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Honoring our Veterans with Higher Ground

Honoring the sacrifices many have made for our country in the name of freedom and democracy is the very foundation of Veterans Day. 

Charles B. Rangel

Today is Veteran’s Day, a day that our nation comes together to honor those who have served our country. Brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can be free.  According to statistics, twenty-two veterans die each day in the United States from suicide. I was thrilled when I had the privilege of connecting with Kate Weihe, the Executive Director of an amazing organization called Higher Ground that serves our veterans and their spouses and supporters through amazing outdoor experiences as they adapt and learn to deal with their disabilities. In addition to Kate, I spoke to Higher Ground’s Director of Military Programs and a veteran himself, Rich Cardillo. An inspiring and emotional conversation that had me in tears a few times. The passion that Rich has for the veterans he works with was palpable.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Higher Ground does?

Kate Weihe: We enhance the quality of life for people of ALL abilities. Our biggest programs are with our veterans, their trauma, PTSD and we exist to serve and support them.  Our mission is to use recreation, therapy, and support to give people of all abilities a better life. Together we build the bridge between disability and belonging. One of our biggest programs is working with Veterans and active duty service members with traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress syndrome, military sexual trauma, and other military trauma. We serve people with disabilities from ages 2-101 and we do this by using outdoors and nature along with family, friends, and community to support them.

Rich Cardillo: As a veteran, myself, who wanted to continue to serve veterans and servicemen in any capacity after I left the service. What drew me to Higher Ground in 2013 was the care and passion for people. We are now a staff of twenty-four and we are fully committed to enhancing our veteran’s lives as well as the local non-veteran community, here in Sun Valley, Idaho and in our other chapters in New York and LA.

Charity Matters:  Tell us a little about Higher Ground began?

Kate Weihe: Higher Ground began as an adaptive arm of the Sun Valley, Idaho Ski School. There was a local skier who had Multiple Sclerosis and wanted to get on the mountain again and there was not an instructor or equipment to take her. We began in 1999 when Mark Mask, our founder, talked the resort into getting their first sit-ski.  Kara Barrett who was there from the beginning developed all of our programs that initially were based on skiing and that evolved to a summer camp for children with cognitive disabilities.  In 2004, when we started seeing our Veterans coming home with PTSD  and we pivoted to embrace or veteran community. Initially, we were working with Veterans who were visually impaired from their service and then that translated into the invisible injuries of war. Today, we continue to have winter programs and summer family camps and a host of outdoor programs for our veterans as well as others with disabilities.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Rich Cardillo: Our biggest challenge is trying to help the volume of veterans that still need our services. We are such a small organization compared to some other larger veteran based organizations. We want to grow our programs to continue to chip away at an insurmountable number of veterans. The financial need for expansion is critical. We are looking at alternative ways to reach more veterans and at the same time while trying to save money. Currently, Veterans come to us but we are beginning to fly our teams to them. We know that one of the true benefits of the program is the community they establish during their time with us.  We want them to be able to go back home and have others in their community that they call can call up and say let’s go do something together. 

Kate Weihe: I think our biggest challenge is to make sure that we continue to have exceptional programs and consistency as we scale and expand.

Charity Matters: What fuels to keep doing this work?

Kate Weihe: Undoubtedly, being with our program participants and seeing how effective our work is. When we hear from Veterans and their testimonials proving that our work truly made a difference for them and even better is hearing from them years later when they share that they are thriving. The other piece that fuels me is our exceptional staff.

Rich Cardillo: Having the opportunity to be a part of this process of witnessing the transformation that happens in the five days of our program. We get to witness our veterans become more of themselves and work with their partner or spouse to deal with their injury. It fills me up.

Charity Matters: When do you know that you have made a difference?

Rich Cardillo:  For me those moments are emotionalI retired from the military in 2008 and told my wife that we screwed up thirty years of our lives serving our country on active duty. My wife said, “What are you talking about?” I told her she needed to come witness the transformations that happen on our programs and see the changes being made, for me that is my life. The work we are doing at Higher Ground. fills my cup. When you can be a part of that change and know that you have made an impact on someone’s life it is powerful.

Kate Weihe: Rich gets to witness life-changing experiences in his work with our Veterans. In 2010, I received an email from one of our veterans who was one of the toughest people and stories you have ever heard. He was completely broken when he came to us and faced a lot of challenges. Today he is thriving and the long term impact of our work is why we do this. 

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about your success and impact at Higher Ground?

Kate Weihe: We are a quality over quantity organization that focuses on individuals. We transform veterans’ lives being in the outdoors with the people they love and we are able to lend a unique and heartfelt way to help them find their own fulfillment. We do a lot of connecting our veterans with their family members and we are lending a unique way to help people realize their own potential.

