BERLIN — Far from the hot spots in Afghanistan and Iraq where American servicemen and women are still very much in harm’s way is a peaceful, idyllic setting not far from downtown Berlin where some can decompress and relax with their loved ones when they return.
The “Home of the Brave,” a quiet, relaxing residence on a piece of property carved out of a vast family farm in the Berlin countryside, recently started hosting U.S. combat veterans returning from deployment in war zones overseas and their families for a brief getaway before returning to frantic regular lives stateside. For some, the “Home of the Brave” represents an opportunity to reconnect with family members not seen for months during service overseas, while others will use the relaxing setting to convalesce after being injured in battle.
“Home of the Brave” is the brainchild of local resident Tina Pearson, who built the three-bedroom country home 16 years ago on a lot carved out of her family’s farm. Pearson’s long-term plan was to make the residence a home for herself, a future husband and a family, but when her life didn’t veer in that direction, she recently chose to convert it for use for returning U.S. servicemen and women after getting inspired by a story told to her by a friend.
“The idea came from a story about a father who was killed in Iraq and a young child raised by a grandmother,” she said. “When the mother returned, it took over a month for the child to go to her because he didn’t remember her. A lot of time there’s a major readjustment period and this gives them an opportunity to do that in a relaxed, private atmosphere out in the country before they are thrust back into the hectic schedule of a life that has continued in their absence.”
From that story in 2009, the idea for the “Home of the Brave” was born and Pearson has worked tirelessly in the many months since to make it a reality. The very first family enjoyed the home a few weeks ago and another family is occupying the residence this week.
The conversion of the large three-bedroom home not far from Ocean City and Assateague was finished last fall, including making the entire house handicap accessible. While the first families to use the residence have not included wounded veterans, Pearson has already booked a few families whose loved ones were injured and hopes to add more in the future.
“For our wounded warriors, they and their loved ones can become so engrossed in physical recovery that caring for themselves mentally and emotionally is often overlooked,” she said. “Even a few days away from the daily appointments and therapy sessions can enable families to return rested and re-energized.”
While the response thus far has been good, Pearson said she is still reaching out to service hospitals and veterans organizations to get the word out about the opportunity.
“The first thing I did was talk to people to see if there was a need,” she said. “I talked to a couple of people at Walter Reed who said there was definitely a need. The biggest challenge so far has been getting the word out to our returning veterans and wounded warriors that this is available to them.”
Pearson lives in an 800-square-foot apartment on the property, from which she can introduce the families to the home, get them settled and let them know about all of the amenities in the area. Otherwise, she intends to basically leave them alone.
The family currently enjoying the “Home of the Brave” includes a father who returned from deployment just two weeks ago. Pearson got them settled in over the weekend and left to get a replacement DVD player that had been damaged in a power surge during a storm last week. When she returned, the children were playing with toys spread out on the floor while the parents were sprawled out on a couch.
“That was really heartwarming,” she said. “That’s what I envisioned when I started this. When I saw them, I knew it was doing what it was intended to do.”
Converting her house into the Home of the Brave was the single largest phase of the project, but gaining the requisite approvals, and perhaps more importantly an endorsement from the military, were among the bigger hurdles. Pearson said one major piece of the puzzle occurred right around the holidays.
“The federal tax-exempt status came on Christmas Eve and that was my early Christmas present,” she said. “Right before Christmas, the Maryland Adjutant General visited and gave it a thumb’s up. I hosted the first family a couple of weeks ago that stayed for a weekend and I have a family that arrived over the weekend that is staying for a whole week.”
For many Americans, finding a way to express their gratitude to the troops often results in all important, but somewhat distant donations to various programs and organizations. Pearson said the “Home of the Brave” has provided her with an opportunity to help on the front lines, so to speak.
“I really feel like most people in this country are so very proud of our servicemen and women, but they don’t really know what to do,” she said. “So, I’ve found out something I can do to help right in our community.”
That very community, as it is known to do, has been very receptive to the idea and has helped Pearson with the project in so many ways.
“All along the way, there have been people who came along to help me with the things I didn’t know how to do,” she said. “It’s been really great. Our community is so supportive and giving and it’s made this project a little easier.”
Some support has come in the form of fundraising to keep the project alive and well. For example, the Ocean City FOP Lodge 10 is holding its 3rd Annual Poker Run in May with the proceeds donated to “Home of the Brave.”
Pearson said she is exploring opportunities for donations from the community in the way of passes to amusements in the resort areas or gift certificates to restaurants and other attractions, although she certainly isn’t being aggressive about it.
“I’ve thought about that, but I really don’t want to hit the businesses up and do this big dog and pony show,” she said. “That’s something I might explore after I’ve hosted a few families and can see if there is a need or a desire for that.”