Monday, July 30, 2012

5th Annual Winchester Memorial Poker Run

More than 20 years ago, a New York City Firefighter was sent to various fire departments out of the state to help train.  The man was Captain John Vigiano, Sr. and one of the men he trained was Dave Smith, a firefighter in Michigan.  The two became close friends and Dave eventually became friends with his sons, John Jr. and Joe, a firefighter with FDNY and a highly decorated member of the NYPD respectively.

John Vigiano enjoys his time with the Warthogs

On 9/11, John Jr. and Joe died when the towers collapsed.  Dave and other firefighters from Michigan made multiple trips to New York City to help with the search efforts.  It is a loss that still impacts him today.

Dave is the president of the Grand Rapids Warthogs Motorcycle Club.  The group created the Winchester Memorial Poker Run to remember and honor Mike "Chet" Winchester, a prospective chapter member who was killed in a motorcycle accident.  Dave turned to his close friends, John and Jan Vigiano for help in identifying a nonprofit that assisted combat wounded service members and their families.

The Vigianos are long time supporters of Hope For The Warriors®.  We thank them, Dave Smith, and all of the members of the Grand Rapids Warthogs M/C for their dedication to the men and women in our military and to their families.  More than $8,000 was raised leading up to and during this year's Poker Run.

Some of that money was raised through helmets that Dave designed and donated for the auction at this year's Got Heart, Give Hope® Gala and at the Poker Run.  The helmets are often signed by NASCAR drivers and are one-of-a-kind.

This past weekend, Hope For The Warriors® staff and the Vigianos themselves attended this 5th Annual Winchester Memorial Poker Run.  This year, Dave is retiring from the public service department of Grand Rapids and Hope For The Warriors® staff honored Dave for his years of service as well as his committment to wounded service members. The Vigianos also attended and clearly had a great time with this fun, patriotic group.

Hope For The Warriors® staff and supporters enjoy the morning

Along with the Warthogs, we thank everyone that attended, donated or supported this fundraising event.  This is the fourth year that Hope For The Warriors® has been the beneficiary and we are as thankful today as we were the first year.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Favorite Memory-A Return to the Race

"A single leg amputee joined us for last year's ASA Run For The Warriors® in October. He had been an unltramarathoner prior to his injury, and was known for his competitive drive and immense athletic ability. It didn't matter that it was raining and he was running on a new prosthetic. This veteran clearly loved the energy and excitement of a race and of competing again. He had to take it slow--the pavement was slippery--but he had a smile on his face for the entire distance and finished strong with the help of his best friend. That morning, I completely understood the positive impact of our races and Team Hope For The Warriors®."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Favorite Memory-A Walk to Remember

I was recently asked to fill out information about Hope For The Warriors® for a website that will highlight our organization. Among the usual questions I was asked "What is your favorite memory?" 

What a great question!

I have worked with the organization for more than two years and I have many great memories.  However, I am only one person and this organization is now six years old.  So I turned to the Hope For The Warriors® staff to get their feedback.  For the next several Fridays, instead of my usual "Friday's Photo" posting, I will share a favorite memory from various staff members.  I hope that these stories inspire you as much as these men and women have inspired each of us.

"One of my favorite memories was watching a service member complete his first 5K, post injury.  The family had been told that he would never walk or talk again.  But this Marine proved them all wrong."

We wrote about this young Marine and his father for this year's Father's Day post.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rumble to the Rockies

$15,000, 5,000+ miles, 14 cities, 2 weeks, 5 motorcycles.  All for one cause.

Rumble to the Rockies Fundraising Page

View photos from the road!

At the end of July, five members of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) will take off on a 2-week, 14-city, motorcycle ride in their effort to raise funds and awareness for Hope For The Warriors®.  Due to their hard work and the support of many, they expect to raise close to $15,000.

One of the men organizing the ride is Chris Walsh.  He is a member of the FDNY, a registered nurse in an emergency room, an Iraq veteran, husband, and father of four children.  Clearly this is a man with a great deal on his plate and yet, focusing on our nation’s veterans and military families is very important to him.

Chris was an officer in the Marine Corps from 1991 – 1995.  On 9/11, he had been working as a fire fighter for nine months.  In 2002, he received an offer to reactivate as a Marine.  With the memory of 9/11 forever fresh in his mind, he returned to the Marine Corps and soon after deployed to Iraq.

After he returned and was discharged, he and fellow fire fighters traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit wounded service members in the medical centers.  As he spoke with them, he listened to their stories, and learned what had happened to each of them.

He was speaking with a young Marine who had lost one of his legs in Iraq.  As this man shared the story of how he was injured, Chris realized that he knew exactly where this man had been hurt.

“The streets that I had been driving down (while in Iraq) were the same streets these guys were driving on when they were hit by an IED.  I was just lucky.”

That discovery gave Chris another reason to focus on helping these wounded service members.  In spite of his busy schedule, he knows that it could have been him wounded and in rehabilitation at the hospital.

The Crew

This crew of five have many years of service behind them.  Chris, along with Jay, Matt, John and Kevin have all worked as fire fighters.  Out of the five, four are still active in the FDNY.  The fifth has retired due to injuries incurred on 9/11.  All are dedicated to supporting wounded service members and military families.  They have worked hard to generate donations for Hope For The Warriors® as well as donations to cover their expenses. 

Travel Support

The group continues to receive donations for this trip.  They have free lodging for each stop along the way.  Donations for food and gas have also started to trickle in.  Their goal is for all of the funds to be donated directly to Hope For The Warriors®.

