For our nation’s veterans and first responders, giving back is both a distinct honor and a complicated task.
For Tempa Sherrill, founder and CEO of Stay The Course, a Fort Worth, Texas-based 501(c)3 organization that provides whole-life care, equipping and counseling for veterans and first responders and their families, the lack of resources available to help them led her to take action. Stay The Course’s mission is “to serve veterans, first responders and families who have sacrificed for our country. We provide guidance, wellness and healing from invisible wounds.”
Sherrill’s husband, AJ, an 18-year police officer, was deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the Marine Corps in 2008. “He came back a different person,” Sherrill explained. AJ served as a police officer in the Dallas-Forth Worth area upon his return, but eventually lost his position due to a post-traumatic stress diagnosis. They both realized he didn’t have the help and support he needed. After an 18-year teaching career, Tempa earned her Master’s in Counseling and Psychology, and in January of 2016 she founded Stay The Course.
“I realized AJ and others needed help and community, and some of the help available to them lacked the nuance and experience necessary to give them what they needed,” says Sherrill, who has assembled a caring team of experienced workers deeply versed in the issues of veteran and first-responder life. “When your identity is stripped away by trauma, there are needs and nuances in the care one sometimes needs in order to live a full and fulfilling life. We want to be there for them.”
Sherrill recounts one client’s story:
“The VA referred an OIF Woman Veteran after inpatient treatment for PTSD and substance use disorders. The client self-medicated for several years after returning from Iraq. She had experienced combat trauma and multiple military sexual traumas following a long history of childhood sexual abuse. The client was so anxious and afraid on the day of her intake that she could not fill out her paperwork by herself. Her grandmother brought her to her first session and came into the counselor’s office to encourage her to follow through with getting help.”
“It took several weeks of working with the client before she could remain for the full session without panic symptoms, much less to look up or say anything. The client worked with the founder of Stay The Course in counseling for many months prior to and after the launch of Stay The Course. Upon a recent follow up she stated, “I’m doing quite well, actually… I am still 100% sober, with no relapse. My PTSD symptoms come and go, but I’m absolutely nothing like I was before.” The client reported that she continues to volunteer at her children’s school, was instrumental in organizing a school event and has recently successfully completed her first semester in college as a full-time student.”
Stay The Course’s impact extends as much to the families of veterans and first responders as to clients themselves. “The program was life changing, and for the first time I feel like I received the help I desperately needed to feel whole again. I finally had a place to go that understood what I was going through and could help guide me through what should never be a solo, isolating experience,” a veteran spouse told Sherrill.
“During our first year we served 300 clients, and we’re hoping to double this in 2017,” Sherrill said. Every new client receives six free sessions of quality counseling, assessment and guidance, as well as receives connections to other educational and career resources. “As counselors serving these families, we’re deeply connected to their experiences because we’ve lived them. We want to give them resources to help them flourish in every way as people, to impact their whole life.”
After a client’s six free sessions, Stay The Course offers an affordable sliding scale of free and reduced costs for counseling. In many instances, communities have covered the costs for ongoing treatment for clients. “I worked with one young man who had served in the Marines and had fallen into alcoholism. His mother was desperate, and our community members and partners took compassion on their family and covered the costs of his care. He told us, “This has completely changed my life.”
With over 5,000 hours of counseling provided to date, Stay The Course offers a unique environment that combines expert care and guidance with counselors who have endured veteran and first-responder life firsthand. “This helps create a culture centered on shared experience, a culture of deep understanding and empathy,” explains Sherrill. While trauma is a complex matter, the trauma that many of Stay The Course’s clients experience is unique. So many of the people we serve are exposed to traumatic situations on a regular basis and don’t have chance to recover.”
“There’s an unhelpful stigma that a veteran or first responder is considered weak for seeking help. This so often leads to self-medicating, brokenness and increasing patterns of harmful behavior, and we want to stem the tide,” says Sherrill.
44 percent of Stay The Course’s referrals are from the VA, and they’re looking to expand awareness and establish a greater presence. “The VA sends referrals, and we have partners. Our overhead is low, and our direct costs are where they need to be. In five years we would love to be in a freestanding wellness center duplicated in other parts of the country.”
“People should know that veterans want opportunities to help themselves and don’t want to be viewed as broken. Stay the Course wants to repay the debt we owe them. Whether we agree with the cause behind their service or not, we need to respect that veterans are human beings before all else. Vets are dealing with human problems, human issues, just like we all are.
A portion of every purchase from Powerwash.com goes to help this amazing program. To learn more about Stay The Course and to support their mission, visit their website at www.StayTheCourse.vet.