By John Mizerak –
It’s been only 6 short years since we hosted our first men’s program in September of 2012. We have had over 2100 graduates and over 100 programs since that humble beginning!
When Chad Robichaux realized that countless other combat veterans face the same psychological, emotional, and spiritual challenges he did after his service in Afghanistan (challenges causing some twenty-plus suicides a day and staggering divorce rates among military families), Chad wondered to himself, Why doesn’t someone do something about this? He eventually realized that the answer was Why not me? and so began Mighty Oaks.
It is a story of God’s transformational power to turn tragedy into triumph. It is a journey starting with one man’s brokenness from war, one woman’s willingness to fight for her family, and their faith in God’s promise from Isaiah 61:3 that we can rise from the ashes and become mighty oaks of righteousness.
Many great men stepped in to mentor Chad and Kathy past their struggles, but none more than Steve Toth and Pastor Jeff Wells of WoodsEdge Community Church. It was through this church that Chad and Kathy were later ordained and commissioned as ministers and sent to begin the Mighty Oaks ministry to America’s military warriors and families.
The first programs for men were launched in Westcliffe, Colorado, with non-active duty veterans. Chad and Kathy served alongside the Dave Roever Foundation for more than a year while developing the methodology that would become Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs (MOWP).
Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs uses a grassroots approach, empowering veterans to begin their healing and then be a positive impact on those around them. Those warriors, challenged by this peer-to-peer model, rose to meet the challenge and found hope and purpose beyond their military service, grabbing hold of a future worth living again. As they left the programs, they sent their brothers, which made the program grow rapidly, especially with warriors coming from US Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalion West, which housed a large population of Marine Corps combat veterans.
During this time of growth and increasing demand, Dave Roever introduced Chad to Wayne Hughes Jr. to explore the possibility of taking Mighty
Oaks to El Paso de Robles, Calif. (Interestingly, El Paso de Robles translates to “The Path of the Oaks.” We at Mighty Oaks say this was definitely a God wink!) Wayne, a very successful businessman, had previously launched Serving California, a nonprofit philanthropy arm for his many companies.
It was in Wayne’s heart to see the Lord’s hand over our returning American warriors, and he wanted to run a veterans’ program at his ranch. He allowed MOWP to do so on the condition that if he liked the program, he’d build a lodge there to host it. He did like it, especially its results.
A partnership between Mighty Oaks and Serving California took root, and SkyRose Lodge was built. This became the primary home of Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs. However, the rapidly increasing influx of warriors and military families has resulted (so far) in three other regional locations: Blaylock Ranch in Junction, Tex.; Warrior Retreat at Bull Run in Haymarket, Va.; and The Wilds in Columbus, Ohio.
As our work continues with veterans and spouses, we receive active-duty warriors on official orders from the various branches. We also have become a top resource for the US military, having trained and equipped more than one hundred thousand warriors in combat readiness through Resiliency Conferences at bases across the country. This included Chad and Jeremy authoring The Path to Resiliency, a spiritual-resiliency book used as a resource for the US military.
Even though Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs has expanded in both numbers and geographic locations, our vision remains the same: to assist our nation’s warriors and families by challenging, equipping, and empowering them to take the help they receive and spread it to those in their own circles of influence. We now have more than fifteen hundred Mighty Oaks alumni, and we take great pride in not having lost one to suicide to date. Beyond each warrior’s healing he is challenged, equipped, and empowered to care for his brothers, bringing both a solution to the problem and a purpose for those willing to share that solution with others.
Together, we can all strive toward the common goal of ending the war at home by finding a hope and a future, and aligning with the purpose for which God created us. We will continue to lead others to fulfill the promise of Isaiah 61:3: to rise from the ashes and become mighty oaks!