When former South Carolina Highway Patrol officer and current South Carolina Department of Public Safety senior investigator Kevin Caldwell conceived of and was spiritually drawn to the idea of a “law officers’ retreat” six years ago, he was sitting in a pew at Mount Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington. His wife, Ryanne, also a law enforcement officer, remembers him suddenly taking fast notes.
It happened during Easter week in 2017. “He sat up like somebody had tased him,” Ryanne says, “and he started writing furiously.”
According to Kevin, he felt the Lord was calling him to open a place for law enforcement officers who might enjoy and benefit from a retreat — an escape if you will — of uninterrupted solitude and meditation. During the formative years of the retreat’s conception, Kevin was not sure what it would be like and where it would be located and developed, much less how it would be funded.
The couple researched similar retreats for those suffering from emotional trauma issues, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder. They found retreats that had been established for war-weary soldiers returning from arduous overseas deployments. Those retreats also welcomed law enforcement officers, many of whom were also retired and former military service members, but they did not identify any Christian-based retreats geared strictly for law enforcement officers and the truly unique challenges law enforcement officers face every day and night.
“While numerous resources and retreat centers across the country are available for the military and military veterans, no place was designed and designated specifically for law enforcement officers,” Kevin says. “And while we fully support our military and other first responders, our calling is to wrestle with the unique circumstances inherent in the law enforcement profession.”
Unique indeed. “Law enforcement officers serve in the only profession that is trained, conditioned, equipped, and required to neutralize a threat and then in the very next instance save that threatening person’s life,” says Ryanne. “Nobody else does that, not even the military. People like firefighters and EMS come in and help people but not until the threat has been neutralized.”
The idea for a unique retreat was there. The couple was talking and preliminarily planning without a date, site, or capital set aside. But with the increasing need, the couple came to a simple conclusion: If not now, when?
According to The Haven’s website, “Now more than ever, law enforcement officers face overwhelming circumstances in addition to the everyday stress and demands of their jobs. Riots, public demand for defunding or abolishment [of police], negative media reports, and more have led to a dramatic increase in officer suicide. In 2019, 228 officers committed suicide in the United States, as compared to 147 line-of-duty deaths that year. Additionally, in 2019, over 56,000 assaults occurred against law enforcement officers, which translates to one assault every 9.38 minutes. In 2021, 346 law enforcement officers were shot, and ambush-style attacks on officers were up 115 percent.”
Those stark figures were the spark igniting the immediacy of what the Caldwells “had to do,” says Ryanne. In October 2020, planning began in earnest to include discussions with each other’s families.
They found the property, 32 wooded acres with a 10-acre pond in the Midlands. But at a cost of $750,000 and the physical and financial responsibilities of raising two small children — twins, a boy and a girl — the question was, how?
“We put everything on the line; literally wiped out our savings,” says Kevin. “We both talked about faith steps in our lives. And for The Haven, we jumped off the cliff with no parachute when God told us to. The Haven was a long time in coming, but after we were seeing the dramatic increase in officer suicides, we knew we couldn’t wait any longer.”
In February 2021, Kevin and Ryanne closed on the property and almost immediately moved in. What’s in a name? The Haven’s name is derived from Nahum 1:7, said Kevin. Nahum 1:7 reads, “The Lord is good, a haven in the day of trouble; He takes care of those that trust in Him.”
Kevin says he was driving down the road when the verse came to him. “I called Ryanne and said, ‘Write this down. The Lord put this on my heart. It’s Nahum 1:7, and it’s what He wants us to call it.’”
Just as the law enforcement officer’s profession is unique, so too is The Haven’s approach to loving them, says Kevin and Ryanne. “The uniqueness of The Haven’s approach is in its peer-to-peer counseling and mentoring for law enforcement professionals,” says Ryanne. “Officers don’t talk about their problems with outsiders. But they will often open up with each other if led to it.”
As she explains, in the aftermath of any critical incident are post-action debriefs, but the debriefs are just that, brief and not ongoing. Moreover, “Officers rarely want to talk about their emotional issues beyond anything they are asked about during a debrief,” she says.
