Monday, December 29, 2014

10 Reasons to Give HOPE in the New Year!

Throughout the year, HOPE staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to address the needs of thousands of military families. Here are just 10 reasons for you to donate to Hope For The Warriors® today!

1. A large percent of your donated dollars goes directly to programs that support military families.  Review our financial information on Charity Navigator and visit our website to review our Annual Report or 990s.

2. More than 52,000 service members have been wounded in combat according to the Department of Defense. Their needs will continue for many years.

3. Hope For The Warriors® provides a full cycle of program support to restore self, family, and hope to the entire military family. Review our Service Portfolio to learn more.

4. Thousands of veterans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury each year.  Still thousands more struggle undiagnosed. Our programs support the entire military family as they face these challenges.

5. More than 65% of the HOPE staff is connected to the military.  Our staff members are veterans themselves or the spouse, caregiver, child, or parent of a service member. We know the joys and challenges of military life.

6. Nearly 5,400 service members have been killed in action.  Hope For The Warriors® supports the families of the fallen as they struggle with the loss of their loved one.  Each is a member of the HOPE family.

7. Hope For The Warriors® assists service members, veterans, and military families from every branch of service.  We work closely with VA caseworkers, military commands, inpatient facilities, other nonprofits, and community leaders.

8. Program support has been granted to families in all 50 states.  No matter where our veterans live, we are there for them.

9. We offer yearlong events across the country for veterans that want to continue the cycle of support to other service members by volunteering, enhancing their health with an active lifestyle, or networking within the community.

10. Because it is our duty and privilege to give our heroes HOPE.

Your support made a huge difference to our service members and their families in 2014, so please consider a donation today to continue the impact in 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Your Support Restores Hope to Heroes Like Omar

This inspiring story of Omar demonstrates how programs within Hope For The Warriors® connect veterans to restore hope to each other and impact their community.

Cuban native Omar Curbelo had aspirations of becoming a firefighter during his 5 years of service as a Marine. But during his combat service in 2011, Omar was seriously injured in Afghanistan. Omar had to undergo an extensive amount of physical rehabilitation due to his injuries, but his own mental obstacles were even more challenging. In his mind, Omar’s injuries led to doubts that he was physically capable of becoming a firefighter.

Leadership Under Fire, Inc.
Omar’s reservations didn’t last long, however, after attending the Leadership Under Fire Conference with Hope For The Warriors® in Spring 2013. The Leadership Under Fire Program is comprised of accomplished leaders from varied backgrounds who strive to challenge the status quo of the fire service. The fire service affords post-9/11 military veterans with a natural transition from the military to a similar profession rooted in the virtues of service and sacrifice.

Omar was one of sixteen wounded service members and veterans that attended the workshop and training session. Omar was able to successfully complete authentic simulations of fire attack and rescue. The conference was the catalyst that changed Omar’s outlook and gave him the tools he needed to face mental and physical challenges.

Each conference participant is paired with a mentor. Omar’s mentors were Matthew “Ski” Wiatrowski, a Marine Corps disabled veteran and firefighter, and Joseph “Doc” Rimkus, a Navy Corpsman and firefighter Lieutenant. With Ski and Doc’s influence and mentorship, Omar was able to challenge his personal doubts by pursuing a career with the Charlotte Fire Department.

Through our Career Transition & Education Programs, Hope For The Warriors® paid for Omar’s expenses to attend the Leadership Under Fire Conference in 2013, where he gained the confidence and the drive to accomplish his goal of becoming a firefighter.

Matthew "Ski" Wiatrowski (Left) &
Omar Curbelo (Right)

A Dream Becomes Reality
Omar has since been medically retired from the Marine Corps and accepted into the Charlotte Fire Department Academy. Upon completion of the program, he will have a job as a firefighter, a vision once stalled by his injuries. Because “Ski” already worked for the Charlotte Fire Department, he was able to oversee Omar’s year-long application process.  This further established his role as a lifelong friend and mentor to Omar.

Working together, Hope For The Warriors® and Leadership Under Fire gave Omar the confidence to pursue his goals, as well as the mentorship, guidance, and knowledge to support his transition.  As a result, Omar’s dream to become a firefighter is now a reality.

To support service members like Omar, please make a donation to Hope For The Warriors® this holiday season.

