2017 was another banner year for Helping a Hero as we served our severely wounded veterans who were injured in the War on Terror through our signature Wounded Hero Home Program and our numerous other support programs designed to empower wounded veterans as they reintegrate into civilian communities. In addition to serving the wounded veterans selected by Helping A Hero for assistance, Helping A Hero was again recognized for its high standards of nonprofit transparency and stewardship.
Helping A Hero was selected as a 2017 Winner of Distinction in the charitable organization category of the Greater Houston area of the Better Business Bureau and continues its commitment to transparency and excellence. Educating the public about the sacrifices, challenges and ongoing medical issues of the heroes we serve is an important program focus of Helping A Hero, and we were honored to be asked to speak about Helping A Hero at Houston area civic meetings where veterans’ issues were spotlighted. We were equally honored to have been chosen as a beneficiary recipient of other veteran focused charitable organizations’ fundraising events during 2017.
The Wounded Hero Home Program
Our primary program is the Wounded Hero Home Program. We accept applications for our program from eligible wounded veterans. The applications are accessed on our website. The Wounded Hero Home Program includes several components. We raise money, select the wounded veterans to receive homes, plan the design of the home, seek construction partners, prepare a budget, hold a groundbreaking ceremony, monitor the construction, and finally, have a public Welcome Home Ceremony for the wounded veteran recipient.
The Welcome Home Ceremony is an opportunity for the neighborhood and the community to join Helping a Hero to support these brave and courageous wounded warriors as they rebuild their lives. In 2017, thousands of people from every walk of life, young and old, joined in unity and nonpartisanship with Helping a Hero to welcome to their new homes injured men and women who served our nation and sacrificed in combat. The Welcome Home Ceremony is a tangible component of our Education Programming.
Helping a Hero endeavors to make each Welcome Home Ceremony special and unique, but there are some things that are universal. Flags line the streets and the community is invited to wave flags and show their appreciation for the sacrifices made by the wounded veteran and their family. We encourage the public to bring gift cards (via the Community Gift Card Program) which are given to the veteran that day.
During the event, the public is educated as to the veteran’s unique story of bravery and sacrifice, and on the importance of the adapted and accessible features of the house to the independence, safety and dignity of the wounded veteran. All attendees are invited to tour it after the key presentation. New furniture is sometimes donated or discounted by stores, and the house is often presented to the wounded veteran in ready-to-move-in condition - often with special military service momentos and photographs on display, beds made, televisions hung, and other special touches installed with loving care.
Four 2017 Wounded Heroes Received the Keys to Their Helping A Hero Homes
Helping a Hero kicked off 2017 with a Welcome Home Ceremony for EM1 (NUC) Jeff Campbell, USN (Ret) in Pennsylvania. Mechanicsburg North Rotary Club and Carlisle Rotary Club formed Helping a Hero Central PA in 2012 and, through Foundation for Enhancing Communities, sponsored this handicap accessible home by making the community donation to HelpingaHero.org to fund the construction. Rotarians have always been an integral part of Helping a Hero and Rotarians continue to serve on the Helping a Hero Board of Directors. The Campbell family was thrilled when country music legend John Michael Montgomery made the fourteen hour round trip road journey on his tour bus from Kentucky to take part in their special welcome home. When he sang “Letters from Home,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.
Fellow wounded warrior and 2014 Helping a Hero home recipient, SPC Justin Lane, USA (Ret) sang the National Anthem, with 2013 Welcome Home honoree SGT Dennis Leonard, USA (Ret), also of Pennsylvania, nearby. Helping a Hero was again invited to participate in the nonpartisan Texas State Society’s Black Tie and Boots Presidential Inaugural Ball. Both in 2013 and 2017, Helping A Hero recipients and their families enjoyed the Texas celebration in Washington DC, some never having before been to the nation’s capital. At the 2017 Ball, just before the Beach Boys stepped on stage to perform, Helping a Hero Board Chairman Chris Daniel joined the Black Tie and Boots Chairman, Congressman Roger Williams, SSG Shilo Harris, USA (Ret), to award a Helping A Hero Home to SGT Kyle Kelly, USA (Ret) to be built in Texas. The Welcome Home Ceremony for MSgt Blaine Scott, USMC (Ret) marked a new beginning for the Scott family.
