From September 24th to September 26th, The Long Walk Home (TLWH) had the pleasure of hosting a group of Veterans at Two Hawk Hammock in Williston, FL for a weekend retreat. As the main draw, the Veterans had the opportunity to visit the nearby Two Tails Ranch and interact with live elephants. The weekend was filled with fun, laughter, relaxation, healing, and honest self-reflection. TLWH is humbled to have been able to share this experience with our country’s service members, and to connect them with resources they might otherwise have never known about. 

Two Tails Ranch was created to board Asian and African elephants needing temporary and permanent housing. The ranch has taken care of hundreds of elephants since its inception, providing the animals with a safe and healthy environment when their homes have been destroyed or they’ve experienced health issues. TLWH’s retreat just so happened to fall on Elephant Appreciation Weekend, when the ranch experiences an influx of vendors and tourists from all over the state and country. Many of the retreat attendees graciously volunteered to help commandeer parking during this event. With the help of another nonprofit organization, United Way, The Long Walk Home was able to raise roughly $2,000 to help Veterans and their families.

On Sunday the 26th, TLWH’s retreat group got the chance to get up close and personal with the elephants. Each veteran had the opportunity to touch, ride, and receive a photo with an elephant. The group also had the pleasure of witnessing the slew of other animals living at Two Tails Ranch, such as lemurs, turtles, camels, and zebras. Animal encounters are proven to have positive effects on people experiencing PTSD, which is why TLWH sees so much value in extending opportunities such as these to Veterans.

Two Hawk Hammock, where the group stayed, is a beautiful cottage near the famous Devils Den spring that offers peace, quiet, and gorgeous views. On the premises were a variety of friendly farm animals including horses, donkeys, goats, and even emus! On Saturday evening, the group of Veterans were treated to live music and a gorgeous sunset. Our organization’s founder, Ron Zaleski, ended the night by introducing the group to TLWH’s Mentorship Program, which guides Veterans along a series of 10 challenges that are designed to shift their attitudes, feelings, and perspectives in a positive direction. Ron encouraged the group to tackle the first challenge, in which you state one thing you’re grateful for in the morning and then one thing you’re grateful to have accomplished at the end of the day. 

The purpose of this retreat was not only to connect Veterans with nature, but also one another. Veterans too often return home from the military feeling lost and isolated. TLWH was founded in 2006 to address this problem and provide Veterans with the services, resources, and people they need to continue living fulfilled, purpose-driven lives. In October, TLWH will host another group of Veterans in Key Largo, FL to interact with dolphins. Then, on Veterans Day (November 13th), TWLH will be hosting its fourth annual Veterans Day Bike Ride at Fort De Soto Park in Tierra Verde, FL.

To learn more about upcoming events and retreats, click here.

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