Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Stroller Warriors Run for a Reason

By:  Stephanie Geraghty, Stroller Warriors
Stephanie with her son, Cole
Runners all have a reason that drives them to get out the door and hit the pavement. Perhaps running provides them with sanity in the midst of a busy schedule. Maybe they have a weight-loss goal they want to meet. Or, perhaps they simply love the thrill of competition and pushing themselves to be better.

For many years, the thrill of the race was my reason.  I competed because it was something I enjoyed, something I could be successful at, and something I was proud of. The reason I ran was to improve, compete, and win.
As the years passed and I grew older, my reasons for running evolved. I added more distance and trained for road races. Training runs became a time to unwind, a time for prayer, a time to foster friendships, and a time to take in God's creation around me. Come race day, finishing first was not necessary to feel success. I turned my attention to meeting my own personal goals and not comparing myself to others. Last, but not least, I found myself simply appreciating my health and the fact I can run at all.

Stroller Warriors at the 2012 Jacksonville Run For The Warriors

My running club Stroller Warriors has taught me even more reasons to run. These military spouses team up and use race goals as a vehicle for charitable fundraising. Over the past couple years, we have raced and supported a myriad of organizations, including Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, the Semper Fi Fund, Organization for Autism Research, C.U.R.E Epilepsy, the Onslow County Homeless Shelter, Toys for Tots, Christmas Cheer, Bubba’s Belly Run, and one of our most treasured organizations, Hope For The Warriors®! These organizations all have different purposes, but one common theme: they support individuals facing a great obstacle.

Hope For The Warriors® embodies that theme. This amazing organization promotes awareness, understanding, and respect for the sacrifices military families have made in the midst of ongoing wars. Through their race, the Run For The Warriors®, participants show their support for the wounded warriors by teaming up and racing together, whether they're walking, running, or handcycling.

This cause hits home with my family for various reasons. My husband Brian has served in the United States Marine Corps for 15 years and completed five deployments, fighting alongside warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan who have given their lives or experienced life-altering injuries. These experiences resonate deep in your soul and never leave you.

Father and son enjoy a run together

Our son Cole faces obstacles that mirror some of these wounded warriors. Cole possesses a genetic motor neuron disorder called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (http://www.fsma.org/). This disease causes his muscles to be weak and atrophied. Cole is unable to walk independently. But don't let that fool you. He's a go-getter and nothing stops him! As a result, he's made great strides with physical therapy and continues to gain strength. I can see how hard it is for him just to climb onto the couch or crawl up the stairs, but he wills it to happen.

At the young age of 3, Cole possesses the competitive spirit that the Run For The Warriors® embodies. As I watch those hand cyclists line up every year at the start, I can't help but wonder if one day Cole will join them. And then I see the runners and walkers line up behind them and I hope that perhaps one day he will join them too. I see hope in these wounded warriors, their families, and racers. They refuse to give up in the face of incredible challenges that might break many. Instead, they dream and persevere.

I listed a lot of reasons why I have ran over the years, but now I run for the most meaningful reason of all. I run in honor of Cole and all individuals that yearn to walk or run themselves. I run because I realize it is an ability not to be taken for granted. I run because I want to emulate the courage and strength they exhibit. And I'm very blessed to not run alone. I have the amazing Stroller Warriors at my side.

Running is mentally taxing and does not come easy to everyone. But what if you have something so powerful in your mind that you can't let your body fail? When we run to honor, every step seems lighter. Just contemplating all they achieve even under great strains incites you to vow, "I can do more too." By running, raising money, and supporting their cause, we help uplift and inspire them to forge ahead. We cannot and will not let them down. And in turn, they inspire us, tenfold. The fact is, Stroller Warriors LOVE running for a reason.


Dee Urbina and Amanda Courtney at the 2012 Run For The Warriors

Amanda Courtney, a loyal member of Stroller Warriors since our inception in 2010, launched our fundraising effort earlier this year for the Run For The Warriors®. This is the fourth consecutive year that our club has participated, Amanda’s second year coordinating the team, and for many of our membership, it will be their longest race to date. We appreciate this opportunity to reach those achievements right here within our local community. We want to extend a big thank you to the race staff for bringing this amazing event to Jacksonville and also to Amanda Courtney for uniting the Stroller Warriors team to support and promote this worthy cause.

