The epoch times

Veteran-supporting ranch hit with unexpected ‘green tax’ bill.

SABILLASVILLE, Md.—A Slice‌ of Heaven ‍for⁣ Wounded Veterans

Dark thunderstorm clouds parted and a double rainbow appeared just as ‌a family⁤ pulled up at Heroes ⁣Ridge at Raven Rock, home of⁤ Operation Second Chance, a nonprofit retreat that ⁢benefits‍ wounded⁣ veterans and ​their families.

“We​ thought we were entering heaven,” a family member said upon arrival, according to Cindy McGrew, the founder and⁢ CEO‍ of Operation Second Chance.

The⁢ picturesque mountaintop on the border⁣ of ⁤Maryland and Pennsylvania in the Blue Ridge⁢ Mountains ‌really is a slice‌ of heaven, Ms. McGrew told The Epoch Times; it’s‌ meant to​ help ⁤heal ⁣spirits broken ⁢by trauma⁤ experienced during ⁣military ‌service.

Operation Second Chance hosts⁢ battle ⁣buddies, caregivers, families, groups, and individuals ⁤from around the United States in‍ cabins accessible for amputees and wheelchair users.

The ⁤experience is ⁤free for guests,⁢ including travel‍ expenses, activities, and food. The organization also provides ‌grants‍ to‌ wounded veterans facing ⁤financial struggles, helping with house and car​ payments, medical supplies, and emergency assistance.

Clean​ and Green

Heroes Ridge ‌is a 275-acre, mostly wooded​ property with 25 acres in Frederick County, Maryland and ⁤the rest in‍ Adams County. The Frederick County ‌portion is tax-exempt because Operation Second Chance is a nonprofit. But Adams County⁢ hasn’t granted the same exemption.

“We purchased this ​property ⁣in​ October ⁢of 2020, cleaned up the ​buildings ‌that were⁢ already here, made them livable again and brought life back to them,” Ms. McGrew said.

“Then last year, ‍2022, just a few days before ⁣Thanksgiving, I received a call saying it was a courtesy call because we were going​ to get a tax bill for ⁣just over $92,000.

The ⁣Mason-Dixon line runs through the property, a former church camp,‍ and nearby Camp David, the presidential retreat, can be seen in one direction. From a wooded peak in⁣ another direction, veterans can sit by a bonfire overlooking ⁣the iconic Gettysburg battlegrounds, watch the sun go down, and talk⁣ with others ​who understand what they ​have ⁤seen, what they face, ⁤and how they feel.

But, since ⁢Operation⁢ Second Chance bought the property in ⁣2020, more dark ‌clouds have loomed over Heroes​ Ridge. Two years after the organization bought⁢ the‌ property, an unexpected tax bill arrived from Adams County,⁢ Pennsylvania.

The bill, for more than $92,000, is the sum of a ‌seven-year claw-back ⁢of a property ‌tax⁢ discount through Pennsylvania’s Clean and Green‌ Environmental tax break program.

Tax Dispute

When a⁤ buyer​ purchases ‌a⁢ property already enrolled in Clean and ⁢Green, ⁣they must update the program’s application with their‌ information, which usually triggers an additional review of the status, Adams County Solicitor Sean⁣ Mott told The Epoch⁢ Times.⁤ The review determines if⁤ the property has had a change of use that could take the land out of the‍ program and trigger​ a​ seven-year rollback ⁢of the amount of taxes that ⁣weren’t paid due to the discount.

Ms. McGrew ‌said she never received those letters, ⁢but ‌in August of 2022, someone from the county⁤ tax office ⁤visited Operation Second Chance with a letter in hand regarding Clean⁤ and Green. ​That letter⁤ did not have the ⁢right address, she‍ said, and ‌was​ not addressed to the ⁤right⁤ person. She asked him​ to⁢ check his records, address them properly, and mail them to Operation‌ Second Chance.

In Pennsylvania, ​exemption from taxation is allowed under two ‌categories⁢ of landowners: ⁤religious organizations that use‌ property for worship and “purely public charities,” so long as​ the land is actually used in ⁤furtherance of⁣ their charitable mission.

Operation Second Chance applied‍ in⁤ 2022⁤ for a⁢ tax exemption under the Institution of ‌Purely Public Charity ⁣Act, Mr. Mott said, “Which was only⁢ granted in‍ part, as ​they were only able to​ provide evidence of charitable use (i.e., the veterans retreat) for 26.95 acres⁢ of the ​roughly 250 acres (most of which is undeveloped). So, 26.95 acres of the total property‍ are completely⁤ exempt from‌ property ⁤taxes.”