Rich Cardillo: Our impact is only three words, we enhance lives. Whether it is a Veteran or a non-veteran that has an injury, everything we do makes their lives better. We know we have made an impact even if we have improved one component of their lives, even one piece is huge. I do know that what we do gives our veterans a better quality of life moving forward.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for Higher Ground what would it be?

Kate Weihe: My dream would be that we would no longer have a waitlist for our programs. We serve 200 Veterans in our Military Program a year and we have over 1,000 on our waitlist. 

Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?

Rich Cardillo: I think for me personally a life lesson is have learned the importance of communication and having the ability to have a real conversation. We give our veterans the tools to do this and it’s called a win-win, so in the course of a conversation, no one loses.  In the end, both people involved in a conversation can feel good about themselves. For me, my life lesson is definitely communication.

Kate Weihe: I think overall in the bigger bucket my perspective has changed. Every time when I have had a rough day, I am reminded how lucky we are. Spending time with our veterans gives me gratitude on a daily basis. I know talking to my friends and family that they do not have that same opportunity that I have in my work. I am so grateful and so fortunate for the life I have been given. Now I can share that with others, a whole lot of gratitude.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Kate Weihe: I think I’ve grown up a lot. I think I have learned to move a little bit slower and reflect more and take time to step back and be more compassionate.

Rich Cardillo: Higher Ground has shown me that there is hope. We are doing the right things for the right people. This work has reinforced my hope in humanity and that has come from our donors, our volunteers, and our veterans. They all remind me every day of the fact that people want to do the right thing and that gives me hope.

Charity Matters

 

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Wreaths Across America

“You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFPN (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi)

Apologies for the delayed post this week but Christmas and a cold set me back a bit. As usual things happen for a reason because last night as I watched the evening news I came across this beautiful story, that was more than worth a share.

The story is about a couple, Morrill and Karen Worcester from Maine, who own a Christmas wreath business. In 1992, their Worcester Wreath Company found that they had an 5,000 extra wreaths that year. Morrill remembered a childhood visit to Arlington National Cemetery and had always believed that his good fortune and success was in large part due to the values of this country and the Veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. This visit was the inspiration for his idea of what to do with the extra wreaths.

Merrill wanted to place a wreath on every grave site at Arlington National Cemetery. So he reached out to his Senator to make arrangements to place the wreaths at Arlington in an older section of the cemetery. This went on for a number of years until in 2005, when the image above of the snow-covered wreaths  went viral and suddenly thousands of people wanted to help. In 2007, Wreaths Across America received their nonprofit status.

In December 2014, Wreaths Across America achieved its goal of placing 226, 525 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery. Earlier this week on December 16th, close to one million wreaths were laid at 1,000 locations across the United States and beyond. From Bunker Hill, to Valley Forge and to the September 11th site, thousands of fundraising groups, wreath makes, truckers, corporate sponsors  and volunteers contributed  to make this possible.

The Worcester’s hope is that their gesture will inspire us all to remember our fallen veterans, honor those who serve and teach our children the value of freedom.

Charity Matters.

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Copyright © 2017 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Celebrating our Veterans and Wellness works

Over the years I have interviewed and profiled a number of amazing organizations that serve our troops and veterans, Hugs for Heroes, Operation Gratitude, Veterans Career Exchange, and the list goes on. All fantastic organizations that have served our men and women abroad or helped returning Veterans get jobs once they were out of the military. However in all my interviews, I have yet to meet an organization that’s main focus is  to restore hope and a sense of wholeness of body and soul turning their post traumatic stress into post traumatic growth, until now. The place is Wellness Works, a home for healing  and hope.

Last week, I sat down with the Co-Founder, Mary Lu Coughlin, of the non-profit Wellness Works to learn more about the journey our Veterans go through and the story of this amazing non-profit that continues healing our Veterans. Today we celebrate Veterans Day and all those who gave so bravely for our freedom. It is the perfect time to share about the remarkable work that is being done to support the Veteran community and their families. This video (that sadly isn’t embedding but you can old school click the link) gives you a deeper dive into Wellness Works impact on Veterans.

 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to start Wellness Works?

Mary Lu Coughlin: Beginning in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, my Co-Founder Nancy was teaching wellness education workshops and holistic healing therapies to nurses mainly to help healing with the large AIDS/HIV population at the time. Our goal was always to he a source of healing and service to the community.  As medications became available for AIDS patients our client focus began to shift, September 11th happened, the war began and then in 2005  when we read Dr. Ed Tick’s book War and The Soul about healing Veterans from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD. We knew that we had a healing skills that could help our Veterans and their families.