Finally, to all the service members, wounded warriors, and military families who we have the honor to run with...thank you for giving us a reason


Register for the Jacksonville Run For The Warriors®

Donate Today

Stephanie Geraghty was named the 2012 Marine Corps Spouse of the Year. She is the founder and coordinator of Stroller Warriors, a free running club for military spouses and their family members. Their mission is to help military families around the world live happier, healthier lives through fitness, friendship, leadership, goal-setting, networking, fundraising, and community service. They currently have nine chapters worldwide and their goal is to reach every major military installation in the country. Prospective members can learn more at www.strollerwarriors.com or email strollerwarrior@gmail.com.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Sailing Clinics--San Francisco, 2013

Last week in San Francisco was Hope For The Warriors® and BAADS (Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors) first wounded-veteran sailing clinic of 2013. Now in it’s second year, the program raises funds through speaking engagements at local San Francisco Bay Area yacht clubs for the purpose of bringing combat-wounded veterans to San Francisco to learn to sail. In addition to the sailing component of the clinic, the participating veterans and the all-veteran volunteer staff are participating in a number of non-sailing therapeutic activities.
In last week’s clinic, five veterans traveled to San Francisco from Florida, Texas, Washington state and Southern California. After a meet and greet and opening dinner, the veterans took to the water Wednesday morning for their first day of sailing. Sailing special Access dinghies that are specifically designed for disabled individuals, the group learned to sail in the protected waters of McCovey Cove, lying adjacent to AT&T Park; home of the world champion San Francisco Giants.

Before sailing on Wednesday, the group started off their day right with a special breakfast compliments of Haddon Hill Cafe in Oakland. Once at the harbor, the group underwent an orientation before their first 3-hour morning sailing session. After lunch, the breeze picked up enough to keep the group off the water for the rest of the afternoon. A one-hour classroom session about sailing theory and practice was followed by an afternoon San Francisco Giants game. Half of the group attended the game while the other half went on a kayaking journey through McCovey Cove and the city front. After a full day on the water, the group of hungry veterans traveled to Berkeley for a home-cooked backyard barbecue and private bluegrass concert by Berkeley’s own Horrible String Band. The vets loved it.

After a full first-day of the clinic, the vets hit the water on Thursday morning for Day #2 of sailing. Breaking in the mid-afternoon, the group will travel to The Pad, one of San Francisco’s top yoga centers, for a meditative yoga session before traveling north to Muir Woods National Monument for a nature walk in the beautiful coastal Redwood Trees of Northern California.

On Friday, the clinic held it’s third and final day of sailing. The veterans continued to refine their sailing skills by participating in a series of practice races before crewing on real racing sailboats in a Friday night sailing race out of the South Beach Yacht Club.

This is just the first of four sailing clinics planned for 2013, with three clinics to take place in San Francisco and one clinic in Newport, Rhode Island. The clinics are a collaborative effort between Vietnam Marine Corps veteran Don Gray, retired Iraq Marine Corps veteran Ronnie Simpson and Army veteran Walt Kotecki and was recently featured in the April issue of SAIL magazine. Hope For The Warriors® would like to thank BAADS (Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors), the Commandery of St. Francis Order of St. John, Knights Hospitaller for their support in allowing us to conduct these clinics. Thank you to Hero Miles, a program from Fisher House Foundation, for supporting the travel for each of our veterans.  In addition, we’d like to thank Steissy Nissan, Matt “Doc” King and all of the other volunteers that have helped make this clinic possible. For more information on the clinic, how to contribute or how to apply for future clinics, please contact Nicole Papadopoulos at NPapadopoulos@hopeforthewarriors.org.
To donate to help future sailing clinics, visit our fundraising page.


Love Involves Sacrifice

Operation HEArtHonoring and Empowering through Art
Hope For The Warriors® is honored to work with William McKinley IS 259, a middle school in Brooklyn, and their project, Operation HEArt. Veterans and military families talk to the students, sharing their experiences and helping our future adults understand everything that our military members give for their freedoms. After they meet these heroes, the students contribute to a mural at the school. On Tuesday, May 21, 2013, that mural will be unveiled to the public.

Hope For The Warriors® has invited veterans and family members that we have worked with in the New York City area. As we approach the unveiling, Cindy Paauw, Masters of Social Work intern with Hope For The Warriors® will share the stories of some of our guest speakers and their interaction with the students.
The Koch family in 2000 when their oldest son graduated
Gold Star Father--William Koch
It was a very snowy morning when Bill Koch presented to the school. Bill and Christine Koch are Gold Star parents residing in the New Jersey area who have been part of Hope For The Warriors® family for several years now. They lost their son Cpl Steven Koch, USA when he was serving in a combat mission in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division on March 3, 2008. Steven left behind his parents and his two older siblings; brother, Bill, and sister, Lynne.  Bill’s visit to the school was only days after the fifth anniversary of Steven’s death. 