Now, Adams ‍County considers⁣ the land on which​ the⁤ buildings are located ⁢as a nonprofit and exempt from ⁢taxes, but the‌ undeveloped land—which ​Clean and Green​ seeks to preserve as⁢ forested ​land—is not being used enough by Operation Second Chance to qualify for the​ nonprofit tax exemption.

The⁤ Veterans

In 2004, Ms. McGrew started visiting wounded veterans in Bethesda, Maryland, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Her brothers had ‌served in Vietnam, ‌and she‌ vowed that she would always care ‍for veterans.

At Walter Reed, she stood in for parents and spouses⁢ of the wounded ‌when they ​could not be⁣ there, holding hands, listening to their concerns, and filling various needs that came ⁤up, such ⁢as purchasing a playpen ⁣for a visiting⁢ baby. Her coworkers handed her money ⁢and said, “Give this to⁣ your veterans.”

This morphed into​ Operation Second Chance, allowing Ms. McGrew to help more veterans.⁣ Since its start,‍ Operation Second‍ Chance has provided more than⁢ $9​ million in‌ assistance to veterans and their families ⁢through public donations.

“We’ve got guys and gals that are ‌surviving catastrophic injuries that ⁣they ​would ⁢not have​ survived in previous wars,” Ms. McGrew said.

“Some are from rural America, ​they want to⁤ get out of a bad situation by joining the military, or they are very patriotic and wanted ⁣to take a stand and fight ⁣for our country. If they’re wounded, they only get​ a percentage of that pay for life. If you saw their paycheck, for many of them, ​it’s not enough to live ⁣on. If you’re in Montgomery⁣ County, Maryland, for instance, you could​ not live on $1,700 a month, and that’s ‌what some will make.‍ It ⁤depends on their rank. I don’t have all the answers⁤ for ‍that, but I know if [the nation] were doing our​ job, you wouldn’t need⁢ nonprofits.”

Many ⁤veterans ⁢wait until the last minute‍ to ⁣ask for help, ​she​ said, hoping something‌ in⁢ their circumstances will change.

Visitors ⁣to Heroes Ridge ⁤enter a gravel lane through‍ an electronic security gate and drive about a mile uphill before cresting at⁢ the mountaintop where the​ main‍ activities are located. There are several ‌cabins for families, a recreation building, a chow hall, ⁤a main house and pool,⁣ and an outdoor arena for ‌horses. An indoor ⁣horse-riding arena is planned where the outdoor arena is located so they can ‍continue their horse program in all weather.

The security gate and large areas⁢ of forested land surrounding the⁤ main buildings help those suffering from PTSD feel safe. There are hiking trails in the forest.

Veterans and‍ their families who visit Operation Second Chance are often adjusting to major life changes and the entire visit‍ is geared to‍ build morale. The ⁣horse program is one of the most memorable⁤ activities at the retreat. ‍Four rodeo ​team roping horses, named Pepsi, Loops, Cactus, ⁣and Jake, stand in ⁣the ring at the center of the property. Hector, an outrageously friendly donkey, is there, too.

Veterans are ‌taught how to throw a lasso over‍ the horns ‌of a dummy⁢ steer.⁣ Then,⁣ they get on ⁣a horse and‍ try ‍to rope the dummy steer while‌ it’s pulled⁢ around the ring.

“The object is to get what’s on your mind, off your mind,” Operation‌ Second Chance’s resident cowboy Greg Maddox told the Epoch Times.

He says 95 percent of the wounded ​veterans who visit have never ridden a horse, ​or at least not since childhood. And now ⁣they are asking a lot of their body. But when a double leg amputee ‍or someone with a ‌traumatic brain ⁣injury​ gets up on a horse, they ⁣move like everyone else⁢ who is⁢ on a horse.⁣ They get so focused on riding‌ the horse and roping‌ the steer that they⁣ often ⁤forget their disability for a ⁢moment.

It⁤ builds confidence as they ​see ‌themselves in a new light.

Some are nervous​ around ⁣the horses and stand outside the​ fence. That is ⁢when Hector the donkey walks over, nudges, and insists on​ being petted. Hector breaks the ice, and⁣ soon, the veterans are in the‌ ring ⁣interacting with the horses.

“You can see their body language change,” Maddox said, as they go from nervous to relaxed to practicing riders and ropers.