Soldiers began coming home in 2006 and we knew our healing community needed to support and love these Veterans and give them a place that felt like home. 

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work in serving our Veterans?

Mary Lu Coughlin: Twenty-two veterans a day take their own lives. I know that when we (Wellness Works) have a tangible felt experience and love can come thru us to our Veterans that we are an instrument of healing.

Charity Matters: When do you know that you have made a difference?

Mary Lu Coughlin: When veterans come through our door they feel welcome, they feel at home, they know their invisible wounds are seen and they are not judged. When I over hear one veteran telling another,” I am finally home thanks to Wellness Works.” 

Another veteran, who now serves on our board, said on his second visit to Wellness Works that, “his life’s purpose had been restored. He now had a community with which he could once again strive to serve the greater good.”

Charity Matters:What do want people to think about this Veteran’s Day?

Mary Lou Coughlin: This Veterans Day gives us as a caring community and society, the opportunity to acknowledge the service of the many men and women who have served us so well.

Charity Matters.

 

 

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Copyright © 2017 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

Invictus

 

This week’s news certainly seems to be about football and country. While many are talking politics, there is another game involving the two, that is all about strength in the face of adversity. It is the Invictus Games that are happening this week in Canada.

 

Prince Harry is perhaps an unlikely nonprofit founder.  In 2013, while he was on a trip to the United States visiting the Warrior Games, Harry saw how the power of sport helped to heal physically, physiologically and socially. In that moment, he decided to create the Invictus Games to be an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick service personnel.

 

The word Invictus means unconquered and the purpose of these games is to harness the power of sport to inspire recovery. This week over 550 competitors will gather from over 17 countries to compete in eight days of fierce competition.

Prince Harry wanted to honor those that he has served with and all military service men and women around the world in hopes of creating a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country.  The motto of the games is based on a poem entitled “Invictus” which says, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

As Prince Harry said, “These games have shown the unconquerable character of service men, women and their families Invictus spirit.  These games show the very best of the human spirit.”  Here is to an amazing week of recognizing those who serve and cheering them on!

Charity Matters.

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Copyright © 2017 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

Not on Our Watch….

In the town I grew up in, we have the most beautiful bridge, that was built in 1913. I drive over this bridge almost daily, its architecture and views bring me such joy. The bridge’s most recent fame was being feature in LaLa Land. However, over the years the Colorado Street Bridge has sadly become famous for something much more tragic and that is for suicide. Many locals refer to the bridge as suicide bridge because of the long history associated with it. Seventy-nine people jumped off that bridge following the Great Depression and sadly, many have followed in the years sense.

This month is Suicide Prevention Month. A sad and depressing topic that many do not want to discuss, but the reality is that suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. An even more shocking statistic is that 22 Veterans commit suicide EVERYDAY.

Photo credit: Pasadena Weekly

When I heard that a local nonprofit, Wellness Works, that works with veterans healing PTSD, was bringing in hundreds of veterans to patrol The Colorado Street Bridge with a mission of promoting awareness about suicide and veterans, I knew I needed to do the same. For three days, 24 hours a day, in an event called Not on Our Watch, these veterans will walk to hold a vigil to honor those that have died and to offer hope to those that feel there isn’t any.

Today when I drive across that bridge, I will think of those who have so bravely served our country and say a prayer for those still suffering. My hope is that they are brave enough to reach out for help.

Charity Matters.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.

 

 

Push up challenge

 

Last year this time it was the ice bucket challenge to bring awareness to MLS and this year the challenge no longer involves ice but push-ups…..22 push-ups to be exact. I have been challenged to do the 22 push-ups a day by a friend of mine to bring awareness to the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day across this country due to PTSD.

In 2012 a Veteran’s report came out releasing the shocking statistic about our veterans and suicide. In 2013 a non-profit called Honor Courage Commitment began to spread the word about this epidemic amongst veterans. In July 2015, the non-profit split into an additional non-profit called # 22Kill. 22Kill’s mission is to create a global movement that will bridge the gap between veterans and civilians to build a community of support.

 

A bucket of ice last August helped spread international awareness and raise millions for ALS. Today, 22 push-ups a day to bring awareness to the suffering of millions of our veterans, is a small sacrifice and privilege to help those who have served us so bravely. Join us, in honoring those who have served us.

 

Charity Matters.

 

Copyright © 2016 Charity Matters. This article may not be reproduced without explicit written permission; if you are not reading this in your newsreader, the site you are viewing is illegally infringing our copyright. We would be grateful if you contact us.