In May 2010, the Koch family faced another tragedy, losing their daughter Lynne.  She had struggled with depression since her brother’s death. As Bill described, “she was not the same person ever since she lost her brother, Steven.  The two had such a close bond, she could not take the pain any longer.

On the day of Bill’s presentation, three eighth grade students who are both artists and poets contributing to the mural, gave Bill a comprehensive and narrated tour of the previously completed 9/11 tribute mural, and the current mural.

Bill’s presentation in many ways mirrored the middle school students' own project.  Just as the students are using the mural to express their emotions and tell a story, Bill expresses his sorrow and pain through poetry.  Common themes included: courage, love for country and family, and sacrifice.
Bill’s presentation went through the editing process of one of his published poems and included a poignant slideshow conveying a select collection of the poems that he has written, accompanied by images and artwork that further captured the emotions and meaning behind the words.

Bill flipped through the five edited versions of the poem, “Empty Chair,” and Bill explained to the students the arduous process of editing work to be published.  

When you think you have created a wonderful piece of work, and to then have sections of it crossed out, and commented on, it’s hard, but that’s the reality of the editing process.

Mr. Buxton, who has taught language arts at the school for many years, and who has most recently worked with the students in creating corresponding poetry to be a part of the mural, chimed: “I know some of you agree. I know because, I have been that mean editor that Mr. Koch is talking about, when I return your poems with red pen marks scribbled all over it.”

Students asked how they could get their work published, often a difficult and challenging task in itself.

Don’t give up and get discouraged.  Have a cause—an issue/topic you are truly passionate about; start by presenting your work to a smaller audience, social media is a great way of getting your work out there—I did this, not having any prior experience in writing, but the point is, never give up and stop writing, get your voice/message heard.”

The students attentively watched the slideshow encapsulating the meaningful messages of Bill’s prolific poetry.  Despite their age, the students had a very deep understanding of the messages within the poetry.  One of the students asked: 

One of the themes of this mural is ‘love involves sacrifice.’  After listening to your story and the series of tragedies that you went through with your family, do you think this is true?”

Bill paused for a moment before he responded.

Love involving sacrifice? Yes, the statement you make is one that resonates with me, my family, my son, and my daughter. As you all have read in my poem ‘Empty Chair,’ the line ‘bleeding on the stripes to keep the flag red…something we all think, something he said’, this was a sentiment that Steven truly believed in; he loved his country, and chose to fight for this great nation, and the freedoms that we as a nation enjoy. He was willing to sacrifice his life for his country.”

Bill’s ended his presentation, elaborating the importance of finding meaning in loss, and his journey of recovery from a deeply sorrowful state. Though Bill shared that he and his family will never entirely recover from the pain they felt losing both Steven and Lynne, it is important to find an outlet where one can feel a sense of comfort, and endless support. He and his wife Christine have become active within the Gold Star community, and through various events and programs through organizations such as Hope For The Warriors®. His newfound passion in writing and the publishing of his many books and poems serves as a continual source of catharsis.

“I write whenever any source of inspiration hits me. My poem, ‘Queen of Hearts’ (dedicated to Lynne) was written on a napkin at a restaurant. I make it a point to record any burst of emotion/inspiration that I get”. 

At the end of the presentation, Bill was presented a card that was made and signed by all of the students/mural artists present that day, thanking Bill for his courage and for sharing his story. In return, Bill gave the school two plaques of his poems; one about Steven, and another one about Lynne, and a books that were recently published. These items will be displayed in the glass cabinets as part of the mural.  The legacy of Cpl. Steven Koch, USA KIA, and his sister, Lynne Koch, will live on as part of the mural at IS 259 for many years to come. 
Steven's name is added to the mural
Read a previous blog posting about the mural

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thank you to Volunteers

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love.”

-  Martin Luther King, Jr.

This week is National Volunteer Week and we are proud to recognize the contributions our volunteers make to our organization and to our communities.  Hope For The Warriors® is fortunate to have wonderful volunteers who give their time, talent, voice, and resources to help strengthen the communities we serve.  We believe individuals, community organizations, corporations, and the government play key roles in addressing the critical issues that affect our wounded warriors and their families—from mental health services, military-to-civilian job transitions, critical care, family reintegration, family support and so much more.

