A Home Away From Home Bull Run Warrior Retreat

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By Peter Lineberry | Photos by Amanda Causey Baity

There’s a refurbished house in Haymarket—11,000 square feet, 15 rooms on 37 acres—that will soon welcome
wounded and recovering war veterans and their families, offering a home away from home: Bull Run Warrior Retreat
(BRWR). It’s located in the northwest corner of Prince William, in a sparsely populated area known as the Rural Crescent, where rolling hills nestle against the Bull Run Mountains, and where a major concern of area residents is the proposed route of electric power lines and the accompanying 100-foot towers that would bisect, among other things, Bull Run’s front yard.

While this issue plays out in the state courts—and in the court of public opinion—the work of a great many volunteers continues in preparation for the retreat’s July 4th ceremonial opening. Shirley and John Dominick:

A Challenge to Serve
It all started, Shirley and John Dominick say, as a challenge from their pastor at nearby Park Valley Church to undertake a meaningful community service project. Nine years ago, the couple and others from the church began visiting wounded servicemen and women at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. Many had lost limbs, many suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Shirley, a retired Air Force officer, said that the first visits left her speechless.PWLiving July 2015 SOWW Entry Signage

Christmas gift-giving and summertime cookouts on the hospital grounds became annual traditions, and still continue. But the Dominicks soon realized that many of the soldiers missed living in a home environment, since surgeries, physical therapy and other medical needs often required years-long stays. “We always say they get the best care in the world there, and they do, but it’s still a hospital,” said John.

This led to the couple creating the nonprofit Serve Our Willing Warriors (SOWW), which has raised many thousands of dollars for the retreat and related expenses. Shirley noted that she set up the 501(c)(3) one morning, and within hours heard from a Domino’s that wanted to hold a fundraiser on its behalf.

In 2013, John used his background as a real estate broker to find and purchase the “rundown” house on Waterfall Road, which will soon be used to give selected military hospital outpatients weeklong retreats with their families. At the advice of contractors, extra time and care was taken to prepare the house for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When the interior work is complete, the retreat will have three master bedrooms on the main floor, two more bedrooms upstairs and a playroom for children. The plan is to accommodate two families at a time, for 4-7 day stays. The basement will include a library and game room with a pool table and big-screen TV. There is also a furnished suite for the retreat’s live-in caretakers; the Dominicks envision a retired military couple in the role.

Although guests will be welcome to simply enjoy the house and its tranquil setting, the Dominicks have partnered with local organizations such as the Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center and Hylton Performing Arts Center to provide guests with free services and events. They will also receive an itinerary of regional points of interest, and transportation if needed.

One of the Dominick’s three daughters, Kelsy, is a BRWR project coordinator. “We’re appreciative of [the veterans’]sacrificial love that they pretty much give to all the American citizens, and sometimes without a thank-you,” she said. “I always think of my mother in that situation, and that’s where it comes from for me.”

An Army of Volunteers
Coordinating the efforts of so many contractors and volunteers is no easy task, but Nancy Spencer, at 73, has embraced it with the enthusiasm of someone half her age. After more than a year of six-day work weeks at BRWR, she said that seeing the retreat come together is overwhelming: “To see what looked like an insurmountable task completed, there are no words. It is the support and generosity of so many that shared in making this a dream come true.”

Meanwhile, Larry Zilliox is making sure that guests will eat in style. He’s created BRWR’s Visiting Chef Program, with well-regarded local chefs taking turns preparing gourmet meals in the retreat’s kitchen, incorporating vegetables and herbs from an onsite garden. “It is hard to find a more deserving group of people who are humble
heroes and ask nothing more from us than our understanding,” said Zilliox, a disabled veteran himself. “For me I find I get more out of working with wounded warriors than I give.”

Shirley and John Dominick will soon welcome the first guests to Bull Run Warrior Retreat.

Shirley and John Dominick will soon welcome the first guests to Bull Run Warrior Retreat.

And there are plenty of others. On one spring afternoon, members of the Prince William Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were installing identification plaques in front of trees, while a youth baseball team from Maryland was clearing brush to prepare walking trails. Scouts, children fulfilling mandatory service hours, companies on team-building missions—all have played an important part in getting the retreat ready.

“When I look at the project overall, I feel it’s a heart thing,” said Shirley. “It’s showing the heart of the warriors and their families… and the heart of the community saying ‘I am longing to give back, just didn’t even know how to do it, but it’s right here in our backyard—we can do this.’”

The First Guests
In April 2010, at age 20, Marine Lance Corporal Nick Thom lost his legs and suffered injuries to his hands due to an IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan. He was engaged to Samantha Chambers before his deployment, and the next year they were married. After years of rehab at Walter Reed, both in Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, he and Samantha moved to a house in Broad Run provided by another nonprofit, Homes for Our Troops.

Nick walks ably with prosthetics; Samantha’s by his side every step of the way.

The Thoms recently toured BRWR with John Dominick, noting such asuch features as the new three-story elevator, grab bars and other safety amenities in bathrooms and signs of forthcoming access ramps for the front and back decks. The couple will be the first to spend a week at Bull Run, providing feedback to benefit the warriors that follow.

“A place like this, to get away from the hospital, is good mentally and physically,” said Nick. Samantha agreed, adding she “only wished this was available when we were in the hospital. The wounded will enjoy having some normalcy.”

The Thoms will be in attendance for the Independence Day ribbon cutting, as will 3-star general and keynote speaker Gregory Schumacher and other dignitaries. Their joint message to our wounded troops: Thank you and, if only for a short while, welcome home.

For more information about SOWW and Bull Run Warrior Retreat, including many ways that you can get involved, visit willingwarriors.org.

Peter Lineberry has been with Prince William Living since November 2011, and lives in Dale City. He can be reached at plineberry@princewilliamliving.com.

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