By Evelyn Pyburn

It was almost exactly a year ago that the Adaptive Performance Center (APC), a veterans’ support center, received a $750,000 grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The grant came with the promise of getting another $750,000 grant in a year, if their program proved itself to be effective and met the requirements of the grant.  Having lived up to those expectations and goals, APC was recently notified that they will be getting another $750,000 to continue their program.

Having reached some amazing goals in the past year, APC founders Karen Pearson and Mitch Crouse, are just as ecstatic about this award as they were last year. They are also excited about what they hope to achieve in the coming year.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made the grant under the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program. Suicide prevention among veterans is precisely what Pearson and Crouse are dedicated to achieving, and they believe they have developed a program that truly achieves that goal.

APC is a gym for veterans and enlisted military, where they can meet and talk with like-minded individuals whose association helps to build inner strength and peace while building physical strength.

Both Crouse and Pearson had experiences in providing physical training for people who had traumatic situations with which to deal, and they realized that physical exercise was hugely beneficial in that process. As Crouse frequently reiterates, “Move your body, heal your mind.”

With the intent of proving their theory, three years ago, Pearson and Crouse launched APC, with no guidelines or guarantees or members. Today, Billings’ center has about 800 members, and a second location they opened last February in Helena has about 400.

The APC gym is located at 1420 Broadwater in Billings and at 2476 North Cook in Helena. While Billings has the highest percentage of veterans in its population in the state, Helena has the second highest. About 10 percent of the Montana population are veterans, one of the highest in the nation – unfortunately the state also has the highest rate of suicides.

Pearson’s and Crouse’s theory about the benefits of exercise is working better than anticipated, not just because of the gym or the opportunity to get into physical shape, but because the gym quickly became a “safe place to be” —- a place where veterans found like-minded friends, and people truly dedicated to helping them through the many struggles they have.

It has turned out that not only is exercise a magic elixir of sorts, APC is meeting many other needs as well. Pearson said that there are many “holes” in the services that are supposed to be available to veterans and not enough people to deliver on them. After a while a veteran becomes so frustrated with getting no response, put off, or ignored, they just give up, said Person.

APC staff quickly broadened their assistance and their knowledge. They developed resources to help solve issues that really should never have been an issue.

Said Crouse, “We are sort of a committee with a sweet gym attached.”

With two APC locations already established in Montana, what’s next for APC? “Open more locations,” replies Pearson.

The hope is that they can launch a third location out-of-state. They have had plenty of interest from advocates in other states. At the forefront is North Carolina. Other states that pose possibilities are Alabama and Colorado.

Pearson explained that what they look for in an area is whether there is a significant concentration of veterans to serve, and the capacity of the community, and the commitment of those wanting to establish a gym.

It takes a lot of front funding and work.

Anyone who has their D2-14 discharge papers can join APC. The cost is $19.95 a month, but no one is turned away because of inability to pay. In fact, APC has numerous individuals, businesses and organizations, which will pay the dues of anyone who can’t afford to do so. Between 35 and 40 percent of their members depend on such contributions, and they are very appreciative.

The grant funding is primarily used for staffing and to provide for the professional trainers and mental health support that both gyms provide. Like many other businesses finding the people they need in a tight labor market is one of their biggest challenges.

Crouse and Pearson divide their time between the Billings and Helena gyms, focusing much effort on acquiring and training staff.

Provision for many other needs they still have, comes through the contributions of people and businesses in the community. APC has held fund raisers which were well supported by the community.

They welcome any support that people, organizations and businesses want to give. There are businesses and employers who will match contributions, they note.

And, then there are the surprises. Pearson said that someone comes at regular intervals and unloads a pickup full of dry goods at the door.

The support is well worthwhile. “Every day we see miracles happen here,” said Pearson. While the physical exercise is beneficial and sometimes absolutely essential to overcome health issues, APC becomes a family for most of the members, where they enjoy the comradery and thrive with the support. Family members are always commenting to Pearson and Crouse about how APC has transformed their loved one and changed the lives for the whole family.

Pearson related the story of one veteran from North Carolina who contacted them several times inquiring about APC. He was an unemployed veteran, seeking help and a new start. To their amazement, he packed up and moved to Billings, joined APC, got a place to live, got better, and now has a job and is thriving.


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