Words cannot express how sincerely grateful we are to have extraordinary volunteers like you. If you want to become a volunteer with our organization, please send an email to volunteers@hopeforthewarriors.org.  The Hope For The Warriors® staff thanks all of our volunteers for their hard work and dedication.


Hope For The Warriors® Staff

P.S.—Show your respect and admiration of a Hope For The Warriors® volunteer. Make a donation today in their honor.  Their work and your donation is key to accomplishing our mission.

Inspiration Is Contagious

Paul and Sally Kelly have been volunteers for Hope For The Warriors® since 2007.  Theirs is a story of inspiration--how they have inspired others and how others have inspired them.
Their story of inspiration begins about the same time as does the story of Hope For The Warriors®, in 2006.  It begins with Paul's niece Tracie, who was a graduate student in Washington DC.  Paul and Tracie were having dinner one evening when he was on a business trip.

"I think I can do that"

Paul never considered himself an athlete but had always enjoyed the outdoors--hunting, hiking, backpacking, canoeing, swimming, and bicycling--until at the age of 22 when he broke his neck in a swimming pool and became a quadriplegic.  He has lived with the paralysis since.  In spite of his condition he maintained his fitness by pushing his wheelchair whenever he could.  It is a difficult task with his level of paralysis, "Most quadriplegics at my level of injury will just use a power wheelchair," Paul points out.

Then, at the age of 50, he and his niece looked out the window of the restaurant over the Potomac River and he pointed out the distance of a "walk" he and Sally had taken through the waterfront district of DC.  "I didn't tell her it took me all day," he jokes.  Tracie was inspired by the story and a few short weeks later, announced that she had registered for the Marine Corps Marathon.

That October Tracie returned the inspiration to Paul.  He sat at the one mile mark of the marathon, waiting to see her run past.  But first, he saw the crank-wheelchair racers.  "I had never seen the crank-chairs race in a marathon before.  I never considered doing a marathon because pushing a wheelchair requires the use of many of my paralyzed muscles."  That was his moment of inspiration.  Under his breath he said, "I think I can do that!"  The crank-wheelchairs require different muscles; muscles Paul could use.

2008 Miles of Hope

As Paul trained he told Tracie and Sally, "We need a cause."  In the post 9-11 period, there was an idea budding in his mind, "...that somehow through our training and races, the heroes protecting our freedom could benefit from our work."  In March 2007, Paul was searching for a crank-wheelchair-friendly race.  He learned about the Run For The Warriors® at Camp Lejeune.  He sent the information to Sally in an email, "Here's our cause!"

"Run For The Warriors® convinced me we were on the right path," asserts Paul.

Not only was it the first time he raced with other crank-wheelchair athletes, but he raced side-by-side with the wounded Marines.  "Folks came up to me afterwards to thank me for my service.  They assumed I was a veteran too," Paul recalls.  "I'm not a warrior.  I'm just a grateful beneficiary of the sacrifices of those brave professionals," he corrected them.  "But it demonstrated to me the depth of the sense of gratitude that exists for our wounded service members."

Later that year, reality concerning the Marine Corps Marathon began to sink in.  Paul gathered information about the course and learned how steep some of the hills were that he would face.  "I thought I could just change to lower gears on my crank-chair.  When I learned how steep some of the hills are, I realized I was going to have to get stronger; a lot stronger.  They don't make gears that low."  Paul decided to extend his Marine Corps Marathon training until 2008.

The extra year gave the couple time to act on another source of inspiration:  fundraising for Hope For The Warriors®.  They established a fundraising campaign they called 2008 Miles of Hope and promised to raise $26,200 for Hope For The Warriors®; $1,000 for each mile in a marathon.  To get there, Paul also pledged to crank his wheelchair 2008 miles in training, races, and fundraising events.
A Torch of Hope

For her part, Sally also became an active volunteer with Hope For The Warriors®.  Through her affiliation with her service sorority, Beta Sigma Phi International, she began to spread the word about Hope For The Warriors® work.  In the annual convention of chapters from the two Carolinas, she shared stories of the wounded service members and their families assisted by Hope For The Warriors®.  "We live in two of the most military-friendly states in the country.  These brave men and women are our neighbors.  They are our friends.  All too often, they are our family."  Indeed, as the word spread through the sorority about Hope For The Warriors®, other sisters began to relate stories of their loved ones wounded in combat.  Sally led efforts to establish Hope For The Warriors® as the beneficiary of service projects by chapters throughout the two states in a campaign she calls Carolinas' Torch of Hope.

