Katie Begalke shares her story of escaping domestic violence to create a better future in Sandpoint By Taylor Shillam | Photo by Aaron Theisen
“Return Retreats was born out of my personal experience with domestic violence and my journey to restoration and rejuvenation here in Sandpoint,” shared Katie Begalke, executive director and idea generator behind Return Retreats.
Return Retreats are one-of-a-kind retreats designed for women to gather and connect on a deeper level. With retreats based on restoration, revitalization, renewal and reimagination, all proceeds from Return events support burdened women within Sandpoint, providing financial support to organizations like Priest River Ministries for Women, Life Choices Pregnancy Center, and the Panhandle Animal Shelter.
In three years, Return Retreats has brought together women to laugh, to heal, to share, to learn, and to relate. "We have hosted five retreats, nine trivia nights, had a successful Mother’s Day Fundraiser that lifted up Sandpoint women-owned businesses, and have learned a ton."
It all started in 2017, with a major life change. "Life as I knew it completely shifted after being strangled by my husband just six months into our marriage," Katie said. "A few months after that incident and several more equally as terrifying, I finally gained the courage to share what I was going through with my family. Together, we made a plan for how to safely leave Seattle and my abusive husband.”
With the help of family and friends, she hastily packed a U-Haul and secured her most precious cargo, "my dog, Hildie,” she shared. Just hours later, the realization hit that she didn’t know where she was going.
“Our plan only went as far as getting me out safely,” she said. “I didn’t have anywhere to live, and moving back to my hometown in Wisconsin wasn't my first choice.” She began to pray God would provide a place to live for under $800 a month and that the renters would allow her Bernese Mountain dog to accompany her.
"I anxiously searched through rentals in several cities that were on my radar, and only one had a rental that fit my criteria: Sandpoint.” There, she found a rental within her budget that was located off the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.
“This slightly rundown, charmingly rustic cabin became my respite center,” she shared. “Each morning, I would wake up enveloped by the sun beaming through my windows, and I knew that no matter how hard this next part of the journey would be, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.”
She received further confirmation a week later, when she found an ad in the Daily Bee for a domestic violence support group hosted by the Priest River Ministries Advocates for Women. Joining the group led to further opportunities for workshops, counseling and Bible studies related to her experience.
“It was life-changing and possibly even life-saving,” she said. Katie had considered going back to her husband at the end of the three-month lease at her new home, but what she learned led her to realize she would only be returning to a cycle of abuse.
After two more years in Sandpoint, Katie wondered how she could give back to the community that had given her so much.
“The idea of Return Retreats quickly came to me. Each time I was out on a walk, I would come home and feverishly write out all my ideas,” she said.
"I became obsessed and could envision Return Retreats in its entirety. To get all the ideas together, I started our website, and it was complete within a week. I invite everyone to visit ReturnRetreats.org to see our full mission, vision and values."
In 2019, Katie visited the Idaho Nonprofit Conference in Boise, formed a board of directors, joined Leadership Sandpoint, and incorporated Return Retreats as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“I felt on fire!” she said. “I started hosting monthly More Than A Woman Trivia Nights, lining up retreat experiences at third-party locations, and was talking about Return with anyone and everyone who would listen.”
Then, COVID hit. “All the momentum was shut down and the idea of gathering women together for retreats was out of the question.”
Katie chose to see opportunity within the unexpected change. “Fortunately, slowing down allowed time for reflection, revision, and a break from my obsession,” she said. “While Return isn't where I thought it would be, I have found a flourishing relationship with a supportive and loving partner whose entire family has been an absolute blessing to me.”
As the world began to open back up, Return hosted two equine wellness retreats at KayDee Ranch in Sagle, and two of Priest River Ministries Advocates for Women organizational training retreats, each learning experiences that would help shape the future of Return Retreats, and a new goal to find its own retreat space.
"Moving forward, we will advertise retreats for nonprofits, church groups, and small business teams, and run them out of a network of Airbnbs in the area," Katie said.
"Meanwhile, we will continue developing donor relationships, and working toward positioning ourselves financially for the future purchase of our dream property. That dream property just might be the restorative cabin, where I have experienced firsthand renewal at my landlord's home on the lake.” The restorative cabin is currently available for women to rent and use as a rejuvenating retreat for up to three nights at a time. It can be booked through Katie directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, Katie works at the Community Resource EnVision Center as their PR and Program Coordinator, a role that undoubtedly suits her, positions her to learn, and "plugs me into the community in a way that can only strengthen the future efforts of Return Retreats," she said. "I hope to continue building relationships within our kind and generous community, while working toward gaining the trust and the excitement of this endeavor among donors.”
The belief behind Return Retreats is that working together strengthens the community. "If at any time we are not a solution to a problem or adding value to our community, we will happily choose to dissolve or partner with another organization to reach the needs of women in our community," Katie said.
She hopes to continue holding loosely to her agenda and to trust God’s plan and timing for the future of Return Retreats. "Ultimately, our goal hasn’t changed. We still desire to rescue and restore women through a variety of retreat and respite opportunities and intend for the funds to go directly back into the community."
Katie invites the community to please reach out with any questions or suggestions at email@example.com.