"Please support Hope For The Warriors® today by making a contribution that will help us sustain programs like Leadership Under Fire. Your donations give us the resources we need to continue to mentor and guide our heroes in transitioning to the next stage of their lives."
--Joseph “Doc” Rimkus

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Your Support Restores Military Families Like Patti's

As the year comes to an end, we celebrate hope in the lives of our service members, military families, and families of the fallen by reflecting on the services we provide to impact their lives. This inspiring story of Patti demonstrates how programs within Hope For The Warriors® restore family not just to veterans, but the entire military family.

Patti and her husband, Ken, have been together for 19 years. Ken has served in the Marine Corps, as a police officer, and after 9/11, returned to military service by reenlisting in the Army. He was injured while serving in Iraq in May of 2007.  

Patti is more than a wife and mother—she is also her husband’s caregiver.  She is also a mediator and educator between the kids and their father.  She is the “pillar” that brings stability to the entire home.

Two years ago, Patti began to feel the weight of bearing such a large responsibility. Ken was having nightmares and survivor’s guilt, their youngest daughter had health issues, and Patti’s mother had been given only a year to live. Patti hardly had time to care for the growing needs of her family and no time to care for herself.

Fortunately, Patti connected with other caregivers through Facebook, meeting women that face the same challenges each day. One friend, Renee, invited Patti to join Hope For The Warriors® for a turkey hunting trip for caregivers only.  Patti and Ken have a keen passion for the outdoors, so she decided to attend the trip, arranged and paid for entirely by Hope For The Warriors® through the Outdoor Adventures Program.

Patti and the group were joined by The Turkey Thugs from The Outdoor Channel, along with their sponsor, the owner of Mossy Oak. When the hunt aired on television, Ken was able to see the relaxation and joy on Patti’s face. The trip was life changing for both husband and wife, reminding them of a shared sport they enjoyed before his injury. (View segment of the show.)

Patti (center) and the rest of the group during the 2013 hunt 

Patti found peace and insight during her trip, improving her outlook and ultimately her family’s path. Patti continued, “I know if I am patient enough, something will eventually come my way. Hope For The Warriors® reminded me that I can be [both] a caregiver and an individual.”

Patti attributes her renewed optimism and strength to Hope For The Warriors®. She learned that caring for herself would make a difference to her marriage and her family. She now works with Hope For The Warriors® within the Clinical Health & Wellness pillar, sharing her experiences as a caregiver and military spouse.

Patti & The Turkey Thugs during their 2013 hunt

Supporters are key to enabling Hope For The Warriors® accomplish our mission to restore family within the lives of service members, caregivers, and family members. We ask that you donate today to continue this cycle of support to our military families. Your contribution will go toward caregivers like Patti, who are dedicated to supporting their family’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Through your support, you join our mission to restore self, family, and hope.

P.S. If you are a military caregiver and would like to get connected to a private Facebook Network and planned 2015 Workshops, please email Patti [].

Monday, December 15, 2014

Q&A: Reflection of a 4,000-Mile Journey to Support HOPE

Dean and Taryn Hatcher, a father-daughter cycling duo, traveled across the country in an effort to raise funds and awareness for the needs of today’s military families. To raise funds and awareness for Hope For The Warriors®, they biked over 4,000 miles across 12 states, beginning in Blaine, Washington on September 8 and finishing in Key West, FL on November 23. 

We asked Dean and Taryn to reflect on the highlights of their incredible journey and here's what they had to say.

How did you train for this journey, and do you think it prepared you?

Taryn - We knew that there wasn’t really anyway to prepare ourselves for this kind of ride, so we looked at the trip as being part of our training. I never was a biker before we decided to do this trip but we slowly just tried to work our miles up and test out our new gear with each ride.

Dean - After the purchase of our bikes our first goal was to get comfortable riding them. Then we rode different distances (10, 20, 40, 60, 80,100 miles).  This really helped us both mentally and physically prepare for our trip.

What were your greatest mental and physical challenges along the route?

Taryn - Physically, I was not as strong of a rider as my dad was, so it was frustrating when my legs would get tired and he could go on forever. Mentally, it was an adjustment to wake up every morning and hop on the bike over and over.

