From the Archive
On Veterans Day 2021, we gave 11 homes to 11 Veterans, because America's communities are better #ThanksToVeteransSee their stories
Veterans United is hitting the road to showcase how America’s communities are better #ThanksToVeterans.
We’re traveling from coast to coast, celebrating Veteran camaraderie, community service and the countless ways Veterans continue to serve and strengthen our neighborhoods and our nation. The tour features our Military Advisors, the former senior enlisted leaders of each branch of the Armed Forces.
With help from our Proud Veteran Homeowner groups, these six inspiring military leaders will rally other Veterans to service projects that improve communities and the lives of fellow Veterans. They’ll connect, share stories and stand shoulder-to-shoulder once again, highlighting how Veterans continue to impact our communities during a lifetime of service.
See where we have been
Our #ThanksToVeterans Tour kicked off at AUSA where Veteran volunteers joined our team and Rob Riggle to assemble 500 craft kits for military kids through the Armed Services YMCA.
Latest stop on our #ThanksToVeterans Tour? Lifeline Equine in Gaithersburg, MD! Through its LETS Program, Lifeline provides Veterans and military personnel with healing therapeutic experiences at no cost. So, our team and Veteran volunteers rolled up our sleeves to help get the farm ready for an upcoming open house with Blue Star Families. We even filled up over 100 bags of manure for local farmers.
Before hitting the road, Veterans United employees made a $5,000 gift through the Veterans United Foundation to help ensure Lifeline can continue to do such amazing work supporting the community.
Stop three of the Veterans United #ThankstoVeterans Coast-to-Coast tour took place today in NE Pennsylvania at Camp Freedom, located outside of Carbondale, Pa. Camp Freedom is an adventure camp for disabled Veterans & First Responders, their family members, and Gold Star families providing quality hunting, shooting sports, fishing, camping, hiking, biking, and other year-round outdoor activities. These activities remove individuals from clinical settings into the healing environment of the outdoors and nature. They also promote the social well-being of the participants through peer-to-peer interaction, camaraderie, and outdoor adventures. For more information on Camp Freedom, please visit their website at www.campfreedompa.org.
Today, our MAs Dailey, Barrett and Jelinski-Hall stopped at Camp Freedom to meet Executive Director Matt Guedes, GM of Operations Jamie Byrd and Development Coordinator Bridget Slagan. The group had a great discussion about each other's missions and challenges, and then got to work outdoors to help Camp Freedom with some general landscaping and clean up issues on the trails. At the end of the visit, SMA Dailey presented Guedes with a check for $5,000 to go toward their organizational support.
Next stop on our #ThanksToVeterans Tour: the Travis Mills Foundation in Rome, ME. This incredible organization helps Veterans address physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds. Maine is home to the Travis Mills Foundation Retreat, which offers a place for Veterans and their families to gather and participate in a wide range of activities.
Our team of volunteers assembled a storage shed for the retreat. This will provide place to keep and protect vital Foundation equipment through Maine’s brutal winters for years to come.
For the fifth stop on the #ThanksToVeterans Tour, we headed to Louisiana to meet up with Army Veteran Elijah Talley. Since buying his home with Veterans United in the small town of Many, LA a few years ago, Elijah has dedicated himself to giving back to his community in any way he can. He takes veterans struggling with mental health on fishing trips to bring them some peace, volunteers as a coach for the local little league football team, is the first to lend a hand to anyone, and more. When Elijah told us he had an idea for an event to bring his community together, we hit the road to help him host the first-ever Veteran & Military Family Fall Fest on Toledo Bend. Folks came from Sabine Parish and beyond to enjoy a day of live music, delicious food, and the great outdoors; all while supporting one of Elijah's favorite organizations, Veterans Hunting & Fishing Network.
The next day, we visited the local Disabled Veterans of America hall where Elijah spent over 100 hours rehabilitating the West Louisiana Veterans Memorial Park, which had fallen into deep disrepair. They took out truckloads of overgrowth, power washed memorial markers caked in dirt, and worked to restore honor to the names of the veterans recognized there. Before hitting the road again, the Veterans United team surprised DAV members with 14,000 pounds of marble landscaping rock and flowers to help put the finishing touches on the memorial and thank Elijah for all he's done and will continue to do for his community.
The #ThanksToVeterans Tour traveled to Tennessee to meet with Bobby George, director of outreach for the Gary Sinise Foundation (GSF), at the Foundation’s new headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee. Founded by actor Gary Sinise, the Foundation honors Veterans, first responders and families with a wide range of support needs. Through GSF, the Veterans United team was introduced to Donnie and Michelle Bowen.
