One of the cabins built at the College of New Caledonia makes its way down the highway to Pen-Y-Bryn Farm in Kersley. Lindsay Chung photo

College of New Caledonia Quesnel students build cabins for The Forge programs

Carpentry students build accommodations for veterans and first responders

Lindsay Chung

Observer Contributor

There will be more space for veterans and first responders taking part in The Forge residential therapy programs in Kersley thanks to the work of carpentry students in Quesnel.

The students in Howard Berlin’s Foundation Carpentry Foundation program at College of New Caledonia (CNC) Quesnel built two cabins for The Forge this winter and spring, and the cabins were delivered to Pen-Y-Bryn Farm in Kersley this summer.

The Forge programs for veterans and first responders are residential therapy programs in a rural farm setting. The programs are designed to support and treat people experiencing the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or Operational Stress Injuries (OSI). During a program, participants are provided with a variety of therapeutic activities, including group and individual therapy sessions, massage, body work, yoga and equine therapy. A key element of the programs is Equine Assisted Mindfulness Therapy, which pairs participants with an equine partner for the duration of their stay.

Berlin, the carpentry instructor and trades co-ordinator at the college, says he was approached last year about possibly building cabins for the The Forge, but they were already committed.

“Every year, we try to undertake a significant project,” he says.

When the new Foundation Carpentry six-month program began in February, Berlin remembered that he had been approached by The Forge, and he contacted owners Paul and Terry Nichols to see if they still needed cabins.

“I contacted Paul and asked if we could be any help,” he recalls. “He came and did a presentation. Instead of all the mock-ups, it’s good for the students – this is something real. And they were quite enthralled with Paul’s story and Terry’s story.”

There were nine students in this Foundation Carpentry program, and they worked on the cabins intermittently throughout the program, for example, building the floors when they were doing the floor section of the curriculum.

Berlin has been teaching the Foundation Carpentry program for 15 years, and he says they try to choose a non-profit to build a project for each year. In previous years, students have done work for the BCSPCA Quesnel Branch and Quesnel Soccer Association, for example, and they have built cabins for Barkerville Historic Town and Park.

READ MORE: Fundraising event scheduled for local PTSD therapy programs

When CNC students do a project like this, the group that is receiving the work provides the materials, and the college provides the labour.

“It is a win-win,” says Berlin. “The students get to do something that’s going to exist beyond the program, and the group or whoever we are doing it for gets it for the cost of materials.”

The two cabins will provide private spaces for veterans and first responders taking part in The Forge programs.

“It’s a residential program with a holistic approach to the treatment of PTSD for veterans and first responders,” says Paul Nichols, who owns Pen-Y-Bryn Farm and runs The Forge Programs with his wife, Terry. “The key part of that is it’s a residential program, and in order to service this demographic effectively, we need to be able to offer privacy. The farm has group accommodations in the form of our bunkhouse, and it’s allowed us to function, but that functioning isn’t as effective as it could be because group accommodation for veterans creates its own challenges.”

For example, Nichols – a veteran who served with the Calgary Highlanders and deployed to the former Yugoslavia in 1993 to serve with 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, and who is still serving with the Canadian Rangers – says people participating in The Forge programs are emotionally tired from the work they’re doing and need a good night’s sleep, but their sleep can be disturbed if the person in the bed beside them is having nightmares or if someone else in the room is up and down all night.

“Another part of transition is getting out of the shacks and garrison living, and the bunkhouse is reminiscent of group accommodations on base,” he says. “Another part of the work we do here is facing the demons that live in the dark, and I think we need quiet time for rest and reflection. And these cabins, provided through fundraising by the vALEmount Craft Beer Experience, Robert Gagnon’s Walk to Raise Awareness for Veterans and First Responders with PTSD, and private donations, will give us the ability to better service our clients and give them a more comfortable and relaxed stay while they are doing the work.”

Nichols wants to thank the building suppliers, Ace of Harts Contracting, EMCON, Circle ‘S’ Custom Hauling and Cariboo Hiab for their work to help get the cabins completed and into place on the farm.

The two cabins, existing accommodation spaces and other cabins currently under construction are placed strategically around the farm and will each be associated with a certain area of responsibility on the farm, such as the tack room, woodshed or fencing shed.

“While programs are running, the farm doesn’t stop – it can’t,” explains Nichols. “So, as well as working on the challenges that post traumatic stress injury or operational stress present, we work on team building and leadership skills through complete farm immersion. Every accommodation has an associated role in the day-to-day functioning of the farm.”

Terry Nichols says another key with the new cabins is they provide more space to open up the programs to the people who are important in the participants’ lives.

“They give us the space to accommodate couples and families, giving people a private area while still being able to be part of the farm,” she says. “Families, ideally, are the biggest support for veterans for their healing journey, and having them included in programs will also include them in learning tools that will help their family move forward.”


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One of the cabins built at the College of New Caledonia gets lifted onto the trailer to be delivered to Pen-Y-Bryn Farm in Kersley. Lindsay Chung photo

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