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How Checkpoint One helps first responders find their inner peace: 'It takes a toll'

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Posted at 5:46 PM, Jun 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-04 18:44:12-04

DOSWELL, Va. -- On this farm in Doswell, you’ll find a team of therapists unlike most others. Experts who work wonders.

“I’ve been coming out here since the fall every weekend,” said Becky Jamison. “They can sense tension. They can sense sadness. They can sense stress.”

Becky isn’t learning to become a ranch hand. The Richmond Ambulance Authority veteran is healing with horses.

“We’re human. What we see and what we deal with every day, it does affect us. It does take its toll,” said Becky.

“We have to make sure places like this are available for people in our line of work,” she added.

Checkpoint One invites first responders and veterans to free themselves of stress on thirty-three acres. The non-profit offers non-riding equine therapy, mindfulness, yoga, fishing, and archery.

Iraq War veteran Andy Kaufmann founded Checkpoint One four years ago.

“Just being able to have that space no matter what they do to release and relax and be outside,” said Andy. “The services that we provide are invaluable. And we love everything we do. I do it in memory for all of the friends I’ve lost in combat and suicides and I can’t picture myself doing anything else.”

The group’s Mental Health Director Mary Margaret Signorelli says the hidden burden shouldered by first responders can wreak havoc.

“I am seeing a lot of isolation and I’m seeing people losing their coping skills,” says Mary Margaret.

“If you need help and you haven’t told anybody yet tell somebody. Tell anybody. It doesn’t matter who it is. But don’t carry it all by yourself.”

This equine therapy doesn’t cost first responders a penny. Checkpoint One runs on donations and grants which have dried up during the pandemic. The non-profit has only enough money through the fall.

“All bets are off after October,” said Andy. “Its hard because we don’t want to stop. We can’t stop.”

Will Shumate says the 33-acre farm has been his savior. The Henrico Firefighter with 24 years of service has helped countless people.

“This is my happy place. It is my happy place,” said Will. “We see them on their worst day and over time that just builds up.”

But Will found salvation from the most unlikely pair of friends donkeys named Donkey and Izzy.

“Don’t be that person who is saying, ‘I am too good for this’. Reach out to make sure you get some help,” said Will.

Will says the experts at Checkpoint One whether on two legs or four never judge and always listen.

“Everything we learn here is totally transportable to the real world both professionally and personally.”

If you would like to find out more information about Checkpoint One or send a donation, click here.

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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