Between the efforts of the husband and wife team, donations began trickling in to Hope For The Warriors®.  Sally and her sorority sisters held pancake breakfasts at Applebee's and sold ticket for Belk's Charity Day events.

Paul and Sally wrote letters to friends, relatives, and businesses asking for donations.  "I was overwhelmed and inspired at the outpouring of generosity we encountered," Paul explained.
Running Amongst Friends

Another thing started happening among friends and family members.  The "running bug" seemed to start to spread.  Other relatives were starting to enjoy the fun we were having in 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons.  And so were co-workers and friends.  Sally started running in 5Ks and 10Ks, often placing or winning her age bracket.  She began training to run the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach.  The inspiration had reached a full epidemic.

In October 2008, Paul crossed the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon, confident of his finish.  At mile one, he looked up the hill toward the intersection where he had sat two years prior and said to himself, " I KNOW I can do this!"  More than five hours later he came to the steepest hill in the race, the hill runners call "Iwo" at the Marine Corps War Memorial.  It took him twenty minutes to ascend the hill in an effort so difficult for him that many finish line spectators cheered through the tears in their eyes.

While many would consider a feat such as the Marine Corps Marathon a lifetime achievement, the Kellys were just getting started.  Paul returned each year since, completing the event in '09, '10, and 2012 and completing the New York City Marathon three years in a row.  Sally continued her training and ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011.  Before Paul retired from work in December 2011, the couple organized a team of coworkers to run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2010 and 2011.  They also rallied coworkers to run the Run For The Warriors® each year.

To date the Kellys have raised more than $54,000 in donations to Hope For The Warriors®.  They haven't slowed down with their activities, either.  In February, Paul completed the Myrtle Beach Marathon, number 61 on his list of marathon and half marathons.  He describes his inspiration, "The men and women that benefit are deserving heroes.  What's more, over the years, we have grown strong, lasting friendships with many of them."

Look for the couple at the Marine Corps Marathon again this year.  And the Air Force Marathon, the Detroit Marathon, and the Canton, OH, Marathon.  But before all that, look for them right here in Jacksonville, NC, at the event that inspired them both; the Run For The Warriors®.
Donate Today in honor of Paul and Sally Kelly

Putting for Patriots: Testimonial

Each May, in honor of Memorial Day, 36 miniature golf courses around the country participate in Putting for Patriots.  During those two weeks, funds are raised for Hope For The Warriors® and two other nonprofit organizations. In today's blog, we share a testimonial from Brad, the owner and the reason behind this fundraiser. 

"I am a former Marine Corps Officer, turned businessman. In 2006, I made a visit to the Wounded Warrior Barracks in Camp Lejeune and spent four hours with Lt Col Maxwell, visiting with wounded Marines and learning of the shortfalls in the care of our wounded. From that day forward, I spent considerable time interviewing Marines, Key Wives, Key Volunteers and various charity officers. My initial goal/obsession was to assist in finding and serving Marines and Soldiers who were 'falling through the cracks' and not receiving the care and support they deserved. When our many involved hands got a handle on this problem, I turned to my efforts to simply raising money for the charities, which had proven to be the best and most efficient at serving our wounded."

"Hope For The Warriors® tops this chart. Their leadership at inception-- and largely to this day-- is composed of the large-hearted wives of Marines. These bright women 'get it'— for many years now they have made an art form of serving those who have served us. And most impressive, while many of their fellow charities in this service niche have grown a little too big and little too sloppy in their expenditures, Hope For The Warriors® remains 'lean and mean.' Our chain of 30 businesses runs an annual fundraiser each year, which benefits three charities that serve our wounded and families of the fallen. This event forces me to annually review the tax returns of many charities. Each year, Hope For The Warriors® is the most efficient charity in the bunch. In short, before you write a check to another charity, see if they come close to Hope For The Warriors® key numbers."

Thank you to Brad and all of the patrons that help Hope For The Warriors® restore self, family and hope.

Donate today to support our mission

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Isabelle's Story

All photos by Larry Levanti

Isabelle is the daughter of Captain David J. Thompson, known as "JP" to most.  JP served with honor for more than 21 years in the Army and National Guard.  Many of his soldiers shared that he was one of the greatest men they ever served with.

Isabelle misses her father.  In January 2010, JP was killed in the Wardak province, Afghanistan.  He died with honor, serving the country he loved.

Isabelle and JP share many traits.  One is that both are dyslexic. JP struggled with this learning disability for years.  JP and his wife Emily were both focused on giving both of their daughters a solid education but they were especially concerned for Isabelle.  Her mother, Emily, found a private school with expertise in teaching dyslexic children, however, she could not afford the school and the school district would not pay the tuition.

