by Marie Fasano, Special to the Roundup
The Merritt Center and Lodge is a non-profit retreat center in Star Valley founded in 1987 by Betty Merritt for individual or group renewal and empowerment. Even though Betty has been at the same location for more than 25 years, and has retreats for people from all parts of the country, many folks in Rim Country are unfamiliar with her work.
Now she and the Merritt Center are being recognized in our community. The Payson Elks Lodge honored Betty this year for her dedicated work with veterans by presenting her with the American flag from the Payson Military Honor Guard.
The Merritt Center has been voted by Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce members as the best non-profit in Rim Country for 2013.
For the past seven years, The Merritt Center has conducted free programs for returning combat veterans. Coordinated through many volunteers and vet mentors, the men and women veterans, in separate programs, spend four weekends over a six-month period learning how to cope with life after war.
Many of the veterans return again and again as mentors for the incoming veterans in the program.
“After combat, turning off the switch is not that easy,” said a Purple Heart and Vietnam veteran, who was first a participant, and now acts as a mentor.
In talking about the program, Betty said, “This is a unique resource because we provide a safe space and provide a place for trust to develop quickly.”
In a recent study, it was found that barriers to care for returning vets include concerns about confidentiality and discrimination. Since the program provides a non-threatening atmosphere with confidentiality confined to the group, the veterans have said they feel safe here.
“This is a sanctuary where a veteran can open their door to recovery,” said Reba, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
Another ongoing program at The Merritt Center is the mother/daughter retreat. This year the children of veterans shared their experiences with their mothers in the military and with other children who have similar experiences. The model for this program comes from the many years The Merritt Center has hosted a hospice program with a retreat for children of a parent who has died. Betty has learned how to work with children who have experienced trauma and loss.
Workshops and retreats conducted at the center over the years have provided an atmosphere conducive to personal growth. The 13-acre Merritt Center offers a home-like, simple retreat in a rural area of Star Valley near Payson that allows the participants the freedom of forest exploration, a family-like setting for meals and small but welcoming accommodations.
Betty’s energy is boundless. She conducts the programs and often cooks healthy homestyle meals herself.
In her empowerment programs Betty teaches what she calls, The Cycle of Life.
During the sessions the participants ask themselves three questions. Who am I? Why am I here? What do I value?
She teaches, “We do not have to be a victim. We can dream to create a new structure.” Betty has incorporated her teaching of The Cycle of Life into the veterans’ programs.
Through group and individual educational activities, participants of the Returning Combat Veterans Program learn to recognize the triggers of the combat experience. They practice ways to release negativity and reorder their personal priorities through various exercises.
Betty is committed to the veterans. She and the veteran mentors spend time on the phone and meeting with individuals for follow up whenever requested.
With the help of the many volunteers and private donations, the retreat remains free to any returning combat veteran of any war.
To learn more about The Merritt Center free Returning Combat Veterans Program, or to become a participant, call (928) 474-4268, or visit the Web site at www.merrittcenter.org.
As Shannon, an Iraq veteran said, “We are here to help you come home, all the way home.”
Marie Fasano is a volunteer for veterans and member of The Merritt Center Board of Directors.