Nonprofits  May 19, 2022

Martyred Angels Foundation fundraises for program expansions

BOULDER — When John Wayne Vogels of Boulder lost his nearly 4-year-old son, he couldn’t find the resources he needed to deal with his loss.

Vogels wanted a way to address his grief that could help other parents, so he created the Martyred Angels Foundation in 2013 to provide equestrian therapy, grief support camps and star registries for parents who lost children and children who lost parents. The service also is provided to those with confirmed PTSD related to the loss, including veterans, Gold Star families and civilian families.

“This is such a widely needed service, I truly didn’t expect it to be absent,” said Vogels, founder and executive director of the Martyred Angels Foundation. “There was nothing out there (in the Boulder area) that had consistent research and care for family who lost a child.”

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Vogels now wants to grow his nonprofit by building an Equestrian Lodge as a home base for his services and to be able to serve more families. He identified a nearly 39-acre property, the Meadowdale Ranch in the Estes Park area, that already has the buildings on site that fit with what he offers. The property, previously used as a rehab center for troubled youth, needs some work, which Vogels plans to make happen through donations, revenue and other resources.

“The idea behind it is to have a place for visitors, the public, as well as registrants of the organization to have a nice place to stay and, at the same time, to have horses at the property, so we can explain how we use horses in the horse therapy program to hopefully gain more supporters,” Vogels said. “The lodge will also provide revenue for the organization to keep operating costs available and also to be able to expand and continue to acquire other properties.”

Vogels launched a fundraising campaign on Fundcare, Anedot and other fundraising sites in March to purchase the property, which costs $3.9 million with a $1 million down payment. The property includes an 18-room lodge with a commercial kitchen and dining/meeting room, two four-bedroom houses and a duplex, plus horse boarding facilities. 

“It’s perfectly ideal for the ideas we have,” Vogels said. 

Vogels plans to open the Equestrian Lodge seven days a week to visitors, investors and registrants, who are the participants in the foundation’s programs, so that they can have greater access to programming and spend more time with the horses. Currently, registrants access the horses through the foundation’s partnership with Spirit Horse Therapy & Training in Erie, a private horse-boarding facility that offers training, clinics and classes. The partnership operates the horse therapy/riding program with two horses and a miniature pony.

“By having horses on the property, our own team of horses, having that and a barn manager on the property as well, this will allow public access to the horses,” Vogels said.

Kaia Livingstone, owner of Spirit Horse Therapy, provides equestrian therapy for the foundation, incorporating her background in psychotherapy and instruction. She leads the Martyred Angels grief support–equine facilitated psychotherapy sessions employing equine-facilitated psychotherapy, process support and trauma-informed care to help families look for ways to heal and find meaning in their sorrows. 

“Complex grief can take a long time, over many years, to understand and come to terms with. Many families don’t have the resources for ongoing care and support, which Martyred Angels generously provides,” Livingstone said. “Martyred Angels has been able to support and encourage care for clients who wish to receive professional help in their grieving and healing process. Some families wouldn’t be able to receive ongoing support without Martyred Angels’ help.”

When Vogels and Livingstone initially discussed their partnership, they expected to see results in four to five months but instead saw them with their first registrant family. The family’s oldest surviving son said the name of the youngest son who died in a trailer fire after not being able to speak it aloud.

“It’s horse therapy, but how this therapy is provided is a little different,” Vogels said. “(Kaia’s) incorporating that experience and knowledge into how she trains and works with horses.”

Martyred Angels offers a number of other programs, including grief support camps one to two times a summer at a private Boulder area property with cabins, a commercial kitchen and an observatory. 

“It gets them feedback and information about how well the program is going for them,” Vogels said. 

Registrants have a place to relax, release their grief and be around others who understand, Vogels said. The idea is to help them realize they are not alone, he said.

“Everybody discusses their stories and how the horse therapy is working for them,” Vogels said, adding that he also can get feedback on what the registrants would like to see done differently. “It allows everybody to open up and in several cases not feel — the word I’m looking for — ashamed over losing a child.”

The camps, as well as the equestrian therapy program, are supposed to be a place to heal but also to have fun, Vogels said. 

“It’s not constantly being in a state of depression and grief,” Vogels said. “You actually can have fun and smile and enjoy life without all this negativity weighing you down.”

By acquiring property for the equestrian therapy program, Martyred Angels will be able to host camps there in addition to the Boulder area property, plus extend the number of camp offerings. The observatory at the Berthoud property is a place for registrants to view the stars in the star registries that the foundation purchases in memory of the registrant’s children. So far, the foundation has donated seven star registries.

“We had a family member purchase a star in our son’s name shortly after his passing,” Vogels said. “It was truly amazing, and I didn’t think about it until the foundation started growing because I was more focused on other areas, then it dawned on me. … It’s the families we purchased these star packages for when they received them, they were absolutely so happy.”

Vogels and his wife, Teresa, lost their son, Bladyn, in a drowning accident April 9, 2011;  they have a daughter, Raven, 16. 

The Vogels got grief counseling through Boulder County but funds were reallocated and the department closed. Vogels started talking to the homeless he noticed during his breaks from work, asking them how they got in their situations. A few had lost their children, then experienced other losses as well, such as employment and marriages, and faced drug and alcohol addiction. He wanted to be able to help them, too, with his mission at Martyred Angels.

One family that the Martyred Angels helped is Troy and Barbara Walczyk, who lost their youngest son, Cody Walczyk, 32, on Sept. 21, 2021, to Crohn’s disease and COVID-19. The Walczyks met Vogels at Cody’s memorial, and Troy Walczyk, impressed with his organization, decided to place Martyred Angels Foundation patches on a vest he uses to ride on his custom chopper to show support for the foundation and the parents who have lost their children. 

“It’s been a struggle every day because he is no longer with us. … It’s so hard losing a beautiful son. It has changed our lives forever,” Walczyk said. “John Vogels has been very supportive in the time of our loss. I really wish there were more organizations like John’s. … Families need that support.” 

Martyred Angels provides a long list of additional services, including temporary financial support, covering the cost of cemetery plots next to the child’s plot to be used by the immediate family, and hosting PTSD grief support meetings. 

“Everything we do for families … is no cost to them,” Vogels said. “They already lost enough when they lost their child or parent.” 

BOULDER — When John Wayne Vogels of Boulder lost his nearly 4-year-old son, he couldn’t find the resources he needed to deal with his loss.

Vogels wanted a way to address his grief that could help other parents, so he created the Martyred Angels Foundation in 2013 to provide equestrian therapy, grief support camps and star registries for parents who lost children and children who lost parents. The service also is provided to those with confirmed PTSD related to the loss, including veterans, Gold Star families and civilian families.

“This is such a widely needed service, I truly didn’t expect it…

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