Episode 73: Heroes Voices Media Foundation

I hope everyone had a great President’s Day. We are now on the short end of a week and that is always a great feeling. On Monday, we celebrated leaders who served our country. Today, I am thrilled to say we are doing the same by celebrating an amazing organization that serves those who have served, our military. Donald Dunn was a veteran suffering from PTSD when he and a fellow veteran began a podcast to talk about whatever was on their mind. The surprising result was that when they began sharing on their podcast, they began healing.

The result of that healing was wanting to give that experience to other veterans who were suffering and the creation of the nonprofit Heroes Voices Media Foundation. Join me for an inspirational conversation that literally brings me to tears of how one veteran is on a mission to help. Truly one of my favorite conversations!


Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Heroes Voices Media Foundation does?

Donald Dunn:  I was podcasting when I realized that I was using podcasting as therapy. And I didn’t realize this until about three quarters of the way through season one. At that point, I just no longer cared whether one person was watching my show or 10,000 because I was starting to feel better about myself.  I was starting to be able to get stuff off my chest that I didn’t talk to anybody else about. As a result, the Foundation came from the podcast.

It started  because of some musicians that came on the show.  I saw how they were struggling getting known, getting views and for me, it didn’t matter. But for them it did, because that was also their income. That’s how they paid their bills.  They were using their songwriting as therapy. The songs that they were singing were about the events that had happened to them in the military. So we started this nonprofit, in the hopes that we could get veterans to continue to keep using these forms of media to heal. There’s a lot of people that think podcasting is simple and easy. And then when they start they realize real quick that there’s a lot of work that goes into it. 

We know that when veterans get frustrated, they walk away from something and either deal with anger, or just try to go find something else.  So our goal is to help them continue to keep podcasting, whether that’s a little bit of education, and or the cost of some of the equipment. . The same goes with our veteran musicians. We’ve got a radio station that is underneath our nonprofit called Gunroom Radio. There’s three different stations: country, a rock channel and folk music. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Heroes Voices Media Foundation?

Donald Dunn: So some of it is just a little bit of luck. I’ve always been one of those guys, that when I get an idea in my head, and I decide to move forward, I don’t change my mind. And so I’m sitting there talking with a few of these veteran artists. And I said, “You know, what we really need is a radio station for veterans. “And they told me about an organization called Operation Encore. And I reached out to them. About that same time, the good old trusty Facebook,  started showing me an advertisement that said, start your own radio station.  And I was like, “Well, that’s it.” It was meant to be, you know, so I signed up and set it all up. Then I realized that it’s a lot more to it than just setting up a radio station.

There’s a bunch of nonprofits that help with PTSD. And I’m not under the illusion that if you’re a podcasting, you’re going to be healed and that’s therapy. But it’s a starting point, it’s a starting point to get you talking. It’s a starting point to get you associating with other like minded veterans, people that you might be able to reach out to. And it’s also integrating you back into society to where you are able to deal with people, because you will have some frustrating moments as a podcaster. 

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Donald Dunn: The hardest part for me figuring out is how to reach donors because we have a vision that nobody’s ever done.  I knew when I was setting this up that it was going to be an uphill battle. The reason why I knew that is because one of the things that Operation Encore said to me, that made me decide I was going to do this. When they talked to me, it became evident that the only way you were going to get the licensing and everything you needed was it had to become an actual business.

I had just closed my trucking company, and I really wasn’t looking for another business. When I talked to them, he had told me that he has spent two years talking to radio stations, and trying to get them to donate one hour of airtime to just the Operation Encore veteran artists. Wow. And they all told him no. Well, that’s the one thing that stuck in my mind.  

The radio station just grew so fast. I had one veteran artist in May when we launched and we’re now there’s probably 70 to 80 artists on there with 500 songs.  I’m trying to put together a way for everybody to hear their music. And now we need to start breaking up and adding some channels and having different genres.  I wasn’t thinking we’re going to be the next Sirius XM. I was hoping that maybe some guy from the American Legion, or something like that was listening  and could reach out to these artists and book them. If that helps put a little bit of food on their table, and keeps them driving, then that’s a win. I love that it has already done so much.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Donald Dunn: The thing that keeps me driving is I want to get to the point where the veterans are being known for their talent.  Veterans have a very unique way of looking at things. We’re very good at being handed a task and just said, figure it out, and they figure it out. I think that’s why a lot of veterans become entrepreneurs  because they do have that skill set. They don’t necessarily work well with others but they can figure things out on their own. 

