From Humble Beginnings

On a quiet country road, not far from Laceyville, PA you will find a game preserve called Ringneck Ridge. The owners, John (a retired Plant Manager of a large corporation) and Mindy (an Air Force Nurse during the Vietnam era) Piccotti have managed to carve out and cultivate a unique business providing authentic pheasant and upland hunting experiences to their clients.

One frosty October morning in 2008, John volunteered as a mentor/coordinator for the annual Pheasants Forever Youth Mentored Hunt at a PA state game land near the Francis E. Walter Dam, White Haven, PA. He and Mindy, along with other avid sportsmen and women, gathered to provide a positive hunting experience for kids of all ages while teaching individuals and their families the importance of firearm safety, conservation and outdoor ethics. Alan Roberts was one of the dog handlers for this event. His wife, Barbara, had volunteered to help Mindy prepare food for the event participants. As they prepared the meal, Mindy told Barb that she and John had recently purchased an adjacent property, which included a handicap-accessible home decorated to mimic a rustic and homey hunting lodge.

Mindy shared her vision of making this home available to hunters that required special accommodations for their particular needs. Her dream was to adapt equipment and accessibility to the preserve, enabling the hunters to get out into the fields so that they could enjoy hunting and the outdoors despite their disability. The couple’s biggest hurdle was lack of money to carry out her vision. Barb and Mindy continued to brainstorm that afternoon about what would be needed to accomplish this goal.

Barb then asked Mindy if she and John would be agreeable to use the lodge to assist wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Barb and Allan’s daughter, Erin Kavanagh, had been engaged to First Lieutenant Michael J. Cleary, who was killed in Iraq in December 2005. Shortly after Michael’s death, his father, Jack Cleary, established the First Lieutenant Michael J. Cleary Memorial Fund. The mission’s purpose is to support veteran’s causes and assist people with special needs. Barb felt certain that helping wounded veterans would be in line with the parameters of the Cleary fund and fitting with Mike Cleary’s passion for hunting and the outdoors. Jack Cleary wholeheartedly agreed and arranged for Hunts For Healing to receive “seed money” from the fund to purchase items necessary to conduct events. Michael Cleary has been and continues to be the inspiration for Hunts For Healing.

More Join the Mission

Another vital person with this project was John Yenason. In 2008, John was staying at Ringneck Ridge helping with the game preserve operation. Mindy shared her vision with John and asked him to assist her and Barb to provide his expertise in hunting and gun handling, and to help coordinate the details for the first and future events. John was eager to come onboard.

The final founder was Tammy Smith. Tammy was a long time friend of Mindy’s. Tammy is very computer savvy and was commandeered to provide technical support. Her administrative expertise and organizational skills rounded out the first office holders of the organization: John Yenason as President, Barb Roberts as the Vice President, Tammy Smith as Secretary, and Mindy Piccotti as the Director of Events.

Word Gets Out

With the mission of HFH defined and access to additional funds, there were still many obstacles to overcome such as connecting appropriate wounded veterans with the hunting events, adapting equipment or environment, and providing food and lodging at the lodge.

As people learned about the organization, Hunts For Healing was directed to the Wounded Warrior Project at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., as a possible recruitment source of wounded veterans. In February 2009, Mindy, John Yenason, and Barb went to Washington, D.C., to meet with Ross Calhoun, the Program Director for the Fire Arms Training Simulator, who gave them a tour of the rehabilitative services and the firearms simulator program at Walter Reed. He then identified a group of wounded veterans who had been through this special training, to embark on their first adventure of hunting and healing at the first Hunts For Healing event. The 3-day bird hunt was held at Ringneck Ridge in March 2009. The guides, their dogs, and some of Ringneck Ridge clients were the first mentors for this event.

There are no secrets in a small community. As word of our organization got out, many people wanted to be part of our efforts. Local churches volunteered to cook lunches and bake goods for us during events. Some of Ringneck Ridge’s clients conducted fundraisers. Veterans from previous eras came onboard to lend their support and guidance to our participants who face a much different life than the one they led before their deployment. The bonding between these generations has been a significant healing balm to all.

We believe there are no coincidences in this world. One of the things that makes Hunts For Healing unique is our acknowledgement that God is in the mix. Guided by His hand and coupled with the fact that our participants discover that they are admired, respected and loved by strangers is powerfully healing. Many of our participants become Hunts For Healing volunteers.

The Program Today

Our program continues to expand. Hunts For Healing currently offers 7 events a year. Most of our events are hosted at Ringneck Ridge, starting Wednesday afternoons and ending the following Sunday morning. An average event hosting 6 veterans requires approximately 30 volunteers, with a cost of $7,000. Family camp is a week-long event catering to the veterans, their significant others and children. For this event we rent a local campground and employ the services of about 70 volunteers.

None of this would be possible without John Piccotti’s efforts. He built and maintains the facility. He schedules his business around the Hunts For Healing schedule of events and provides storage for our equipment. John actively recruits donors, mentors and landowners for our programs. He also assists in our fundraising events.

Mindy passed in February 2018. She accomplished what she set out to do. She made many dreams come true, especially her own. We miss her greatly. May she rest in peace.