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 Jim and Jo Borowski, a husband and wife team who have volunteered in many capacities for Warriors and Quiet Waters since 2008. Jim also serves on WQW’s board.
To provide some context for our audience, tell me who you are and how you learned about Warriors and Quiet Waters.
Jim: We learned of Warriors and Quiet Waters from our fishing guide Dave Kumlien while we were fishing on the Yellowstone. At that time, in 2007, it was too late to be volunteers for that year, but we were so moved by his presentation and his story that the first thing we did when we got home was send a check, because we knew we had to support the organization right then.
In 2008, we put our names in the hat, and we were fortunate enough to be chosen as volunteer companions, and have been privileged to come back each year in other capacities as well.
Jo: Before we heard about Warriors and Quiet Waters from Dave, we were both doing volunteer work with other organizations, but we were looking for something that we could do together. Volunteering with WQW was a natural fit and completely in our wheelhouse.
What makes you come back to WQW every year?
Jo: Every year we see the good it does for the warriors. The change is visible from when they get off the airplane to when we see them go home. We see them lose themselves out on the water, and we see it work every time.
Jim: For me, I’m a Vietnam veteran and I know what it’s like to come home from a war where the public blamed the individual soldiers. It used to be that before your plane landed in San Francisco, they recommended you put on civilian clothes so that no one knew you were in the military. I don’t want to see the next group of soldiers go through that same type of experience, and I want to make sure that I can give to these guys an opportunity that didn’t exist for my generation.
Why fly fishing? What is it about fly fishing that provides healing?
Jim: I’ve used fly fishing for decades to deal with stress. I didn’t think I had post-traumatic stress, but looking back on it now, I think I did and didn’t know it. I went from one stressful job (being in the military) to another stressful job of law enforcement. Fly fishing was the one thing that I did where I could lose myself completely. I knew it worked personally, and of course we see it work every time during an FX. Without knowing it, I turned to fly fishing as a form of therapy.
Jo: I know it works because I’ve seen it work for Jim. There’s something about standing in water and having the water flow around your legs. It is surreal. You don’t even think about it. It does magic.
What are some of the major milestones that helped WQW grow into the organization that it is today?
Jim: I think going from an all-volunteer organization to having paid staff. It kicked us up to another level and we became more professional. Because of that, we had the ability to look at expanding our program.
The second major accomplishment was the acquisition of Quiet Waters Ranch.
The one thing I have seen over the last 10 years is that WQW has always been open to new ideas, to finding ways of doing what we do better, and if people suggested changes that needed to be made, it was always an open discussion. The program is very much the same program that it was 10 years ago, but it’s better because the organization has been open to improving it. We’re not stuck in one position, yet stay true to who we are.
Why was the acquisition of the ranch so important for the program?
Jim: We used to rent facilities in Bozeman, Montana during the summer. None of the facilities that we rented were ADA compatible, and some of the rental homes weren’t available year to year. Each year, we were having to adapt the program to whatever facility we could get our hands on, which was hard. As the area got more popular, finding a facility was more difficult to do year after year.
In the back of our heads, we always thought “wouldn’t it be great if we had our own place, that was ADA compatible, where we could do programs from year to year? Then, we could run our own programs and not have the challenges of working with a new space each week.”
After we acquired the ranch, it opened up so many more possibilities in terms of programming that we didn’t have before. Now, we can focus on growing in a way that we couldn’t grow when we were renting vacation homes.
Tell me about the importance of the Couple’s FX, which is a different model than the traditional warrior program.
Jo: At the Couple’s FX, they get away from all the stuff that happens at home and the focus is just on them. Then, they can focus on each other, forget about all the other things going on in their lives, and they can be themselves.
One of the spouses on one of the FXs said “I haven’t seen him like this since before he went over,” referring to her husband’s deployment.
Jim: The spouses realize that they’re not alone in this and it helps them to know that other people are having similar experiences. There’s bonding that occurs that we don’t see, but we know that the program helps create these ripples that go on and on.
As you’ve watched warriors go through the program, what indicators or feedback have signaled to you that this program is successful?
Jo: It helps them realize there is something they can do if they’re feeling like they can’t be the person that they were before. More recently, we’re seeing guys who can’t interact with their family as well as they want to, or with society.
It gives them confidence that people do care about them, and that they can do something hard and technical like fly fishing. We see it when they go home as well. For example, they’ll choose to go out to the playground with their kids whereas they may not have done that in the past.
Jim: I’m not on social media, but Jo is, and she’s in touch with warriors that came through the program years ago. Warriors have visited us here at our home. To develop that sort of relationship with someone who you only knew for one week, that lives across the country, who just came out to learn to fly fish, speaks volumes. We’re not taking them on just another fishing trip — we’re working to change lives.
What moments are the most special for you in your volunteer experiences?
Jim: The best moments always occur around the change that you see at the end of each week. You’re not saying goodbye to the same person. Seeing those positive changes is really neat. It gives us a real strong feeling inside.
Jo: For me, it was hearing one of the guys giggling every time he caught a fish. You could hear his joy across the lake! He totally lost himself. Anytime I see the guys lose themselves in the fishing, or when they the cast for the first time, or when they catch their first fish, that’s the most special for me.
We are very grateful every year to be able to volunteer and it’s the highlight of our year. We set our clock around it, that’s how important it is to us. We gain a lot each time we volunteer and I can say that the single most important thing we do each year is the week we spend with Warriors and Quiet Waters.
Thank you, Jim and Jo, for your commitment to serving post-9/11 combat veterans!