When I started looking at this, I already knew there’s all sorts of different PTSD type nonprofits out there. But there’s not a whole lot that highlights the veteran  that succeeded from dealing with all their traumas, and everything else. I want veterans to think I’m gonna go back and live my dream. My dream was to become a musician, a podcaster or whatever their dream is. But they put those dreams on hold for the first 10 to 15 years, whatever they served. And now that they’re at the end of their counterparts careers and they’re trying to start their dream.

And you know, there’s not too many record labels, it’s gonna say, “Hey, you’re 45, I think you’re now ready to become a musician.” Right? And so what fuels me is I want to change that. And I want to change it to the point where there’s not just a CMA, but there’s a VMAs, there’s the Veteran Music Awards, there’s the genres for podcasters. You know, if you look up military podcasts, it’s going to fall under one of two categories, either mental health, or government and politics. And I don’t really think that’s, that’s the way that it should be.  I think that’s what fuels me is I want to get it to where the veteran community has a recognition and a voice.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Donald Dunn: Absolutely. If you went back two years ago, I was that veteran that we were just talking about.  I did not want to leave the house, I did not associate with people.  I didn’t go into Walmart and I had a hard time just functioning as a happy person. I went to the VA, I did get some help. I still did not do well with the therapy, as far as talking, and stuff like that. I just could not relate to that person. And that person definitely did not understand my situation.

When I started this podcast, and as it went through the steps, I kind of hit levels as well. You know, I went from that guy that didn’t want to talk about stories, you know, who was drinking a lot to now I’m that guy that drinks maybe three drinks a week.  I drink when I want to not because I’m trying to go to sleep because I haven’t slept in two days.  And so, and I do credit a lot of that to the getting stuff off my chest and opening up that powder keg and taking some of that stuff out that I have pressed down in, in me.

Then I got to that point where I was able to understand other people’s situations. And I was able to figure out some of my problems. One of the other things that I’ve done is I wrote a book for my kids. I have not published it yet. I’m letting them read it. I just sent it to them a few weeks ago, but it answers all the questions about  why they had this laughing happy go lucky dad. And then by the time they were teenagers, they had another guy that would come home, eat dinner and go straight to the bedroom and stay there until the next morning.

I never thought about the damages that you are also causing when you think you’re protecting your family by not talking about the stuff that has happened. You think you’re shielding them from that. But what you’re really shielding them from is understanding what you’re going through. My wife, for the first two years of this stuff, she didn’t sleep with me for the first two years, because you got tired of getting elbowed and me yelling and screaming for bad dreams. And then she would ask me what I was dreaming about. And I would lie and say, I don’t remember.  I credit the podcast and opening up to where I couldn’t get it to where I felt like, I wanted to share it, so I put it in a book.

Charity Matters: Do you have a phrase or motto that you live by? 

Donald Dunn: Personally, my life changed when I got to the point where I could  embrace the words, it is what it is. And it’s a fine line, because that phrase can also be a crutch and force.  You to just say, well, there’s nothing I can do to change it. But for me, the part that is helped is when you’re holding on to all this baggage.  This stuff that you can’t change, I can’t go back in history and undo the damages that I’ve done. I can’t go back and not go to these deployments and not have all these memories. And for me, when I finally got to that point where I can say,” it is what it is”  and just let it go.

That’s where I started seeing recovery. That really came through from  podcasting when I was talking to other people. And when you get deep into a conversation with another veteran that I didn’t meet until that day, and you’re talking about stuff that I hadn’t even told my wife about. And I completely forgot that it was being recorded, or that it was live or anything, right? Those are the moments.




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Episode 43: Roots for Boots

Today is Memorial Day, a national day when we honor and and recognize those who have given the ultimate sacrifice of service. So it is only fitting that today we are having a conversation with an incredible nonprofit Roots for Boots that serves those who serve, our veterans.

Christy Lucus, founder of Roots for Boots is an inspiration and was beyond fun to talk too. Join us to learn the amazing story of Christy’s journey from a school principal to a nonprofit founder. You will see why her official title is Chief Enthusiasm Officer!

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Roots for Boots does?

Christy Lucas: We are a grassroots organization and our mission is basically to meet whatever need or challenge a veteran active duty or military family would have. And we like to invite the community to come in to use their own gifts, talents and resources to help us and we like to say that your way of serving your country.