This bittersweet ceremony included a butterfly release in memory of the Scott’s twelve year old daughter who committed suicide after being bullied at school. Grammy winner and country icon, Lee Greenwood, sang “Wind Beneath my Wings” as the family joined the large crowd in remembering Isabella. Following Isabella’s death, Blaine and Lilly Scott wanted to do more for fellow veterans battling crisis, so Helping a Hero built a wounded warrior guest suite in their home where they can host veteran families. Rudy’s BBQ also assisted the family in serving others by committing BBQ for a year so they could have monthly group dinners for fellow wounded warrior families. As usual, community volunteers stepped up and gave their time and talents to make signs and decorations for the Scotts’ festive homecoming, and helped pass the word throughout the community of the Welcome Home Ceremony invitation.
The Welcome Home Ceremony for SGT Daniel Cowart, USA (Ret) was held in Sante Fe, Texas, on the tenth anniversary of SGT Cowart’s “Alive Day,” the day of the injuries. The timing was deliberate and as the request of SGT Cowart in order to replace the memory of the day that changed his life, when he became a single amputee confined to a wheelchair, with a new memory of how much America supports him as he begins a new life in an adapted home with his wife and twin daughters. Keystone Concrete and Stewart Builders sponsored this home and did an incredible job making the home accessible and beautiful. At the Welcome Home Ceremony, Lee Greenwood sang “God Bless the USA” as a trio of World War II era planes did a flyover above the cheering crowd.
The Welcome Home Ceremony of MSgt Zac Rhyner, USAF, in North Carolina, was featured in a five minute story on NBC’s TODAY on Memorial Day. The Holly Springs Chamber, local Rotary Clubs, Home Depot, RAINBOW, Rooms to Go, and so many others joined together to make this welcome home amazing. Over 400 people lined the streets waving flags and welcoming home American hero, MSgt Rhyner. He received the rare Air Force Cross for his heroic actions in the bloodiest battle in the Shok Valley of Afghanistan, in addition to two Purple Heart medals.
Nominate A Wounded Hero Program
Helping A Hero continued its Nominate A Wounded Hero program, with Georgetown, TX as its 2017 focus. Westin Homes and MorningStar Community joined Helping A Hero to make this newest adapted home a reality for a severely wounded veteran who desired to live there. After a several month publicly advertised nomination period, a wounded warrior was selected. It is SGT Shane Ray, USA (Ret), whose convoy was hit by two IED’s leaving SGT Ray a single amputee and currently confined to a wheelchair. He also suffered severe burns and other injuries. SGT Ray is married and has two children, one with special needs.
Helping Our Helping A Hero Recipients Via Our Constituents’ Resources
The Welcome Home Ceremony is not the final step in the Wounded Hero Home Program, but rather the beginning of a minimum ten year contractual relationship between our networked organization and each selected wounded veteran, during which a myriad of resources are made available to Helping A Hero, both tangible and intangible, and are utilized to the benefit of each veteran. We promote and facilitate opportunities for the wounded veterans to fellowship with each other, and provide public speaking opportunities for them. We follow their lives, cheer their successes and, when possible, help when things take a turn for the worse. In other words, Helping A Hero uses its resource network whenever and wherever possible to the benefit of the wounded warriors.
One prime example in 2017 is the case of SSG Philips Casey, USA (Ret). SSG Casey is a single amputee and has refused to use a wheelchair since he lost his leg to an IED blast in Afghanistan. He opted to use crutches, but dreamed of the day he would walk unaided. An experimental surgery was recently perfected in Australia that would allow him to walk using an implanted hip with a prosthetic leg attachment. Because the surgery would leave him in extreme pain on his twenty hour return flight back to the USA to continue his rehabilitation, Helping a Hero’s board chairman and chairman emeritus contacted United Airlines which in turn not only upgraded the couple to Polaris First Class, but also provided personalized cart transportation between gates on the connections and hosted them in a VIP lounge during the layovers.