Walter Reed Family BBQ

The last stop before they return to New York City will be in Washington, D.C.  The group is joining Hope For The Warriors® for a BBQ at Walter Reed Military Medical Center.  Food and T-shirts will be provided by CafĂ© Rio.   T-shirts will also be provide by the Rumble to the Rockies group and Hope For The Warriors®.  The event will be a great way for wounded and their families to take a break from the rigors of rehabilitation. 

There is no doubt that this night will be important to Chris too.  He will once again talk to young wounded service members and understand from personal experience the challenges they faced during their deployments. 

Raising Funds

To raise funds for Hope For The Warriors®, the guys have sold more than 675 T-shirts.  They are also gearing up for one final huge fundraising party.  This Sunday, July 22, the group will hold a Fundraising Party at Bourbon Street of Monroe in Monroe, NY.  There will be live music, food specials, raffle prizes and more.  All of the proceeds will benefit Hope For The Warriors®.

If you are interested in supporting this group or would like to learn more, visit their fundraising page.  To contact Chris directly, email

Friday, July 13, 2012

Special Delivery

Many order pizza over the phone. Few call a company 1,000 miles away.

But Hope For The Warriors® rarely follows the norm and few companies are as dedicated to our military as Casey's General Store.

It started with a simple conversation.  Staff members were visiting patients in Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.  Each week, our coordinators meet with wounded service members and family members, talking about their challenges, and searching for solutions through our programs. 

This particular visit was with Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor Morris, USN, from Cedar Falls, Iowa.  Wounded May 3, Taylor is a quadruple amputee.  Our staff member talked to him and his girlfriend, Danielle, about the support that we received from Casey's General Store.

If you are from the Midwest and have been to a Casey's store, it will not surprise you that Taylor and Danielle immediately talked about Casey's pizza.  Apparently everyone loves Casey's pizza.

Back at the office, the staff learned of Taylor's love for Casey's pizza.  Naturally, Bob Myers, Casey's President and CEO was called.

Through a series of phone calls, it was decided that somehow, pizzas would be sent to Washington, D.C.  As luck would have it, a staff member's neighbor was flying to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.  She agreed to carry the pizzas on the airplane with her. 

The pizzas were freshly made, packed in ice, and boxed up with instructions on how to bake them in a regular oven.  Our staff greeted this volunteer at the airport.

The next day, each pizza was baked.  At 12:15 pm, three pizzas, baked to perfection, were presented to a very surprised Taylor.  He was joined by his girlfriend Danielle and several friends, some who were also from the Midwest and just as excited to see a slice of home.

It did not take long for all of the pizza to be eaten.

Thank you to Casey's General Store and to Bob Myers, President.  Many would have received that phone call and not completely understood how wonderful a piece of home can be in a service member's recovery.

Thank you to Beth, the woman who volunteered to carry the box on the airplane. 

And of course, thank you to Taylor and Danielle for your service and your strength.

Friday's Photo

A picture is worth a thousand words.

A look inside the cockpit as the pilot completes a loop.
Thunder Over Cedar Creek Airshow

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tough Sport Shows Caring Heart

Last month, Hope For The Warriors® attended the Fifth Annual NYC Rugby Cup – Presented by HSBC. Play Rugby USA, the largest rugby based youth development organization in the nation, hosted the event on Randall’s Island Fields.  Close to 900 middle and elementary school students competed in almost 200 games throughout the day.  In total, more than 1500 players and spectators attended the Rugby Cup.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday's Photo

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Concert goers at the Freedom Fest on Long Island proudly
wear Hope For The Warriors® pins

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4th of July

Today we celebrate the 4th of July and in the heat of the summer, we will celebrate events across the country with fireworks, barbeques and other celebrations.  As a nonprofit that supports wounded service members and military families, we become involved in events that thank our military members for their service—just as they do for Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

It is important to remember that Independence Day actually celebrates a moment in history that involved our government, not our military.  For those rusty on their American History, on July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to become independent from Great Britain.  The wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4.  Historians debate when the document was actually signed and many believe that it was not until early August.

So why are military members thanked, honored and remembered on a day that has nothing to do with our military?  The day is to remember a group of old men, sitting in a building debating over policy.  It does not actually memorialize a battle victory at all and the Revolutionary War did not end until 1783.

So now we have to guess why people celebrate our military on this day.  First, the 4th of July is about patriotism and love of our country.  No other single holiday represents the love we have of our country, flag and freedoms than this day.  Our military members are a perfect example of patriotism.  Although there are many reasons why men and women join the military, we believe that each one also has a sense of duty to their country due to their patriotism. 
Photo provided courtesy of Paul Oberle

The second reason is that although July 4th celebrates a political decision, we have to assume that our Founding Fathers made this decision based on what they believed could be accomplished on the battle field.  Shots had already been fired and the colonies were building up their military, ammunition and political allies.  Our Founding Fathers voted for independence, knowing that there were men ready to go to battle for that independence.

Today’s political leaders continue to make their decisions with this knowledge.  Each United States president is able to enter into negotiations with the strength of our military behind his words.  Sometimes this power is spoken, often times unspoken.  From these decisions, our military members are given orders that they must follow.  (Please remember that this November when you are deciding whether you have time to vote.)

So, have a great 4th of July everyone.  Yes, we are celebrating a political moment in history.  But that bold political move was made possible by our military.

Stay safe!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Salute to Families

Often, the most memorable, life changing moments in our lives come unexpectedly.  They start will a simple idea or gesture. 

The Cortlandt Yacht Club of Montrose, NY recently hosted seven wounded service members and their families and six Gold Star Families for a boat ride along the Hudson River.  Hope For The Warriors® was proud and honored to be a part of this beautiful, family event.