Dean -  I prefer to ride in the mountains, so the first month and a half was awesome! It was when we turned South that I was challenged with the mental part of the trip, especially the days we rode for hours into a horizon that changed very little!  

What was your favorite state to travel through by bicycle?

Taryn - I have a lot of highlights throughout the trip, but Montana was one of my favorite states to pedal through.

Dean - Every state had its unique beauty, but South Dakota and Avery Island, LA would be at the top of the list.

What was your favorite memory from the trip?

Taryn - Before we started this trip I could barely run a mile without getting winded and tired. In Louisiana I had the opportunity to run a 5k. I ran it in 30:39 and felt great. I felt pretty accomplished and it was really cool to see how much I improved.

Dean - Spending time with Taryn and seeing her power through some really tough days made me so proud of her!

How did the support you received along the way encourage you?

Taryn - Visiting and seeing familiar faces along the way was so encouraging; after each visit we would feel ten times more motivated to finish our journey. I had many friends I would call and talk to while pedaling every day that made the days go by a lot quicker.

Dean - Having my wife (Lorna) and my Dad along to share each day with us was huge!

How did you and your family feel upon finishing the journey?

Taryn - Accomplished, blessed, and thankful. I wouldn’t have wanted to do this adventure with anyone else but my dad. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity we took and the memories we made.

Dean - It's hard to explain how it felt to roll into Key West. It was kind of bitter sweet. We were glad we survived the trip but sad it was over!

The team is still seeking donations to support their mission to honor service members and military families.  To learn more and donate to Hope For The Warriors® on behalf of the riders, visit their fundraising page at

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Your Support Restores Self to Caregivers Like Carissa

As the year comes to an end, we reflect on how our services restore self, family, and hope to our service members and military families. This inspiring story of Carissa demonstrates how programs within Hope For The Warriors® restore self not just to our service members, but also to family members and caregivers.

Carissa grew up in southern California and met her husband Ben while still in high school. They married after her graduation and she joined her husband at his Marine Corps duty in Hawaii.

On March 23, 2006, Ben was severely injured in a training accident, causing catastrophic brain injury. He shattered his skull, severely damaging his brain, broke his arms, and skull fragments severed his optic nerve, causing blindness in the right eye and the loss of his pituitary gland. Ben was in a coma for more than three weeks, had countless surgeries, and in the ICU for almost five months.  On the day of his accident, Carissa was five months pregnant with their daughter, Ellery.

Carissa & her daughter, Ellery, at Carissa's graduation

Carissa’s perseverance to her family’s rehabilitation was evident, however, and in 2009 she was asked to be a Recovery Care Coordinator in Hawaii and then at Camp Pendleton in 2011. She had in-depth, personal experience with traumatic brain injury but not with PTSD, so she returned to school to gain the necessary experience to assist her Marine, sailors, and families to the best of her ability.

While working toward her Master’s Degree in Military Social Work from the University of Southern California, Carissa was connected to Hope For The Warriors® and applied to our Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship Program. Carissa was awarded the Shannon Maxwell Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship to help pay her college tuition.  She earned her Master’s degree in May 2013.

In 2014, Hope For The Warriors® honored Carissa for her strength and courage as a caregiver at the Los Angeles Got Heart, Give Hope® Celebration.

Hope For The Warriors® President, Robin Kelleher, Honoree Carissa Tourtelot, and 
Host Gary Sinise at the 2014 Got Heart, Give Hope® Celebration in Los Angeles

“I never thought I’d be awarded for doing this,” Carissa stated. “Caring for Ben was my only choice. Ben has always been my family and will always be my family to my daughter and me.”

Carissa and Ellery have a very supportive community in Southern California. Carissa attributes her training in the field of social work to her strength as a caregiver to Ben, Ellery, and herself. Hope For The Warriors® provided Carissa the opportunity to transform her life after their families’ tragedy, which is a fundamental aspect of our programming work with military families.

Supporters are key to enabling Hope For The Warriors® accomplish our mission to restore self within the lives of service members, caregivers, and family members. We ask that you please continue your support and donate today. Your support will go toward programs such as the Spouse/Caregiver Scholarships and other opportunities to further equip service members, their families, caregivers like Carissa with the tools they need to restore self, family, and hope.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ten Tips To Make This Holiday Season Less Stressful

My experiences with Thanksgiving and Christmas "before war" were wonderful. Christmas lights and decorations beautifully wrapped around our home dressed the holiday atmosphere, wonderful smells of delicious baked goods filled the air, holiday music tickled our ear drums anspending time with friends and family topped the cake. Holiday life as we knew it changed when my husband deployed to Iraq in August of 2006, progressing more difficult each day leading up to the 2006 holiday season. 

