Alice Karakas wants to turn a vacant home-school campus in Sauk Centre into a rehabilitation facility for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans left unmoored by warfare.
The 77.5-acre campus already has dormitories, a barn and classroom buildings. Karakas hopes it'll become the latest in a small number of "Veterans Villages" started in 2006 by a grieving California woman who lost her son, Patrick Ryan McCaffrey Sr., in Iraq.
Nadia McCaffrey will be in Sauk Centre next week to visit the campus and make a final decision about pursuing a village there. She's been corresponding with Karakas for months.
"It's a marvelous place," McCaffrey said from Wellsville, N.Y., where she is overseeing the start of the fourth Veterans Village. "This sounds like a dream coming true."
Karakas moved to Sauk Centre eight years ago and discovered the Oak Ridge Campus while walking her dog. Karakas said she follows veterans affairs closely and thought the campus would make a good rehabilitation site. She soon discovered McCaffrey's villages and foundation, the Patrick Ryan McCaffrey Sr. Foundation for Combat Veterans, and began lobbying for a Veterans Village in her northwestern Minnesota town.
"There are a lot of wounded and hurt veterans out there that need care, and they're not getting it," said Karakas, who has no direct ties to Iraq or Afghanistan veterans. "This is a monumental need."
The women will need to raise $3.5 million to purchase the property and another $1.5 million for upgrades and repairs.
The villages aren't medical facilities but instead aim to promote emotional healing. Typical offerings include counseling, arts and crafts, organic farming, life coaching and job placement. The Oak Ridge Campus would be the largest village in the network, which includes two in California and one in North Carolina.
Karakas and McCaffrey said the villages are not meant to replace the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and are mostly aimed at emotional and personal recovery as a means toward reintegration into society.
The villages are funded through private donations and are run by volunteers, although McCaffrey hopes to have full-time staffers one day. Housing is free; veterans are expected to help pay for utilities and assist with upkeep. There is no time limit on a veteran's stay. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are the primary targets, but the camp is open to all vets.
Karakas said she was moved to establish a Veterans Village in Minnesota because of her work with Vietnam veterans who returned from war to face homelessness and electric shock therapy to treat their emotional demons.
"I don't think most people understand the enormity of the problem," she said.
Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391