Fortunately, Isabelle's story was shared with members of the Eagle Oaks Golf & Country Club in Farmingdale, New Jersey. Every year, Eagle Oaks kicks off Memorial Day Weekend with Honor Day, a day to honor the military for their service. The day is filled with a golf tournament, entertainment and relaxation in a beautiful club house.  The event is attended by hundreds of Marines and Sailors for the start of Fleet Week. More than 300 Eagle Oaks members, Hope For The Warriors® staff, and wounded service members also attend and funds are raised to benefit military families.

Two years ago, club members made a commitment to Isabelle's education and to her future.  As a club, they agreed to pay for her education, ensuring academic and future success for this hard working student.  Each year, club members renew their commitment and Isabelle has another year of gains in her education.  Their commitment is a promise to a man they have never met but whose sacrifice they admire and are forever grateful for."

"Words cannot express how grateful we are.  Education was so important to my husband, especially Isabelle's education. He suffered from the same disability that she has and never wanted to see her suffer and struggle like he did." --Emily Thompson

"When the members at Eagle Oaks heard the story of Isabelle, we were truly moved.  We quickly realized that this special girl needed our help.  To know that her father made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country in Afghanistan and his life-long mission was to care for his daughter's special learning needs, we were sure we could provide immediate assistance.  Honor Day at Eagle Oaks is all about showing these men and women that sacrifice so much, that we care and want to support them in any way that we can.  When it came to Isabelle's needs, we were honored and humbled to help her family carry out her dad's mission to find the best education for his special girl. At Eagle Oaks, we know Freedom is not free."  --Robert Smith, member of Eagle Oaks Golf & Country Club

Hope For The Warriors® thanks the members of Eagle Oaks Golf & Country Club for there commitment and ongoing support to a family member of a fallen hero.

Learn more about Honor Day.

Support the goals and mission of Hope For The Warriors®.  Donate Today

Monday, April 15, 2013

I Race Because I Can

Hope For The Warriors® was started by a race. A group of Marine Corps wives searched for a way to honor wounded service members and hopefully raise funds too.  Many of them were runners and so they decided to hold a 5K run.  The first Run For The Warriors® was held on Flag Day in May 2006 and this program has expanded and spread across the country.

Later, an athletic team was added to our programs.  Team Hope For The Warriors® is comprised of both warriors--some on adaptive equipment--and community Team members who raise funds on their behalf. 

Running is an important part of who we are as an organization.

Our Team shirt (seen in the above photo) celebrates our country.  Our Team shirt can be seen in races across the country.  The Marine Corps Marathon, New York, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, San Diego and more.  And that Team shirt was also on the streets of Boston.  We do not have charity bibs for the Boston Marathon, but we had Team members who proudly wore that Team jersey to run the marathon on behalf of Hope For The Warriors and the miliary families we assist.  We are grateful to share that they are safe.

The original Team jersey was very different. 

The single word "HOPE" cuts acros the top with outlines of runners and cyclists.  But the back of the shirt shared more.

These four lines are to show support to wounded service members.  It is to show why we run when there are others who no longer can.  More than ever, the first two lines resonate with me.  Our Team members, supporters, volunteers and staff members race.  And we do so proudly knowing that we do not just run for ourselves.  We run to raise funds for military families and in honor of those wounded and fallen service members. 

And what happened in Boston changes none of this.  Our Team, our Team members, and our staff will not stop. 

"I Race because I can; That's my right as an American."

We will continue to run with hope and courage. 

Our thoughts and prayers are with the runners and their families in Boston.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Warrior's Wish®: Golf Clubs

Hope For The Warriors® knows how important the game of golf is to the recovery of our wounded service members.  So when a service member turns to us with the Wish for golf clubs, we know that granting that Wish will provide them with hours of rehabilitation.

This month we granted a Wish to Matt from Wisconsin.  He is a Marine who was medically retired earlier this year.  Thank you to Matt for his service to our country.  Good luck on the green!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The First Gala: One Guest Shares her Story

Imagine this.

A gorgeous April evening in Washington, D.C.  You are in town to attend Hope For The Warriors® Annual Got Heart, Give Hope® Gala. Being a part of this event is close to your heart – you know the Hope For The Warriors® story. You believe in the organization’s mission, its leadership and vision. You also know its programs and results are unique, needed and powerful. You already know some of the wounded warriors’ stories. Their stories always move you.