On November 11, 2006 my best friends husband, "Jack Jackson" was killed while serving in Iraq.  Three days later on November 15, 2006, my husbands friend and TC (Truck Commander), John Dennison was shot and killed. What we didn't realize is that this would be the first of many we would know who would be killed in war between 2006 and 2007 during my husbands fifteen month deployment.   

When my husband came home for R & R in November of 2006we spent what little time he had going to two funerals back to back at Arlington Cemetery to honor and remember Jack and John and to visit their families. That November began the change of events during the holiday season for our family. Life progressively presented challenges to our family. After my husband was injured, I became my husbands caregiver, something I never planned for. Through the days and years after my husbands injuries, I learned that Military Caregivers in particular face unique situations and challenges during the holidays.  

Ever since 2006, we've had our share of trials, especially during the holiday season. We know that our friends who were killed in war would want us to enjoy time with our families, but sometimes for a veteran who has survived war, that task is easier said than done. Let's face it, many days throughout the year are difficult (the anniversaries of those killed and injured, the intrusive thoughts of war, survivors guilt and much more). Holidays seem to amplify the regular, every day problems during life after war in many veteran families across the United States.  

Last night, I decided to ask caregivers in the Hope for the Warriors private/closed/secret Facebook group to share tips with one another on how they personally make things easier during the holiday season.

A few of the great tips that were posted include: 

"If you are stressed than they will be also. Allow them to help with decisions, what to buy, how to decorate. Even when you are not a fan of the results." -Angie M 

"Start holiday planning as early as you can. Delegate so not everything is on you. Talk to your vet about how these holidays effect him." -Shannon W 

"Don't be upset when your veteran doesn't want to go to every event. Mine sits in the car until my son's band plays instead of through all the band concert too. All kids have performances right now. Shop on line instead of crowds- better selection too!" -Renita F 

"I LOVE to decorate for Christmas so that always makes me smile. Do not have high expectations for ANYTHING or any event. Just enjoy another year of life and whatever health we may have." Tanya L 

"Start early. Delegate. We normally host the holidays so that way my veteran has an escape if things become overwhelming (he can go to our room). If for some reason we don't host, we keep outings short and sweet." -Shannon P 

Personally, I've learned to pace myself. I've learned I do not have to say yes to every event or request during the holidays. I do what I can, when I can. I set aside time to relax and to reflect on holidays of past while enjoying holidays of present while looking forward to future holidays. When things start to become stressful I turn on holiday music, step back from the chaos to reorganize my thoughts, getting back to the root of the holiday season. I try to keep things as stress free as possible in my home during the holidays. Here we are seven years post injury. I've compiled a short list that has helped our family during the holidays, perhaps some of my tips will help you as well.  

  1. Stay calm at all times, your attitude helps set the mood 
  1. Don't rush 
  1. Don't over extend yourself; know when to say no 
  1. Start baking a couple days before the actual holiday 
  1. Make sure your family understands your veterans needs 
  1. If your veteran requires a "quite" get away to escape to for a while, make sure he/she has a room to enjoy that is a little more laid back away from all of the busyness  
  1. Wrap presents as you go. I often shop Amazon, they will even wrap your presents! *Hint, if you shop Amazon, use the Smile Program and please choose Hope for the Warriors as the charity you support.  
  1. Share the work by hosting a Thanksgiving or Christmas pot-luck 
  1. Be satisfied with, "good enough." Bigger and better isn't always better! 
  1. Don't hesitate to ask for help, and welcome help!  

Don't forget to save a little "me" time during the holiday season and as always, make your health a priority. Here we are in 2014 and I am proud to say that we can again enjoy the holidays together as a family. I still decorate our home, cook baked goodies and invite friends and families over. We've just learned to adapt to our situation to allow us to continue to thrive as a family unit during life after war. Hopefully the tips posted will help you, and if you have tips you'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you!  

Have a wonderful and happy holiday season. 

Much Love, 
Patti K