The thing about Roots for Boots is we don’t have a specific niche.  A lot of nonprofits do hunting trips or fishing trips with veterans. For us, no day is ever the same. We could be helping with rent, utilities, home repairs, or car repairs. One of the things that I love to do is to provide the All Terrain action track wheelchairs for our veterans. Those are for our veterans that have issues with mobility outside. These are the wheelchairs that have the tracks on them, a fishing pole attachment, and they’ve got a swivel on for their firearm. The wheelchairs even have a snowplow and they’re just amazing.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Roots for Boots?

Christy Lucas: From very early age, all I ever want to do is help people. When I was little, that’s all I did. And then when I had to figure out what I wanted to do as far career, I decided to go into teaching. So I went to teaching got my degree and I ended up at a Catholic school in Missouri Sound, Pennsylvania. It was just the little town that reminded me of Mayberry that was just a very simple close knit community. So I taught there for 14 years.

I always see God’s hand and everything that I’ve done here.  You just never know where he’s going to take you. When I decided to teach, I went back to school to get my master’s in education. Well, I got the job and Annunciation in the middle of that program.  I was like, I do not want to ever be a principal ever. 14 years later, the school needed a principal…. and I’ll tell you, that was a hardest job. That was the absolute hardest job I’ve ever had.

When I taught and when I became principal,  I did the Veterans Day assemblies.  I think this is where everything started. When I did the Veterans Day assemblies, I got to hear their stories, and the struggles of our veterans, especially our local, military. Then we saw some of our families have deployments who had military members in their family.  And I saw that end of it as well. So I really got a connection there.

I come from a patriotic family where my dad’s a Marine. My grandfather served in World War II, my  great grandfather served in World War I and an uncle in the Navy. My father in law was in the Korean War. So it was just all around.  Love that surrounding your whole time yet you don’t always see it. So when I became principal, I used that platform more.  I brought military in to help a science lesson, Social Studies lessons to talk about patriotism.

Veterans Day was my absolute favorite day in the school.  That was because it didn’t take a lot to make our Veterans happy or to make them smile.  The third year of my contract, I was really burned out and didn’t know what to do. I thought, well, maybe if I volunteer with a Veterans Organization, I’d be able to find my passion that way. I asked a friend who was a Marine, “Do you know any place I could I could do that?” And he says no, but why don’t you start your own thing?  And when he said that, it’s like a spark went off my head. I knew what, no clue what I was going to do no clue what this was going to look like.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Christy Lucas:  I think one of the challenges we have now is with growth. It’s just growing in leaps and bounds.  I run a food bank, the second Tuesday of every month for veterans. That started with eight veterans back in 2018 and it’s now almost 150. It’s it’s more than a Foodbank because I have a Veteran Service Officer there. He’s able to help with any VA issues that they have. We have lunch for the volunteers and the veterans. And that’s priceless. having them sit around a table together and have a  conversation.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Christy Lucas: I never take credit for this, I always say it’s God working through me. He’s bringing people to me that need help. And he brings people to me that can help me and I work with a wonderful team of volunteers. The one story that I always do tell is Jeremy Jacoby. He’s a young veteran, and he’s in his 30s. He’s got a young family and Jeremy was deployed twice.  During his deployment he was exposed to chemicals and he’s losing mobility from the waist down.

Three years ago I got contacted because he he was trying to see if he could get up on one of the alteration track wheelchairs. So I met Jeremy at a local restaurant here and I just remember looking across the table.  I could just see the pain in Jeremy’s eyes. What he so desperately wanted was to be able to run with his young son to be able to play football. He wasn’t athletic guy to begin with and now he’s reduced to a cane and a wheelchair.

All he wanted to be able to go out and hunt and fish and be able to play with his his son.  So I remember hearing his story and then you see this, this soldier across from you and all sudden he starts to choke up. I looked across the table as Jeremy I grabbed his arm.  And I said,” Jeremy, I will get you that tractor by Christmas.” And we did.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Christy Lucas: if I had a dream super big, the one thing I always say that that we that we were are in need of is our own space.  I work out of my home and always having to borrow other people’s conference rooms. My core values for Roots for Boots is serve, educate and inspire.  So I thought there’s these little one room school school houses around here that are all boarded up. So if somebody would just like buy one of those for me?  Renovate it, make it lots recruits headquarters and  pop a flagpole up in the front of it. I’d be able to meet with my veterans there and we’d have our own conference room.

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

Christy Lucas: When I was principal we would adopt an active duty servicemen each year. They have taught me perseverance and I’ve carried this on into what I do now,  never get up or never give up. You know, live to fight another day. Just keep going forward. That’s a lesson that was has been priceless for me.  I tend to be somebody that doesn’t run from a challenge, I go right towards them.

