Across 50 acres in Carson, New Mexico, sits the self-sustained Veterans Off-Grid (VOG) property — a nonprofit founded by Ryan Timmermans, who says his mission is to restore a sense of purpose, community, sustainability and peace to veterans in need.
VOG’s story begins in 2017 when Timmermans said he realized his vision and purchased the land that’s located nearly 35 miles west of Taos. Since then, volunteers have made it their mission to help promote eco-friendly living.
Originally from North Carolina, Timmermans served in the U.S. Army as an intel analyst and psychological operations specialist. He completed multiple tours to Afghanistan, both as a soldier and contractor. Even though Timmermans has been employed in the private sector, using his military expertise, he says ke knows homelessness. After leaving North Caorilna, Timmermans says the land he initially planned to purchase didn’t pan out and he found himself homeless.
“What do I do? Now, I’m actually a homeless veteran for the first time in my life,” he said.
But it wasn’t just Timmermans’ brush with homelessness that ignited his want to help other veterans with similar struggles. He says, for there is something much deeper and darker that befalls many veterans — suicide.
Like many vets, Timmermans said PTSD didn’t give him a pass. He described one time coming home after his final tour in Afghanistan, finding his mind and spirit had fallen into an abyss. Reaching out for help, he waited 45 minutes to talk with someone at the Veterans Affairs Hospital.
“That’s a really long time to wait when you’re struggling with demons. We lose 22 to 24 veterans a day to suicide,” Timmermans said. “I bought this land because I lost two of my friends to suicide. They deployed with me to Afghanistan. And they lost their mental battle. We didn't know anything was wrong and then they're not here anymore. So, if I don't provide a place for veterans to really feel normal again, who will?”
The concept at VOG is that anyone staying there has no bills. No one gets paid for any work they do there, but they do “pay” it forward by helping build more structures for others to stay in. And through that, Timmermans said they learn and teach green-building skills.
There are a few permanent dwellings on the property including a hyper-adobe with a purple and white roof, which students helped build in a collaboration Timmermans co-created with UNM-Taos Construction Technology Program Coordinator Mark Goldman.
All the dwellings have a “solar mass” aspect to them, which keeps the inside warm. They use a lime plaster mixed with crushed glass for the outside of the buildings.
And everything on the property is designed to help a veteran feel normal again.
“I take the heavy military aspect out if it and remove the yelling and the forced exercise, and all that kind of stuff. Natural building is exercise and you're doing it with a purpose,” Timmermans said.
To further his construction knowledge, in 2018, Timmermans enrolled in one of Goldman’s construction courses at UNM-Taos. Goldman learned of Timmerman’s mission and started volunteering. Goldman says he's had a focus on affordable housing since he was an architecture student in Boston. He brought Timmermans’ idea to the attention to leadership on campus.
This spring semester marks the “soft rollout” of the VOG program. Initially, the program will feature two courses: Cooperative Education and Design for Green Building.
“We’re fortunate to have this great opportunity for a partnership. My hope is to build a program that outlasts my tenure at UNM-Taos,” Goldman said.