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Nathan Schmidt didn’t know what to expect when he called New Haven-based psychologist Dr. Amit Oren in May.
Schmidt and his wife, Dana, had contacted Oren to see if she was interested in helping organize a wellness retreat in the Austrian Central Alps for families who had fled the war in Ukraine.
In the first few months, over 5 million Ukrainian residents fled to other European countries, according to The United Nations. Schmidt had been assisting families through The Mountain Seed Foundation, a nonprofit he established in 2021 to aid people from war-torn countries. While serving at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv from 2015 to 2018, he was inspired by the bravery of children living in the eastern regions and decided to spend his life helping Ukrainians.
The former marine wanted to host a mountain climbing retreat for the families in the summer. After serving three combat tours in Iraq, Schmidt found that mountain climbing gave him resilience and a sense of peace necessary to combat war trauma.
“In my personal journey of suffering from PTSD in conflict zones, the mountains were a way to heal,” he said.
The foundation discovered Oren, a clinical supervisor for the Yale Department of Psychiatry, through a reference from a Ukrainian-American physician at Yale. Oren has run a private practice in New Haven for over thirty years, helping patients with anxiety, depression and anger. To Schmidt’s great surprise, she was immediately sold on the idea and was moved by his story.
“He said (on the phone), ‘I completed three tours of duty in an unjust war as a marine,” Oren said. “He had me at ‘unjust war.'”