My biggest struggle was always failure. When I finally just said, “You know what, this is way too stressful. ”
I just had to be myself and figure this out. And I never thought that I would ever be able to handle the job is principal.  I always thought I wasn’t smart enough to do certain jobs. Then I realized I was smart enough. And I was smart enough to form a nonprofit in this community, and opened it with welcome arms.

I was lucky because  I think it’s something that community was looking for. When I look back on all those stumbling blocks and all those failures. And I just think you know what, I’m so glad that I just kept going, because I could have missed out on what could have been my greatest moment. You know, and I always tell people, just keep going, you could be you could be missing out on what could be your greatest moment.



New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2022 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.

Episode 29: Oath to Country Foundation

Today is Veterans Day. A day we honor those who served our country and sacrificed so much for our precious freedom. The story on today’s podcast is an incredible family legacy of service. Justin Gracieux uncovered old documents that showed his grandfather’s 14-year military service during World War II and beyond. However, the official military records of thousands of veterans were destroyed in a 1973 fire. The fire destroyed the major portion of records of Army military personnel for the period 1912 through 1959.  Join us to learn the incredible adventure one grandson has gone on to right a wrong and in the process honor those who have served our country.

Photo Credit: L for Louie the Lens (Monrovia, California)

Justin has founded the nonprofit organization Oath to Country Foundation to provide support for our Veterans. This inspirational conversation about family, love, and service brought me to tears more than once.  Justin’s story, commitment, and determination to serve those who have so bravely served us is an inspiration for us all. Take a listen.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:


Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Oath To Country Foundation does?

Justin Gracieux: Our mission is to foster a community of connectivity and collaboration with partnerships and volunteers to educate on advocate for and strengthen veterans, military, and first responders’ mental health.  We also provide street-side resources for our Veterans that end up homeless in Southern California. Oath to Country Foundation is also sponsoring combat veteran psychotherapy treatment sessions provided by a Board Certified Clinical site Colleges.

Photo Credit: L for Louie the Lens (Monrovia, California)

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Oath to Country Foundation?

Justin Gracieux: The story begins during Covid. in September of 2019, I was at my parent’s house and my mom called me into her room.  She said, “Here’s a folder.”  It was an old vanilla envelope kind of thing. My mom said, ” Open it up and see what you want to do with this?”. So I opened it up. That’s where I found this letter written by my mom when she was 17.

To whom it may concern:

I hope that you can be of help, and refer me to anyone that will read this letter. My father, Joe B. Montoya, was born on June 23, 1927. He was a veteran with more than several honorable discharge certificates that I can remember. My father was a very hard worker and a good father to me. And that is why I’m here today, I vowed that I would have him a burial that he thought he was given. My father has been deceased since October of 1983. I’ll try and make a long story short, there was a fire and I know my father’s discharge paperwork was burned.  When I lost my dad, it was a promise to him to get a copy of his papers and have him a burial service with full honors along with being buried with the veterans of the United States. He now lives in a cemetery, with no one knowing his battle to serve our country.  There was no flag or knowledge of him in the service, with approximately 14 years of his life dedicated to this country. I need someone to help me find his past. My family tried, as long as we could to postpone his burial. And to find his service records.  Photos of him are enclosed.

My mom said, “I called Washington DC, and nobody could hear me cry for help.” So I took this folder, opened it up. I noticed that there was a lot of information that I could use to my advantage to step back into that arena that my mom did at such a young age, to fight for his veteran recognition, and 14 years of service. 

Photo credit: L for Louie the Lens (Monrovia, California)

So right around this time, I started interviewing friends and family members who served our country through multiple wars. I started conducting these interviews, to put together these stories. Because the story of my grandfather wasn’t accurately passed down through the generations, I felt as though it was my duty to pay it forward. I needed to tell and archive the stories of these Veterans.

  I remember meeting a gentleman who served in the Navy. Our conversation really opened my eyes to what motivated them to serve. The experiences they had, the fun experiences, and the traumatic experiences. I learned a lot about war and what it has done and what it does to our American soldiers. The PT, post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, isolation, and ultimately suicide. This really opened up my heart and my mind, to what it really means to serve. This was the foundation for The Oath to Country Foundation. Shortly thereafter, I filed the paperwork with the State of California in March to start our nonprofit and go full speed ahead. 

