"Gentle Wind Project" Wafts into Ellsworth

Alternative "Healer" Sues Former Fans

EllsworthAmerican.com/December 18, 2004
By Tom Walsh

Ellsworth -- Veterans coping with battlefield injuries and post-traumatic stress are actively being courted by the Gentle Wind Project, a controversial, Maine-based "healing organization."

This "trauma card" distributed free to veterans who attended a Gentle Wind Project open house Saturday in Ellsworth is similar to one in the project's online catalog that has a suggested "donation" price of $650. The project's Web site claims "the technology available through the Gentle Wind Project comes from the spirit world, not the human world."

Founded in 1983, and headquartered for many years in Blue Hill, the organization is now based in Kittery. For nearly 20 years, the project has been developing an array of "healing instruments," claiming those who use them become calmer, stronger and more in control of their lives.

One such instrument - the "healing puck" - resembles a hockey puck. The "Rod of Light" instrument is a clear, acrylic rod decorated with bands of color. Both instruments are described as being embedded with various combinations of herbs, salts, minerals and precious stones.

During a four-hour open house Saturday at the Ellsworth Holiday Inn, Mary Miller, the project's co-director, helped distribute the latest version of an instrument called the "trauma card."

Open house participants were asked specifically if they were military veterans. All veterans of any era, Miller said, are eligible to receive a trauma card without cost or donation, as a public service by GWP to those who have defended America through their military service.

Miller said Saturday that trauma cards are being widely distributed to veterans and are widely used with patients at Veterans Affairs medical centers nationwide. The cards are particularly effective, she said, in treating chronic pain.

In a meeting room decorated with red, green and white "Happy Holidays" balloons, Miller and her staff greeted those who stopped by and offered them cider and cookies after stepping them through the 15-minute process of using the laminated, multicolored four-inch-by-six-inch card to treat stress.

That process involved locating and holding a dime-sized circle printed on the card between the thumb and index finger of the right hand for three minutes, with one finger on each side of the card. For the next 12 minutes those people holding the cards were told to place them between their hands, as if they were praying.

Instructions printed on the card suggest that the process be repeated in 24 hours, "if necessary."

During one such exercise, Miller explained that each card contains trace amounts of herbs, minerals and salts. The ability of the card to alleviate stress, she said, remains under clinical study by researchers in New Zealand, Colorado and Wisconsin.

Because the trauma card, like other GWP instruments, is non-invasive, the only way the card could prove harmful to a user, Miller said, would be if it's eaten.

Veterans who accepted cards in Ellsworth on Saturday were asked to provide their names, addresses and service numbers. Those who did were given a manila envelope containing a serial-numbered trauma card and a GWP certificate of authenticity embellished with an embossed gold seal.

Those attending the open house were offered copies of an essay by Miller titled "Healing the Wounds of Trauma." They also were offered a two-page collection of testimonials from health professionals ranging from a Yale University physician to an "acupuncture physician" in Florida.

Miller also encouraged open house participants to visit GWP's Web site for additional information (www.gentlewindproject.org). Those who do Web-based research into the project, she cautioned, are likely to encounter other Web sites that are critical of GWP, the efficacy of its healing instruments and the project's motives.

While mentioning by name a Web site based in the United Kingdom, she made no mention of a site much closer to home: www.windofchanges.org. That site was created and is maintained by former GWP advocates Jim Bergin and Judy Garvey of Blue Hill, who were involved with the project for 17 years.

Convoluted Case

The Bergin/Garvey Web site is at the epicenter of an ongoing legal battle described as a "convoluted case" by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Gene Carter in his Dec. 6, 2004, ruling that dismissed federal lawsuit claims and sent the case to a magistrate judge.

The 45-page, seven-count civil lawsuit filed in Maine by GWP on May 18, 2004, names Bergin and Garvey and nine other defendants. The lawsuit accuses them of engaging in a "smear campaign to destroy Gentle Wind's reputation and to ruin its ability to conduct its activities."

"Defendants have publicly accused Gentle Wind of being a mind-control cult whose products are 'snake oil' at best, dangerous at worst," the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also claims the 11 defendants have publicly accused individual GWP advocates of being members and/or leaders of a cult that engages in mind control, sexual rituals, extortion and child abuse and neglect.

GWP describes those accusations as "wild, scurrilous and utterly unfounded allegations." Because they have been widely published and viewed in Maine, the lawsuit claims, GWP's revenues have "dropped substantially." The lawsuit seeks compensatory, presumed and punitive damages to be determined at a jury trial and also seeks an injunction that would pull the plug of the Bergin/GarveyWeb site.

Because of their ongoing legal morass, Bergin and Garvey declined to be interviewed by The American. But their Web site continues to claim GWP's "mystical manipulation" resulted in an "hypnotic influence" that, over time, "shifted our entire lives" by programming their subconscious minds.

The Web site is highly skeptical of the alleged benefits of using GWP's healing instruments, describing the philosophy behind them as "a hodge podge of new age/psychotherapeutic/spiritual ideas."

The Bergin/Garvey Web site also quotes this statement from what is purported to be an internal GWP document: "It is not possible for anyone in the human world to understand how or why (the healing) works. We can say that this healing instrument comes from a place that is both on this planet and a trillion light years away."

Financial Growth

The GWP lawsuit begs for analysis of the project's finances. As a private, nonprofit corporation known as "Gentle Wind Retreat" the project is exempt from federal income taxes, much like a church, a hospital or a private college. On its annual Form 990 filing with the Internal Revenue Service, GWP lists its primary exempt purpose as "educational research."

"Gentle Wind Retreat has conducted extensive research on mental and emotional well-being and the healing of trauma," it told the IRS. "The organization has developed healing instruments as a result of this research. Seminars conducted by the organization provide educational opportunities for attendees."

The latest Form 990 filing shows GWP net assets of $2,077,324 as of August 31, 2003, up from $1,918,205 the year before. Revenue for the 2002-03 fiscal year totaled $1,969,923, with expenses totaling $1,810,804.

Direct public support, which GWP terms "donations," accounted for $1,889,227 of revenues.

In its lawsuit, GWP makes the point that it does not sell its healing instruments. "Instead, the instruments are given free of charge to individuals who request them, while a suggested donation is requested. Gentle Wind's income comes entirely from donations."

Miller said Saturday most donations come from health care professionals who find GWP's "healing instruments" benefit their patients.

Expenses during the 2002-03 fiscal year included $1,015,899 for "program services." The project spent $358,995 in compensation to officers and directors. As president of the corporation, Mary Miller earned $71,799 during the 2002-03 fiscal year, the same salary as the corporation's treasurer and clerk. The project also spent $379,845 for other salaries and wages. Expenses also included $43,474 for employee benefits and $176,072 for "supplies."

The project's books also show that gifts, grants and contributions collectively totaled $4,112,751 during the fiscal years that began in 1998 through 2001. Total revenue for that same period was $5,593,033.

The filing also shows a $231,660 loan to a GWP employee who is the brother of a corporation officer. No purpose for the loan is listed.

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