Union Station is the venue for the gala and your hotel is only a couple of blocks away and you decide to soak in the weather and scenery with a walk. As you make your way to the corner, you not only notice another gala-ready girl, but three! The woman, now walking beside you, has two adorable little girls. All three are smiling, have long blonde hair and look fabulous in their formal evening dress.

You can’t help but assume you are all heading to the Hope For The Warriors’® Got Heart, Give Hope Gala – so, you say hello and introduce yourself. You have just met Erica and her two daughters. You see Erica is holding a piece of paper showing the Got Heart, Give Hope Gala logo.

“I think we’re heading to the same place. Are you going to the Hope For The Warriors® Gala?” I ask.

“Yes, but I’m not exactly sure I know where to go.” Erica replies.  Then she shares,

“We just drove up from the Virginia Beach area…ran into a lot of traffic and got lost. My daughters were getting restless…the drive took a lot longer than I expected. My husband was scheduled to speak at the gala tonight, but he overbooked himself. Unfortunately, he is not with us, but, we’re here and all is OK.”

While you can tell that Erica is a bit flustered, and maybe even a bit irritated, there is also a strong presence of calm, grace and gratefulness. She is still smiling and delightful. Simply, delightful.

You don’t know it yet, but you are about to know another story.

“My husband overbooked” is rolling around in your head. You wonder if he is a high-ranking military officer who was asked to speak at this year’s event. Or, possibly he is a celebrity who was scheduled to attend to help raise awareness.

You only wonder about this for a minute. You have arrived at Union Station. The event is well attended – the atmosphere and guests are stunning. Erica and her daughters are whisked off and you wonder if you’ll ever again connect with her.

Along with all guests, you are anxious to hear more about the award recipients and their stories. From your table, you can see Erica and her two daughters. You feel a slight ping in your heart. Your instincts tell you she and her husband both wish he were sitting beside her.

The behind-the-warrior stories begin.

As the military honorees are presented, you find yourself leaning slightly forward as the evening’s hosts begin to announce an honoree that is not able to attend in person. You start to learn about LT Jason “Jay” Redman, USN (SEAL) and his story. You hear…

“…With only three weeks left of his deployment in Iraq, Jay was hit three times in the arm and face with a machine gun while on a mission...”

You also hear about a sign on the door of Jay’s room after he arrived at Walter Reed National Naval Medical Center. The sign read…

“If you are coming into my room with sorrow or to feel sorry for my wounds, go elsewhere.”

There is applause and respectful shouts of “hooyah.”

Jay is accepting this honor via video.

The hosts continue to describe Jay’s prevailing resolve to move forward. Jay is currently training at Mt. Rainier – the reason he is not present at the Gala. The video of Jay begins - Jay shares a very brief description of how he was wounded.

He describes his arrival at Walter Reed National Naval Medical Center and feeling scared and unsure.

“My wife walked into my room…seeing me for the first time. There was zero hesitation in her voice and actions. She whispered in my ear…”

“Together, we will get through this.”

Now, your heart is not only pinging, you also have a tear rolling down your cheek. Yours is not the only tear. Again, you see Erica and her two daughters. Jay continues and describes how grateful he is to be alive. He goes on to say how he is even more grateful for the love and support of a special person. One, who kept him going with strength, courage and unwavering faith. 

“…I am not deserving of this recognition. I would not be here making this video if it were not for the most important person in my life. This award goes directly to my wife, Erica…”

This is a surprise.

Tears. Applause. More tears. And, many “hooyahs.”

Imagine that.

Jay’s and Erica’s story moves me. I believe God puts people, conversations, music and circumstances in front of us every day…words and situations intended to move us. Yes, I was moved by this story…still am. It took place in 2010.
An exciting night comes to an end
I was fortunate to see Erica again at the 2011 Hope For The Warriors® Got Heart, Give Hope® Gala. I am in the same camp with everyone of being ever grateful for the sacrifices made by Jay, Erica and their family (one son and two daughters). Thank you.
The entire Redman family attends the Gala in 2011
This was contributed by Shellie, a supporter and volunteer with Hope For The Warriors®.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A "Moving" Story

From L: Sharon Shumucker, Miranda Dillworth, Connie Covert,
Katie Tame, Grandma Margaret, Mother Christine,
JennyRose Corritore, and Augustine Covert.