Helping A Hero is grateful to all of its constituents who go the extra mile for America’s wounded warriors.Emergency Needs Grant Program Helping a Hero continued its Emergency Needs Grant program in 2017. At least one home recipient veteran, in a time of crisis, was assisted in order to bring his mortgage current after unanticipated job loss caused him to fall behind. Helping A Hero converted the traditional Home Program grant to one that better aided a selected veteran and made his existing mortgage payments via a long-term home grant award, helping to empower him by not losing his existing home until he could get on sounder financial footing. Two veterans were given assistance in the form of free occupancy in Helping A Hero houses, giving them additional time to raise their credit scores to qualify for home ownership.
One home recipient veteran was given charity assistance while hospitalized long-term after a life-changing surgical procedure. All of the grant decisions are made by the Helping A Hero board of directors, who played an active and vital role in the health of the charity in 2017. A New Gift Card ProgramIn 2017, Helping A Hero began a new program of giving $50 Amazon gift cards to our home recipient families to celebrate significant milestones such as veteran’s college graduations, new marriages and new babies.
Helping A Hero was honored to host, as a beneficiary, the Houston premiere of the post 9/11 era movie Last Flag Flying, compliments of Oscar nominated writer-director Richard Linklater. Mr. Linklater attended the screening and did a talk back afterward with many veterans in the audience. The Houston Chronicle reported the event, which was just one of the many positive news stories about Helping A Hero in 2017.
Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon
Helping A Hero’s 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon was another well-attended opportunity to educate the attendees about the Helping A Hero Wounded Hero Home Program, and to recognize volunteers and sponsors who have made a significant difference through Helping A Hero in the lives of wounded veterans in the program. At the 2017 luncheon, former Governor Mark White who had been scheduled to co-chair the luncheon, but died unexpectedly prior to the luncheon, was posthumously awarded the Lee Greenwood Award for Volunteerism.
Helping a Hero paid tribute to Governor White’s military service and his support of Helping A Hero. Lee Greenwood presented The Lee Greenwood Award to Governor White’s family, and after the Helping A Hero wounded veterans in attendance joined together on stage to surprise Mr. Greenwood with the news that he was selected as a “Point of Light.” Board chair, Chris Daniel, presented the official letter and certificate signed by President George HW Bush to Lee Greenwood on being named a “Point of Light” for his work on behalf of veterans.
At Helping A Hero’s 2017 National Gala, Korean War Hero and actor, Chuck Norris and his wife Gena were presented the Defense of Freedom Award and they spoke about their support of veterans and Mr. Norris’ military career. Over 800 people attended, which was a positive moment during the post-Hurricane Harvey devastation in the city of Houston. A letter of support from Vice President Mike Pence, received that day by Helping A Hero, was read to the audience. The Houston Astros received the Patriot Award for all they do, not only for Helping a Hero and veterans in general, but also for their support of many veteran charities.
Caregiver and Family Assistance
Wives and female caregivers who accompanied wounded veterans to the August luncheon and November gala were treated by Helping A Hero to nail and hair salon services. Children accompanying wounded veterans to Helping A Hero overnight events were treated to special child-care events, and were also treated to child-friendly entertainment with families on the evening before the National Gala. Assistance in the form of travel and lodging to Helping A Hero events are provided by Helping A Hero and its community partners, for not only the recipient veterans but also for their spouses, caregivers and children whenever possible.
The Board of Directors hired a new Executive Director and sponsored the director’s completion of the Rice University Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership Certification in Nonprofit Leadership. A voluntary financial audit of the 2016 fiscal year of Helping A Hero was conducted by a third party Certified Public Accounting firm. The audited financials were posted on our website, along with the prior three years’ of audits.
Helping A Hero closed the books on 2017 as Helping A Hero’s eleventh year of accomplishments. The first and second year recipients have now been in their homes over a decade, and they are no longer under contract with Helping A Hero, but are still part of the Helping A Hero family. The long-term successes of the program are apparent, as measured by the number of veterans served, the number of adapted homes occupied safely and financially secure by the veterans, and the accomplishments of the veterans currently living in their Helping A Hero homes.