Rick’s Place volunteer likes connecting with military families near Fort Bragg
By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer | Published: July 1, 2019
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — When Diana Juergens arrived at Fort Bragg in 2005, she and her husband were expecting their eighth daughter and she didn’t know anyone at the installation.
Her daughter was due in August and her husband was set to deploy two weeks after the birth.
The day her husband deployed was emotional, she said.
“We had already said goodbye to dad five times prior to that for combat deployments, but this one was different because of the circumstance,” Juergens said. “And no goodbye is every easy, but we truly didn’t know anybody yet. It was just a very lonely time.”
Juergens said she could have used a “Rick’s Place.”
Rick’s Place is a 50-acre retreat off Shenandoah Drive in Fayetteville that provides recreational space and activities for military families and servicemembers. It is named for Rick Herrema, a U.S. Army Special Operations Command soldier from Grand Rapids, Mich., who was 27 when he was killed in Iraq in 2006.
The mission of Rick’s Place is to build community and to strengthen the military family through fun, quality activities.
“It didn’t matter if I had only been here a month,” Juergens said of when she first arrived in the area. “I would have taken my children out there, and I would have met other families just like me. I would have met military spouses who’ve said goodbye to their soldier.
“They would have wrapped me up in their arms and hugged me even though they don’t know me. But they know what I’m experiencing. My children would have interacted with other kids who’ve had to say goodbye to either their mom or their dad.”
The mission of Rick’s Place resonated with Juergens, who has been an ambassador and volunteer for the organization since the beginning.
Juergens knows the people who started Rick’s Place and she has watched it transform from a horse farm to a place — now in its fifth year — with a staff, a budget and an annual calendar.
She loves to share with military families what she loves about Rick’s Place.
It is a place where families can turn to get help with a number of issues, including reconnecting family members when a deployed servicemember returns home.
“At times, dad’s coming back from a stressful place, and mom’s been in a stressful environment, so it’s taking them and the family to a peaceful place to reconnect,” Juergens said.
Or it can be a place for spouses to find support when servicemembers are deployed.
“Let me tell you, it’s a guarantee when your husband leaves, something’s going to break,’’ she said. “Somebody’s going to get sick … there’s the broken water heater. The vehicle doesn’t work. The air conditioner doesn’t work.”
Rick’s Place allows military spouses going through those scenarios to take a breath and to talk to others who have been in similar circumstances, she said.
There also are work days at Rick’s Place during which volunteers use machinery and heavy equipment — providing an opportunity for single soldiers and others to reconnect as well.
“Rick connected people,” she said. “Rick served his community of people and his military family. The guys in his unit loved him. They knew that they could call him.’’
Juergens said that’s why she still volunteers and supports its mission.
“I love to run up to these families, having been one, and welcoming them to the property and make them feel special and connect them to someone else,” Juergens said.
Rick’s Place also has fun days, summer camps, an art program, a garden, yoga, books, swings and space to enjoy a picnic.
“There’s stuff happening on the property every day,” she said. “It’s open sunup to sundown. Come on out and bring your family and connect.”
Juergens said she views Rick’s Place as offering something for the entire family and complementing Fort Bragg’s activities.
“Families get to come and see someone cares,” she said. “Someone’s remembering them, and someone is saying, ‘Thank you.’ ”
Juergens said anyone who might be interested in volunteering at Rick’s Place should call 910-444-1743.
“We love new ideas, new gifts, new talents coming in and saying, ‘Have you thought about doing that,’ ” she said.