The house she's making for them isn’t quite finished, but the people who need Betsy Reed Schultz are already finding her.
Take the sister of a Navy sailor who died this year. She drove from Arizona to the northwest corner of America to spend a night sharing memories of her brother with Schultz.
Or the family of a soldier who took his own life. They spent a week in Schultz's house on Puget Sound, taking time to remember their son.
"All I can do is be here and listen," said Schultz, whose son Capt. Joseph Schultz of Sacramento was killed on a Special Operations mission in Afghanistan on Memorial Day weekend seven years ago.
Soon, Schultz will be able to do a great deal more. She's nearly finished with a project she began in 2012 to create a retreat for grieving military families in an old bed and breakfast near Olympic National Park in Port Angeles, Wash.
That's on top of the $377,000 she's already spent on the remodel from charitable donations to the nonprofit Captain Joseph House Foundation.
"Every day I check my mail box" looking for the big check, Schultz, 67, said about the state funding that will let her open the house next year.
Get people moving on
The concept is to bring three families of fallen military service members together at a time, to spend a week in a beautiful place helping each other look to better days. The idea came to Schultz soon after her son's death, when she realized that spending time with families like hers made her feel stronger.
"I can’t promise it's going to be better or worse. I can only encourage them to take it minute by minute, hour by hour," she said.
Her plan resonated with retired Lt. Col. Celia FlorCruz, who in one of her recent assignments led one of the Army units that cares for seriously ill and wounded soldiers.
At the helm of a so-called Warrior Transition Battalion, FlorCruz would hear from legions of people who wanted to help veterans, offering free meals, concert tickets and adventures. They were well-intentioned, but didn't necessarily help someone move forward from a life-changing event.
"Betsy was not like that," said FlorCruz, who met Schultz when she and husband Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl were stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. "The concept is to get people moving on with life."
She and Dahl hosted a fundraiser for Captain Joseph House in 2015. They said they didn't doubt that Schultz would get the nonprofit up and running. "Her approach was not, 'Let's get together and grieve.' It was, 'Let's set ourselves on a positive trajectory,'" Dahl said, echoing his wife.
'A cause greater than himself'
Schultz takes inspiration from her son, a 1993 El Camino High School graduate who broke into politics after earning his bachelor's degree at the University of Oregon.
He worked in then-Gov. Gray Davis's administration after graduation, helping to open its office in Washington, D.C. He also worked for the State Department before spending a year in Israel at a kibbutz.
He came home after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., and joined the Army. He stood out in uniform, too, serving with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq before joining the elite Green Berets.
Schultz's death struck home in the Capitol, where lawmakers noted the political career he gave up and lifelong friends mourned him.
"He was a man with a deep drive, a fierce intelligence and an absolute dedication to serving a cause greater than himself," then-Assembly Speaker John Perez said in a speech on the floor of the Legislature just after Schultz's death.
A similar tribute could go to his mom, Betsy, who wakes up early every day and races to complete her project. That means full days of networking, coordinating volunteers and reaching out to military families who might one day find comfort at the Captain Joseph House.
"I just go. I go," she said. "There is so much need for this house and without begging people you have to just keep talking and sharing. What it does is raise awareness, and besides awareness sometimes it raises some good funds."
'He's in my heart'
She hosts Gold Star families from time-to-time in her house, including the widows of the soldiers who died with her son. Her story has reached some unexpected places, too. She was surprised this spring when the sister of a fallen sailor showed up on her lawn without calling ahead.
"We stayed up for four hours that evening, just talked and shared and talked about her life and how her life would be different," Schultz said.
She moved to Port Angeles, a small town that offers a jumping off point to Vancouver Island or Olympic National Park, in the early 2000s after ending her career in social work in Sacramento. She bought the 1910 Tudor-style bed and breakfast and managed it as her own business.
Her community embraced her when she began talking about turning the inn into a retreat for military families. A car dealer donated three vans that will be used to bring guests from the airport to the inn. Her neighbors show up for workdays and attend fundraisers of all sizes.
Dahl, the general, said that support and the commitment of Washington state taxpayers showed that Schultz found a way to bridge a divide between civilians and military service members. "What an immense, sustained effort on her part. What determination," he said.
Schultz's hard work won't end when she receives the big check from Washington state. The house needs a little more work. Soon, she'll have to shift to raising money to pay for the services families will use at the house, and the costs of their travel to Port Angeles.
This week marks the seventh anniversary of her son's death.
"I miss him every day," she said. "I look at his pictures. Obviously he hasn't changed. You can't say, 'I can't believe he's gone.' It'll be seven years on Tuesday. That's what I can't believe."
She likes to remember the Mother's Day she and Joseph spent on a long spit that stretches from a wildlife refuge on Puget Sound. They talked and read, and made an easy day together.
She hopes Captain Joseph House will let other families make those kinds of memories.
"He’s still here. He’s in my heart," she said. "It's all those memories you store all your life and you have no idea what they will be for you. That’s why you make memories, so you have that album of remembrances that pull you through on the sad days."