Photo Credit: L for Louie the Lens (Monrovia, California)

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Justin Gracieux: I remember one night, and this is before it was officially filed. I remember praying, I was in bed.  All I could think about was the nonprofit how it’s gonna work.  I had a lot of self-doubt stepping, into this role.  I remember saying, “You know, God,  I’m coming to you because I’m scared. I’m nervous. I don’t I know I have a heart for this. I want to do it. But I don’t know how I’m going to do it. Because I never served.” And I said,” If this is what you want me to do, and to do Your will. I said, just open the doors for me and I will go through them and I will never look back. I said.” Just help me. Help me. Help me see that this is the mission that you want me to serve.”

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Justin Gracieux: We perceive challenges as opportunities, with our nonprofit. We are looking at the glass half full because we have so many opportunities to rewrite the course of history for our heroes.  We can do right in the world,  serve others, and pay it forward and save lives. That is our fuel to our cause because we’re here for the right reasons and we’re here at the right time. We want to have an everlasting impact on the mental health of all of those around us.

Photo Credit: L for Louie the Lens (Monrovia, California)

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had and What has your impact been? 

Justin Gracieux:  Our impact is bringing our community together for various types of programs. Recently,  we hosted our second beach yoga for mental health. We bring together the community, our military, veterans, first responders for a day on the beach.  We’re conducting our 22-mile challenge. So, we either run or walk 22 miles along the California coast. 22 miles for 22 veterans.  I run it with 22 pounds, signifying the lives taken by way of suicide every day. What we’re also doing is we’re sponsoring psychotherapy treatment sessions for our combat veterans. We are sponsoring gym memberships for our first responders, Veterans Military, across various gyms here in Southern California.

Photo Credit: L for Louie the Lens (Monrovia, California)

Right now we’re running multiple programs. I think one of the more specialized programs that we’re actively involved with daily is, is providing street-side resources for our homeless veterans here in Los Angeles County. Just a couple of weeks ago, we put together approximately $4,000 worth of resources, with items such as hygiene products, clothing, tents, insect repellent supplies, and more.  Living there on the streets has its challenges. So we’re helping our Veterans who sleep on the sidewalks outside the VA with the rodent issue that they’re faced with daily.

Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?

Justin Gracieux: To end the war on suicide. We’re doing everything we can every day to prevent the next suicide from occurring. I mean, we’re in it for a long fight. We won’t give in we won’t back down. And we have the right people involved in this organization to help accomplish that.  We’re just taking it one day at a time right now because this battle that we’re faced with isn’t easy.

Photo Credit: L for Louie the Lens (Monrovia, California)

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

Justin Gracieux:  I’ve learned that it’s our responsibility to honor the legacies that those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country and for our freedom. It’s our responsibility to continue to honor the names of those that are no longer with us. We have to continue to rely on each other to really continue to amplify the message within our own communities and even in our own households, and really look after one another.

The after-effects of someone taking their lives and those that have to live with it have been affected by it tremendously. I know some individuals that are still impacted by those who have taken their lives, and it breaks my heart to know that they still miss their loved ones. And they always will. It never goes away. So heartbreaking.

Photo Credit: L for Louie the Lens (Monrovia, California)

Charity Matters: Do you have any last message for us on veterans Day?

Justin Gracieux: Let me tell you a little short story. The other day I left work, and I’m literally sitting in the driver’s seat of my truck. To my left, I see this gentleman sort of kind of rocking in his truck. And I was like, that’s a little weird. So I finally looked and this gentleman was looking at the sticker on my truck.  All-around every window of my truck. I have Oath to Country Foundation stickers.  This gentleman’s looking at a sticker. So I finally wrote on my window,  this is a foundation to save our veterans from taking their lives.

And it was just like that because we’re both at a stoplight, he’s about to leave, I’m about to leave. Sure enough, he sits back down. And he turns his face, one eye was missing. He raised his arm to salute me and his hand was missing. When you ask about what motivates our mission? What propels us to keep going?  When we think we’re not moving anywhere, it’s experiences like that, that remind us that God is sending these messengers to us, to keep going and to never back down from this fight. 



New episodes are released every Wednesday!  If you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us:

Copyright © 2021 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.

Honoring our Veterans

“It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the organizer, Who gave us the freedom to demonstrate

It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag.

And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protester to burn the flag.”

Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC

I have to confess that I have needed to do a little digital detox since the election. The news has been draining and taken a toll on many of us, regardless of your politics. One thing that I hope our country can agree on is our veterans and today is Veterans Day. We have 22 million Veterans in the United States.  When I think of the men and women who have served our country, I am humbled. The sacrifice, bravery, and commitment are like no other form of service. Today, I wanted to look back at a few of the people and organizations we have met that honor our veterans.