Veterans who can’t ride horses can ⁣benefit ⁣from interacting‌ with them.‍ Horses⁢ have⁣ a way of​ understanding our emotions, and they⁢ meet people where they are, Ms. McGrew said.

The cabins have notebooks where ‌former guests​ have written‌ heartfelt letters.

“If you want my honesty, last week, my⁢ only plan was to shoot my dog and‌ then myself. It’s real. That’s all I had,” one wounded veteran’s entry said. “Now, as I‍ sit here, momentum growing in my stomach, I can finally ‌feel God‌ again, whispering into my heart that the‌ powers⁣ that⁤ be within my soul, once harnessed in self-love, is a power⁣ that can crush evil, not out of​ vengeance, but ‌out‍ of love ‍and fierce loyalty to compassion. ⁣If⁤ you feel like God has left you, you gather those that are capable of loving you and come ⁤up‍ with a plan.”

The cabins have kitchens, but Ms. McGrew has found that ⁣guests prefer to ​gather together ⁢in one place for meals. If they didn’t know each other‌ before arrival, they ​usually exchange information⁢ to⁣ stay in touch before leaving. Sharing meals,⁢ rodeo roping, and​ campfire​ conversations creates bonds not⁢ only​ between wounded‌ veterans ⁣but ‍also among their spouses and children.

“It is an ⁤honor to take⁢ care ⁣of this place ‌and to be able to share ⁣it,” she said.

⁣What actions did the local community take to‍ support Operation Second Chance in their tax dispute?

Property owners have the ⁣right ​to appeal tax assessments. Ms. McGrew, along with her ‌attorney, appealed ⁣the tax bill to Adams‌ County Tax​ Assessment Office, but the appeal was ⁣denied. They then ⁤filed a lawsuit over the tax bill, ​arguing that ⁣it was unjust and unfair.

A Community Rallies

News of Operation ​Second Chance’s tax dispute spread, and the‌ local community rallied behind the ​nonprofit. A GoFundMe‍ campaign was launched to raise funds for the legal battle against the tax bill. Donations poured in from people across‌ the country who wanted to support⁣ the organization and its⁣ mission.

As of now, the legal battle is ongoing, but Operation Second‍ Chance remains determined to⁤ continue its work ‍at‍ Heroes Ridge. The retreat continues to welcome wounded veterans and ⁤their families, providing them with a​ place of healing and support.

Despite the challenges ⁣posed by this⁤ unexpected tax bill, ‌Heroes⁢ Ridge remains a sanctuary for those who have served their country and‌ paid a high price for their‌ service. ​It is a place‌ where veterans ‍can find solace, connect with others who understand their experiences, and find the support they need to move ‌forward.

A Slice of​ Heaven

Heroes‍ Ridge ‌truly lives up to⁤ its name as a slice of ‌heaven for wounded‌ veterans. The picturesque mountaintop location, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains,⁢ provides a serene and ‍peaceful environment⁢ for ‌healing and reflection. The cabins are designed to be⁤ accessible ‌for ⁣amputees and wheelchair users, ensuring that all ⁤veterans can enjoy the retreat.

Operation Second Chance goes above and beyond⁢ to make the‌ experience at Heroes Ridge as comfortable and enjoyable as possible for its⁣ guests. The organization covers all expenses, including travel, activities, ​and‌ food, so that wounded‌ veterans and their families can focus on their healing journey without any financial burden.

In⁣ addition to providing a​ retreat, Operation ⁣Second Chance also offers grants to wounded veterans‌ facing⁤ financial struggles. These grants‍ help veterans with house ⁤and ⁣car payments, medical ⁤supplies, and emergency assistance, ensuring that they have the support they need to thrive.

A Call for Support

As the legal battle over the tax bill ‍continues, Operation‍ Second Chance is calling for support from the ‍community. The organization is urging people to ​donate to their ⁣cause, either through the GoFundMe campaign or directly through their ‍website.

Every ‌donation counts​ and will help ‍Operation Second Chance ⁤in their fight ⁣to keep Heroes Ridge open and accessible to wounded veterans.‌ By standing together and supporting this important⁢ cause, we ‌can ensure that ‍these heroes receive the healing and support they deserve.

Heroes Ridge at Raven ‍Rock is more than just‌ a retreat; it is a place of hope,⁢ resilience, and healing for wounded veterans. Let us stand together and ‌ensure that this slice of heaven remains⁣ a sanctuary ‌for those who have sacrificed so much for our country.



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