Changemaker: Betsy Reed Schultz turns house into home for healing Gold Star families

PORT ANGELES, Wash. -- It's one thing to open your house to strangers. It's another to dedicate that home and your life to helping others heal. That's the mission created by Betsy Reed Schultz.

She's turning an old Tudor-style home, in Port Angeles on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, into a place of respite for Gold Star families.

A Mother's Motivation

A Gold Star is a designation no family wants. Given to those who have lost a loved one during military service to our country.

Reed Shultz can relate. She knows the pain. She's felt the sacrifice. She, too, has suffered.

Her son, Army Green Beret Capt. Joseph Schultz, 36, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2011, along with two other soldiers.

“I miss his smile,” says Reed Schultz, while taking a deep breath. “He was very loving and he would always tell me how appreciative he was that I was his mother and he was in my home.”

Army Green Beret Captain Joseph Schultz and mother Betsy Reed Schultz

That home is now destined to help others still grieving the loss of their service member. Reed Schultz says she created the vision for the respite house after spending time with other families at Dover Air Force Base, in the days after her son's casket arrived back in the U.S.

“There had to be a way that I could work with other families and use this house," she says.

She purchased the home back in 2000 and turned it into a Bed and Breakfast.

“I always wanted to have an inn,” she explains.

Her son used to say that the house built in 1910 was meant for so much more.

“Joseph always wanted to have children," she says. "He did not have any children, but he would always say, ‘Mom, that house, it has to have children in it.’”

Captain Joseph House in Port Angeles, Wa.

Creating a Movement

Getting the house ready to host those Gold Star children, their siblings, and parents, three families at a time, has been expensive.

“At this point, we’ve spent about $375,000,” Reed Schultz says.

She created the Captain Joseph House Foundation and put out a donation box. It worked.

“Whether they dropped a dollar or a $20 bill," she says. "They came, they learned, and they walked out saying, oh my gosh.”

An "aha" moment for this community. People started showing up to volunteer. They brought others. Word spread. A tidal wave of support, 400 people strong to date.

“One person makes a difference," Kathy Charlton, board president of the Captain Joseph House, says when talking about Reed Schultz. "And she’s pulled a community together, who cares about this project.”

Volunteers work on the Captain Joseph House, a home built in 1910.

Volunteers have committed more than 12,000 hours working to restore the five-bedroom home into three guest rooms to accommodate the families. There are rooms in the house named after the other soldiers killed with Captain Schultz -- 28-year-old Staff Sgt. Martin Apolinar and 25-year-old Sgt. Aaron Blasjo.

Military veteran Roderick Lee is a volunteer who coordinates all the construction. He says all it took was Reed Schultz sharing her story and people want to donate their time.

“We’re doing this for the Gold Star Families, of which Betsy is one of them,” Lee says.

Community commitment on full display, during one weekend last December. Captain Joseph House and its supporters brought in the "Remembering Our Fallen Tribute Towers" traveling memorial.  It's made up of 30 towers with double-sided banners displaying military and personal photos of nearly 5,000 U.S. service members who have died fighting the War on Terror since 9/11/2001. Capt. Joseph is one of them.

“It’s too many and each one is a special person and they want to be remembered,” says Reed Schultz.

A House of Healing

Gold Star Families from around the country will be invited to Captain Joseph House. They will have their travel, transportation, housing and food provided. The location provides access to the nearby Olympic Mountains and Strait of Juan De Fuca. Call it "nature's therapy."

“Those who come, it will make a difference, because they will make a difference, they will feel a difference." Reed Schultz says. "It’s OK to share. It’s OK to laugh."

As she helps us all remember, those families are still grieving--still sacrificing--and a home just for them can help.

“I’m not a spring chicken," she says "but I hope I’m along for enough years to see many families come through.”

So we honor Betsy Reed Schultz as a true Changemaker.

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