Donnie is a retired soldier who spent 13 of his 22 years in the U.S. Army as part of Special Operations. The couple run the Bowen Combative Arts Academy in Clarksville, Tennessee. Through their dojo, they not only teach fitness courses and martial arts, but have a special focus on helping kids who are dealing with bullying and empowering women through self-defense classes. The couple is making a real impact in their community, which was evident through the many volunteers who came out to help with the project.
The #ThanksToVeterans Tour team had an opportunity to bring the RV onto Ft. Campbell where we visited the local Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) post. There, our Military Advisors Denise Jelinski-Hall, and Ken Preston, along with staff members, attended a ribbon cutting for an expansion of the ASYMCA facility that will allow them to serve more families of service members. After the ceremony, Pam Swan, vice president of military relations, presented a check for $10,000 to ASYMCA Chief Operating Officer Charlie Williams to support the organization’s efforts.
Our eighth stop on the #ThanksToVeterans Tour took us to VFW Post 805 O’Fallon, Illinois. Veterans United Military Advisors and employees stood shoulder-to-shoulder with VFW members and over 100 community volunteers for a day jam-packed with service: cleaning and repainting the post’s gathering halls, packing meals for local families with the Marine Corps League, writing letters to deployed troops, and more. While volunteers worked tirelessly inside the post, others – like Coast Guard Veteran Sandy Doucette, the VFW’s Veteran Service Officer – hosted a trick-or-treat event for hundreds of local kids. The event was just one of many ways Post 805 members serve O’Fallon families, making it a pillar in the military-centric community.
Inspired by Post Commander Karen Ridge, we also took on a special surprise project to thank Sandy for all she’s done for others despite her own health struggles. Sandy uses a wheelchair and hasn't been able to access her own backyard for years. So, 13th MCPOCG Jason Vanderhaden and four active duty Coast Guardsmen slipped away to secretly install ramps and give the patio at Sandy’s home a makeover. Cheers erupted from friends new and old as Sandy rolled into her new outdoor oasis. To wrap up the day, Mike and Michelle Dapkus, Veterans United’s Scott Air Force Base Branch Managers, surprised post members with a $10,000 donation from the Veterans United Foundation to help VFW Post 805 continue to serve the O’Fallon community for years to come.
For our final stop before Veterans Day the #ThanksToVeterans Tour made its way to Kansas City to team up with Marine Corps Veteran Daniel Brazzell, Executive Director of Team Fidelis. As a Proud Veteran Homeowner, Daniel has been making an impact in his community for more than a decade, and we wanted to join in the Team Fidelis mission of raising awareness, providing hope, and building camaraderie for Veterans.
To start the day, we hosted more than 100 local Veteran volunteers and their families at KC-favorite Jack Stack BBQ, where 12th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green addressed the crowd with a moving message about the importance of continued service. From there, we moved to the National World War I Museum and Memorial to pack over 200 mental health “go bags” designed to lift spirits of local hospitalized Veterans with Team Fidelis, and cold weather kits with essential gear for the city’s homeless population with reStart, Inc. Surrounded by the museum’s deep history and countless stories of selfless service, this stop was yet another humbling reminder of why communities are better #ThanksToVeterans.
The finale of the 2022 #ThanksToVeterans Tour took us to sunny San Diego for Veterans Day at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park. On a day our nation pays tribute to Veterans and their service, we set out to highlight how they also continue to strengthen and serve our communities. Nearly 250 Veterans, military family members, and community volunteers joined the Veterans United team and amazing organizations including: Feeding San Diego, Foundation for Women Warriors, Operation Gratitude, The Armed Services YMCA, Marine Corps League, Young Marines, Travis Manion Foundation, Sugar Bear Foundation, Veterans Village, and the Veterans Memorial Center.
To get our blood pumping, we started the day with a “fun run” through Balboa Park led by 12th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West. Once back at the museum, 13th Master Chief Petty Office of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden rallied the group to begin service projects benefitting the local community. We assembled hundreds of meal kits for families in need, crafted items to go in holiday packages for Veteran and military single mothers, braided paracord bracelets, stuffed Battalion Buddy teddy bears, wrote letters of gratitude to deployed troops, and more. A few miles down the road, 3rd Senior Enlisted Advisor of the National Guard Denise Jelinski-Hall and a group of Veterans United team members from San Diego spent the morning with Habitat for Humanity helping build a home for a local Veteran. This stop was the perfect conclusion to our coast-to-coast celebration of service, bringing the community together for camaraderie and showcasing the countless ways our neighborhoods, and our nation, are better #ThanksToVeterans.
Do you know of a Veteran-focused cause or organization in your community that could benefit from a little extra support? Let us know, and we may bring the tour to you!