Taking care of service members sometimes means that we take care of their families when they are deployed.  Christine is the proud mother of three sons, all who have served in the United States Army.  One is currently deployed to Afghanistan with the Fighting Sixty-Ninth (69th Infantry Regiment, part of the New York Army National Guard).  Christine, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, and her mother, have been homeless since Hurricane Sandy flooded their first floor apartment.  On Thursday, they finally received the call that an apartment was available to them.  Their few possessions that were not lost were in storage and Christine and her mother needed help. 
Hope For The Warriors® received the phone call from the command, sharing this information and asking if we could help.  We called on our amazing volunteers and within two days, enough volunteers had stepped forward and moved this entire household to their new apartment.  Christine and her mother are now getting settled in their new home.
And Christine’s son is grateful for the help.  He can continue to serve knowing that his family is receiving the support they need back home.
Thank you to our amazing volunteers who step forward whenever we call.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Operation HEArt: Honoring and Empowering through Art

Operation HEArtHonoring and Empowering through Art

Hope For The Warriors® is honored to work with William McKinley IS 259, a middle school in Brooklyn, and their project, Operation HEArt.  Veterans and military families talk to the students, sharing their experiences and helping our future adults understand everything that our military members give for their freedoms.  After they meet these heroes, the students contribute to a mural at the school.  On Tuesday, May 21, 2013, that mural will be unveiled to the public.

Hope For The Warriors® has invited veterans and family members that we have worked with in the New York City area.  As we approach the unveiling, Cindy Paauw, Masters of Social Work intern with Hope For The Warriors® will share the stories of some of our guest speakers and their interaction with the students. 

Staff Sergeant Kevin Snow, USA

“On February 14, 2013, our featured speaker was veteran Kevin Snow.  Kevin served in the Army for 10 years, from 1999-2009 and deployed twice. On October 2007, a mortar landed five meters from Kevin while he stood in the chow line.  He was severely wounded and next to him, a fellow service member was killed. Kevin now has a traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and a torn left eardrum. He has five children, and a devoted wife, Adrienne, who joined Kevin on the day of his visit.”

“Kevin’s visit to the school was heart riveting and emotion evoking for the students and faculty. He confided to me that he was nervous but when he started speaking to the students, the nerves must have disappeared. He spoke with great confidence and told his story eloquently, with great sensitivity. As he recounted that fateful day, he became emotional, admitting that he felt a sense of survivor’s guilt. This is not uncommon among military personnel. Kevin still thinks about the female soldier standing next to him in line who did not make it home back to her husband and two young children. She was five hours short of boarding her plane that day to return home after serving a 14-month tour.”

“Sometimes I think it should have been me,” Kevin said.

“As Kevin revealed his raw emotions, there was a pause in his speech, and tears ran down his face. As I looked around the room, there was a flood of empathy, as tears had filled many of the students’ eyes.”

“Adrienne also shared her story when she received news of Kevin’s injury. She stated that she knew, when the army chaplain knocked on her door while they were stationed in Ft. Riley, Kansas. That morning in late October 2007, she knew that things would never be the same again.”

One student asked, “What is it like to be a wife of an injured veteran?

“Adrienne shared that she feels proud, and she would not ask for any other life, in spite of the many challenges she faces: full time caregiver to her husband, and raising five children, four of whom have special needs. Both Adrienne and Kevin expressed a great sense of hope for their future.”

The reintegration process is a long one, it is still something that myself, and my children, particularly my oldest one, continues to deal with,” Adrienne said. “We know that Kevin will not be the father/husband that he was once before, we have to accept this, and embrace the person he is now.”

Knowing that you had all of these injuries as a result of the war, is joining the Army something that you regret?”  One student asked. 
I never will regret my decision, if I could I would still be serving, and willingly perform all the duties I had done in the past,” Kevin said. “The army has become part of my identity, part of who I am, something that I am proud of, and now knowing all the wonderful things you all are doing here—in creating these murals, I know that I served for a purpose—I want to thank you all for this.”

“At the end of his presentation, Kevin surprised everyone when he donated his silver memorial bracelet. The name of his best friend who was killed in action is engraved on the bracelet. For years, Kevin has worn this bracelet every day, never taking it off.  But on this day, he handed the bracelet over to the school and to the students so that it could be integrated into the mural.”

“After the presentation, Kevin was guided by the artists to the mural, and was given a paintbrush to use. Kevin and his wife became an integral part of the mural that day.  In the years to come, the students might forget his name or the name of those he served with.  But they will never forget the story of his sacrifices or the sense of hope that was shared.”
Last year, William McKinley IS 259 painted murals to remember 9/11 and honor those lost.  View photos of the mural and the unveiling here.