- Wednesday, May 23, 2018

BUCHANAN, VIRGINIA — “No matter what hardships we endure, we are strong enough to handle them — and they help us to become not only stronger but more compassionate.”

This can-do attitude is found throughout New Freedom Farm, Inc., from its founder Lois Dawn Fritz to the rescued horses who live at the farm to the steady stream of military veterans who come by for comfort and camaraderie.

The farm’s deepest wish is to provide a “safe space” for veterans, especially if they are trying to escape substance abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and suicidal thinking.

“My life as I knew it changed forever in 2009 when someone I knew and loved committed suicide,” said Mrs. Fritz, a Navy veteran and forensic nurse who fought her way out of PTSD, in part by spending time with horses.

“He was a U.S. Marine who suffered with the disease of addiction and was a hurting soul,” she said. “Each and every day, we must try to make a difference in our veterans’ lives …”

Mrs. Fritz and husband Mitchell opened New Freedom Farm in 2016. There is never a charge to veterans who wish to visit, talk and interact with some of the 19 equines, which include three mares and their foals saved from slaughter, two mustangs from the federal Bureau of Land Management, and mini horses, mini donkeys, a hinny and a mule.

No clinical “demographics” are taken of visiting vets — “People can feel so judged” if they say they have PTSD, Mrs. Fritz said — and there are 12-step programs and meetings held at the farm, which is in Buchanan, near Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains and about 30 miles north of Roanoke.

“Save one vet a day, one day at a time,” she said.

The nonprofit charity is endorsed by Rolling Thunder, Inc.

“New Freedom Farm is doing essential work helping our veterans,” said Sgt. Artie Muller, founder and executive director of Rolling Thunder, Inc.

“Lois’ work is literally saving lives every day. The mission of New Freedom Farm fits perfectly with our mission to aid all veterans in need,” he said.

On April 7, the farm hosted the First Annual Freedom Rocks Fest, featuring country music artist and staunch Rolling Thunder, Inc. supporter Rockie Lynne. Several hundred participants — including Rolling Thunder, Inc. members from at least eight states, according to Joe Bean, president of Rolling Thunder, Inc. — braved the unusually cold day to enjoy food, booths, conversations, a F-4 Phantom jet from the Vietnam War era and military vehicles from the Roanoke Military Vehicle Club. A large heated tent was prepared for the crowd, which included decorated veterans from World War II.

New Freedom Farm “is here for all the vets,” said Brandie Kessler, who came from Pennsylvania to help with the April 7 event. While Mrs. Fritz is tough, she said, she is also “magic — she believes [in the farm’s mission] with all her heart, and people feel it.”

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