aid of their country — and of those who now come to the aid of those veterans and service members.”
Mike Pellock, vice president of Chesterfield, Mo.-based Aegis Metal Framing, who donated that metal truss roofing for the project said his company’s involvement was a no-brainer. “I spoke to my president about it, and it took him all of three seconds to say that we were in. We spoke to our Delaware-based fabricator, All-Span, Inc. They built the truss and were all in and happy to work on it.”
The welcome center is just the start. WCC plans to build a garage/puppy enrichment center in the coming weeks. Once those are completed, the group will be able to move operations out to the Germantown site.
“We’ll have our puppy enrichment center,” said Kass, “where the young puppies are cared for and trained. We’ll have our ‘Puppy Parents’ who are caring for the young puppies coming out to weekly meetings. They are folks from all over Montgomery County, Howard County, D.C., and northern Virginia. They come together once a week and will do the puppy parent classes here and will take the dogs home and work with them at home. Many of our dogs go to Walter Reed or Fort Belvoir and work with veterans there.”
Kass said that the welcome center meant the start of great things. “It will also allow us to bring veterans out here to the site and start working with the dogs, here on the property to offer our mission based trauma recovery care,”
Kass said that group has big plans for both the Germantown site and the expansion of the WCC program to other locations. “Our goal is to expand to two new locations per year for the next 10 years. If we can succeed in doing that we will help 48,000 veterans,” said Kass.
“On the practical end,” said Kass, “it means functionally. We are about to kick off an internship where we are going to train more people to be trainers. And we are low on space, and to be able to have a space like this where we can use it as a classroom, when it is not a welcome center, gives us the functionality that otherwise we would not have out here.”
She said the construction of the welcome center would give WCC a place to start. “We will start this August with four veterans or military family members for a one-year paid internship where we will pay them to become dog trainers, using the mission based trauma recovery, where we use the training of the dog as a therapeutic adjunct for PTSD. Our goal at the end of that internship is to employ at least 50 percent of them, hopefully, more, so they can go and start new WCC programs at locations such as Camp Lejeune or the Pittsburg VA Hospital or wherever else we are going to have our program across the nation.”
When the multi-year renovation and construction project of the site in Germantown is completed, WCC estimates the new Healing Quarters and additional program locations will allow the organization to serve more than 48,000 veterans and active duty service members by 2025. In addition to breeding and training, the new facility will provide Mission Based Trauma Recovery services, career training, and expansion of other Animal Assisted Therapies and forms of integrative medicine, such as Equine Assisted Therapy, creative arts therapy, and therapeutic farming and gardening.
“This property,” said Kass, “even with just the Warrior Canine Connection, starts to really come together as the Healing Quarters that it was envisioned to be. The long range plan is to partner with other non-profits serving the veteran community, such as equine therapy, creative arts therapy, or agriculture therapy, there are endless possibilities. This property gives us the opportunity to create a community environment where veterans come together, non-profits come together, and community members come together. This welcome center is the start of realizing that vision.”
Top: Work began last week on the welcome center at the new headquarters for the Warrior Canine Connection in Germantown.
Next: Larry Williams, executive director of the Steel Framing Industry Association, secures a steel stud of the WCC welcome center.
Next: Member companies from the SFIA donated the design, materials, and labor for the WCC Welcome Center.
Next: Dr. Sara Kass, chief of staff with WCC smiles as the new welcome center, begins to take shape on the Germantown site.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.