“Our mission is to rescue officers from the stress of the law enforcement profession, restore officers in relationships with their families and their Creator, and rebuild the relationships between officers and the communities they serve,” says Kevin. “We welcome officers struggling with any stress, whether job-related matters, personal loss, grief, or other challenges life throws at them.”
What’s the cost? “The Haven is free of charge to officers looking for a retreat with others who understand,” says Kevin. “We want people to know that here at The Haven are hope and help.”
That hope is often found in The Haven’s focus on faith-based activities, solitude, and the mutual understanding of professionals, one for another, who connect through shared hardship.
“We have a group of officers trained as peer mentors to walk alongside their brothers and sisters in blue, whatever they are facing,” says Kevin. “Studies have shown that a majority of officers who received peer support and mentoring found it to be helpful, would participate in peer support/mentoring again, and would recommend peer support/mentoring to other officers.”
A former S.C. Highway Patrol Trooper of the Year, Kevin was a member of the SCHP’s peer support program offering peer-to-peer mentoring to officers struggling with all manner of personal and professional issues. He was a founder of the C.O.P.S. ministry (Christian Officers Professing the Savior) at First Baptist Church, providing weekly meals and a supportive environment for officers and their families. And he started the C.O.P.S. annual Thanksgiving meal, which grew to feed approximately 150 to 200 law enforcement officers and their families each holiday season. Today, Kevin is a senior investigator with SCDPS.
A former prosecutor and special investigator, Ryanne was the first person from the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office to attend and graduate from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Today she is an investigator for the State Ethics Commission.
All this and the husband-wife law enforcement team is raising a family, active in their church, and operating and expanding The Haven.
How many have attended The Haven at any one time? As few as one guest, as many as 65. “Each May, officers and area chaplains attend our annual Prayer at the Pond,” says Kevin. “That’s where we’ve experienced our greatest numbers so far. Some who feel more comfortable in a group setting might enjoy The Haven’s once monthly roll call, which includes a chaplain’s message, trail walks, and conversations around the fire pit.”
In addition to its pond, lush woodlands, walking trails, and a fire pit, The Haven’s amenities include indoor and outdoor meeting spaces, a single cabin for overnight stays soon to be expanded to five cabins, and outdoor recreational pursuits including kayaking, fishing, cornhole games, gardening, and various other outdoor activities and games. Short- and long-term goals for The Haven include yoga classes and equine/canine therapy.
“The pond is a central focus of The Haven’s property and our mission,” says Kevin. “It provides a space for quiet reflection and recreation. It is also included in The Haven’s logo. Underneath the cross centered inside the ‘H’ are three ripples moving outward. These ripples represent our pond, and even more the effect we strive to have on all officers who come to The Haven. The ripple effect is an essential part of our mission.”
The Haven’s services include respite getaways, fellowship opportunities, food services for individuals or groups, and access to peer mentors and community-based health care providers. “We have local pastors and chaplains on call to respond via telephone or in-person for prayer and support,” says Kevin. “We have also partnered with other mental health providers, and we connect officers for services if needed. We truly believe that if officers have a place to rest, enjoy the beauty of nature created by God, and participate in peer mentoring, we can help ensure that officers are mentally and physically healthier. Healthier officers are better equipped to serve and protect their families and their communities.”
The Haven has a growing support base. Among the retreat’s partners are Hoover Builders, Superior Landscape, Heritage Landscape Services, Caldwell Trust, Wilkie Construction, Arrowhead Farms, Levitate Creative, Studio Revival, NextGen Foundation Charitable Trust, Newspring Church, Nature Chem, Nephron Pharmaceuticals, and ReMax Advantage Group. The Haven also has numerous individuals who donate to support their mission.
“Considering that The Haven was founded by two law enforcement officers, Ryanne and myself, who are both still employed as full-time officers and know what our officers are facing on a daily basis, we fully understand the unique circumstances that come with the law enforcement profession. And we look forward to serving any and all.”
Centrally located in the South Carolina Midlands with an address that is rarely and only selectively shared for privacy’s sake, The Haven offers easy access to the more than 270 law enforcement agencies across the Palmetto State. The Caldwell home is on the property, and both Kevin and Ryanne say they are looking forward to their first overnight guest in their only cabin later this year.
Superman had his famous fortress of solitude; real supermen and superwomen now have the same.