In honor of our 10th year anniversary, we’re interviewing individuals who have been involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation in different capacities, some of whom have been involved since the inception of the Foundation in 2007. Today, we’re interviewing Faye Nelson, the Executive Director of Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation (WQW), and one of the first staff hired when WQW went from an all volunteer organization to a professionalized organization.

In the interview below, Faye shares with us her journey to Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation, the joy she gets from being a part of WQW and her hope for the legacy that WQW will leave.

To provide some context for our audience, tell us who you are, a little bit about your background, and how you are involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters.

I’d spent almost 20 years in the non-profit sector working for a variety of organizations, including ones that support higher education, arts, social services, and conservation, in Montana and the Pacific Northwest.

I heard about WQW because my husband helped produce the documentary film “Not Yet Begun to Fight.” I did some PR for the film during its nationwide film festival tour.

Around that same time, Warriors and Quiet Waters was hiring, and I became the first development director.

How has your role changed since moving from the Development Director to Executive Director?

I’m still involved in building relationships for the organization, but right now, most of my time has been focused on strategic vision and adapting the organization to post-9/11 combat veterans’ needs of today versus the needs they had 10 years ago.

I have the joy of working with staff and advisors who help me learn daily about veteran service organizations on a national level, and how we fit into that niche. This has been extremely satisfying. Also, working to understand the outcomes that occur when warriors participate in our program, while maintaining that high level of impact as we grow and look for new and different ways to serve has been particularly rewarding.

I truly believe that WQW’s programs are the high-quality, gold standard experience that we intend them to be.

Why fly fishing? What is it about fly fishing that provides healing?

I think mostly it’s two-fold: one is the setting and scenery, especially here in southwest Montana. For a lot of people it’s church. There is a certain serenity to the place in and of itself. Then, add the peaceful sounds of running water. There is a reason you can find water sounds on the iTunes “white noise” channel!

The second part is the actual art and skill of casting as something challenging, inspiring, focused, and beautiful.

I also think the catch and release aspect of the program is beneficial.  There’s something beautiful and life-giving and hopeful for those who have come out of a job where they have been trained to kill and to be able to catch a fish, then release it.

Which changes have made the biggest impact on warriors attending WQW?

Offering the Couples Fishing Experience (FX) and Alumni FX. Any time a warrior experiences something positive with WQW, there is a ripple effect to members of his or her family, coworkers, etc. Having one’s spouse participate with him or her intensifies that ripple effect. We added the Alumni FX so that those warriors wanting to continue their journey of recovery by giving back and helping others could do so. Also, adding an alumnus of WQW as the director of warrior services has enabled WQW to reach more post-9/11 combat veterans than before.

As you’ve watched warriors go through the program, what indicators or feedback have signaled to you that this program is successful?

It’s different for almost every single person that comes through the program. We have had several participants tell us they eliminated the idea of suicide after their WQW experience; many who have shared with us how much fishing has become a part of their lives and regular self-care; and the large majority of warriors report back how grateful they are to have had the opportunity to connect with brothers and sisters in arms again. One of the largest indicators that signals success to me is when so many of our alumni want to come back and serve others. That speaks volumes because they understand they won’t be fishing as much, but they are coming back to serve as a mentor and companion. Having a sense of purpose and a mission has been reported as being critically important when transitioning from the military. Through the Alumni FX and the network of alumni, we’re seeing that.

From a statistical standpoint, in 2016, we administered a survey to participating warriors one week prior to attending WQW and three months post-event. The analysis of the data found that three months after the FX, survey participants experienced a large increase in having control over one’s life; a large increase in satisfaction with sleep; a modest increase in ability to manage barriers or challenges; a modest increase in satisfaction with participating in community activities; and a modest increase in quality of life.

What is your hope for WQW going into its 10th year?

My hope is to maintain the grassroots feel that we’ve had for the last 10 years of being small and approachable, transparent, friendly and warm, yet manage to grow to serve nearly 100 warriors each year with grace, and impact those we serve in deeper ways.

What is the legacy that you hope to build for WQW over the next 50+ years?

We want people who experience combat trauma to know that they aren’t alone, and that WQW will always be a resource to show them that they’re loved and respected, and to share with them the peacefulness of the river and outdoors as a powerful reset button.

Fifty years from now, the generation of combat veterans that we’re serving now are going to be in service to those that are going through a new set of challenges.

What’s one unique thing about this organization that differentiates it from others?

There are a number of specific, tangible things that differentiate WQW from the other great therapeutic recreation programs for veterans but to me, the most unique thing is the people involved in WQW. Part of the “magic” is the serenity of the place in which WQW operates but I also think that the community of volunteers and supporters we have here can’t be replicated. I’m really humbled to be a part of an organization that still gets to work with the people who started it. I’ve been a part of a number of organizations and this one by far has the most passionate, dedicated people involved.

Thanks Faye, for sharing your story with us.

Do you have stories from your time supporting Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation? Please tell us why you support this organization in the comments below.