Updated: Jan 18
Honorary Colonel Allan De Genova speaks at the opening of Honour Ranch
By Spencer van Vloten
Honorary Colonel Allan De Genova has made it his mission for Canada’s men and women in uniform to receive the support and treatment they need. He is board president of Honour House and Honour Ranch, which provide free accommodation and treatment to veterans and first responders who are disabled, injured, or experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Spencer van Vloten talked to Colonel De Genova about his work with Honour House and Honour Ranch.
Spencer: For people who may not know, what are Honour House and Honour Ranch?
Al: Honour House has be open 10 years now in New Westminster. It provides a home away from home for disabled and injured Canadian Armed Forces, first responders, and basically all men and women in uniform, as well as their families.
They come from all over province, the country, and in some cases we serve our American allies who can’t get treatment in the United States. We offer our accommodations and amenities for no cost while they receive medical treatment in the area.
Honour Ranch was opened in Thompson River Valley in October 2020. Men and women in uniform receive treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at the ranch, which is located on a beautiful, peaceful 120 acre space where armed forces and first responders can come for some time away from the stressors in their lives, connect with others facing similar issues, and receive high quality treatment.
A key to the treatment's effectiveness is flexibility. One size doesn’t fit all when you’re dealing with PTSD; there are so many different triggers, so many different experiences and origins. As a result, our treatment provides many different approaches, and we will even be including an equine (horse) therapy program at the ranch in the near future.
Honour House (top row) and Honor Ranch (bottom row)
Spencer: What motivated you to open Honour House?
Al: Captain Trevor Greene was the inspiration for Honour House. Trevor was serving in Afghanistan when he suffered a disabling brain injury in an axe attack. Captain Greene was then flown to an intensive care facility in Germany, and then to Alberta and BC as he continued his rehabilitation.
All of this time his wife Debbie and their daughter Grace were by his side as he travelled on his long road to recovery, but they struggled to find and pay for accommodation as they stayed with him during his recovery.
This really touched me and my wife, as it just didn’t seem right that a brave man who had already sacrificed so much had to keep paying the price after his injury. I thought there needed to be more support for heroes like Captain Greene and his family, and the idea for Honour House was born.
Spencer: And what motivated you to start Honour Ranch?
Master Corporal Joe Allina was the inspiration to open the ranch. He did 3 tours in the Middle East, but his service had been very tough and he was in a dark place when he came back. He needed somewhere where he could just get away from things, just talk with people, but this place didn’t exist for him at the time and he suffered and suffered, until he ultimately took his life.
I wanted to open Honour Ranch to help people like Joe get mental health support when they need it, so that they can overcome PTSD and lead happy lives.
Captain Trevor Greene (left) was the inspiration for Honour House, while Master Corporal Joe Allina (right) inspired Honour Ranch
Spencer: What was it like opening Honour Ranch during the pandemic?
Al: Because of COVID we had to halt full-time programming at Honour Ranch, but this also gave us extra time able to further develop our infrastructure and our facilities, so we can restart with these improvements and move forward with full-time operations in a better position this year.
PTSD doesn’t work around a neatly defined schedule; it doesn’t schedule itself for 6 months and then take vacation over the next 6. It can affect someone at any time, so there always needs to be support available and we are aiming to provide this.
I think having this type of support in place is especially important now. During the pandemic people are experiencing more stress, they’re increasingly isolated, and suicide rates are up, yet supports are down, and that’s where we want to come in.
Spencer: The house and ranch serve armed forces, first responders, correctional officers, and others. Which professions do you see most of?
Al: There heave been over 10,000 overnight stays between Honour House and Honour Ranch.
Canadian Armed Forces account for most of our guests, then paramedics. Word about Honour House and Honour Ranch has spread through their networks and that's made it easier for them to learn about what we do.
But there are still far too many people falling through cracks, whether they’re armed forces, paramedics, law enforcement, firefighters, or correctional officers. We need to get message out so that people know there is support here for them when they need it.
The opening of Honour Ranch in October 2020
Spencer: Organizations often step up to fill gaps that governments have left in the system. How much support do the groups you serve get from the government?
Al: For one thing, our armed forces are tremendously well-trained and universally respected as allies, but they need better military equipment.
There needs to be more recognition of our troops and emergency responders in general, and in particular greater attention during and after service to invisible injuries--things like PTSD, which can be every bit as damaging as physical injuries. Many people survive an injury and adapt okay physically, but are then overwhelmed mentally.
"Many people survive an injury and adapt okay physically, but are then overwhelmed mentally"
It's no wonder why this happens when you look at what they have to go through. Imagine coming upon strewn body parts after crashes or explosions, or seeing dead children or dead friends. Then consider they also work long hours in high pressure environments that are emotionally and physically draining,
You get people who are exhausted, carrying heavy mental burdens, and feeling alone, and this hurts their marriages, friendships, and day-to-day lives, which in turn makes the problem worse. Many of the groups we work with experience higher divorce rates, struggle with depression, and their suicide rates are much higher than average.
This affects all ages and genders. We’ve seen the suicide of a 28 year old RCMP officer, a 35 paramedic took her life, a 45 year old soldier took his life, and it goes on. It can happen fast or it can take decades to overwhelm someone.
But no matter your age or what’s going on in your life, we aren’t here to judge, we’re here to listen and to provide unconditional support. Sometimes they just they need that time away and unconditional acceptance to heal.
Spencer: What is your long-term vision for Honour House and Honour Ranch?
Al: I want Honour House and Honour Ranch to be self-sustaining. To that end, we’ve worked to make all our buildings as sturdy as can be; we are ensuring that all our facilities are 100 percent accessible to persons with disabilities; and we’re working to develop a rich network of relationships so our work can last in perpetuity.
We also want to expand so that we can reach more of our amazing armed services people and first responders across Canada. We are aiming to open 1 Honour House in every province across the country, with Halifax likely to be the next location as soon as COVID eases up, and then Toronto and Ottawa after that.
Spencer: If someone wants to support the work you're doing, how can they get involved and contribute?
Al: We don’t get any government funding and we rely almost entirely on volunteers, so every bit of support—whether that’s in-kind or a financial donation—goes huge miles. We only have 1 staff, and 99.9 percent of the donations we get go back into our facilities and services.
To get involved and support us, check the website or give us a call. Let us know that you want to lend a hand and please ask if there is anything we could use help with.
It can be as simple as making pies or cookies or bread so the guests have something tasty to enjoy; doing some gardening or repairs or housekeeping; or just being there as a listener and someone for our guests to talk with. At the ranch you can also help out with the animals.
And if it’s in your means to do so, a financial donation—maybe in the name of a family member who was in the armed forces or was a first responder–makes a big difference too.
With your support, we'll be able to keep helping the incredible men and women we serve.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!