Team Rubicon

In 2013 we profiled Team Rubicon that was founded by two Marines who met in sniper school.  Jacob Wood and Clay Hunt returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other Veterans who were no longer sure of their purpose. That all changed when an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Jacob Wood, Clay Hunt, and a host of other Veterans decided to deploy to heal others in need and in the process began to heal themselves. Today they have over 130,000 veterans helping people with disasters around the world.

American Women Veterans

When we think of our soldiers, the image that comes to mind is usually of a man. I remember interviewing Genevieve Chase in 2016 when she told me, “Not every GI is a Joe.” Genevieve is the founder of the nonprofit American Women VeteransAt only 38, she has served two tours in Afghanistan is the recipient of the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and the Combat Action Badge.

Genevieve had trained for two years as a counterintelligence agent and was in Afghanistan for only two months, in April 2006, when a car bomb detonated and changed her life forever. At the end of 2007, Genevieve came home, depressed, unsure about her purpose, and began volunteering for another military non-profit. She began to realize that women veterans were not being heard, served, or listened to. More importantly, she discovered that there are 2.2 million women veterans in the United States. She has devoted her life to serving and honoring the women in our military.

Veteran’s Career xchange

In 1967 at 19 years old, Mark Brenner served in Vietnam. When he came home from Vietnam, they threw rocks at him as he stepped foot in the U.S. for the first time in a year from being away. He said, “The way I was treated coming back from Vietnam, I knew I didn’t want anyone else to ever go through that.”

Mark had learned recent statistics on Veteran unemployment  and thought, “Now this is something I can help with, I know how to get people jobs.” Mark spent his career in job recruitment and decided instead of retirement to create a  non-profit called Veterans Career XchangeHis mission to coach veterans to get full-time employment and to retain their jobs.

photo via:

Operation Gratitude

One of my first Charity Matters interviews was with a woman named Carolyn Blashek. On September 11th, 2001  she was sure that her parents were in the World Trade Center. Thankfully they were not. Out of gratitude for her parents being spared, she tried to join the military, all branches sent her home. Instead, she began sending care packages to troops deployed all over the world to thank them for their service.

Today, Operation Gratitude annually sends 150,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment, hygiene, and hand-made items, plus personal letters of appreciation, to Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors, Care Givers and to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed overseas. Their mission is to lift the spirits and provide volunteer opportunities for all Americans to express their appreciation to members of our Military. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than One Million Care Packages.

We have interviewed organizations from Soaring Valor that honors children of fallen Navy Seals to Higher Ground a program that helps Veterans deal with their PTSD and so many more incredible nonprofits serving those who serve. Today let’s come together to honor and thank our veterans for their service.





Copyright © 2020 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.

The heroes of 2019

“Nothing is given to man on earth – struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible – the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen.”

Andrew Bernstein

There is nothing I love more than meeting new people. To me, each new person that I come across is like unwrapping a gift. I love learning people’s stories and what makes them tick. Meeting someone new is a never-ending source of joy for me. Some people collect certain things, I collect people because to me they are what matter. This past year I am so excited about the people that WE met at Charity Matters. When I meet amazing people so do you. Who wants to open a gift and not share it? So before we look ahead to 2020 I wanted to take a brief moment and look back at some of the extraordinary humans and their organizations that came into our lives this year.

We began 2019 with Tracy’s Dogs. The founders of Tracy’s Dogs, Tracy and Scott Whyatt, a Texas-based nonprofit that rescues thousands of dogs and partners them with new homes said to me, “People don’t find dogs, dogs find people.” Two weeks after that interview a dog from Texas named Lucy found us. An unexpected blessing of 2019 and the gift that keeps on giving. As they say, “Charity starts at home.”

photo credit: Classic Kids

Animals were not the only last legacy from the year. We met amazing women who turned their life challenges into thriving nonprofits. The remarkable Becky Fawcett who learned what it cost to adopt a child and turned it into her life’s mission to help families fund adoption with Help Us Adopt.

Jill Ippolito who showed us the power of love and healing with her inspirational work in juvenile halls with trauma-informed yoga with her nonprofit Uprising Yoga. Teaching and training minors in jail to learn how to process their trauma and break the cycle of pain. Jill used her past experience to help reform prisons across the country and heal generations of children who have experienced trauma and inflicted it on others to learn a new path towards healing. Jill is a truly lovely human and reminded me that whatever gift it is that we have, we need to share it with the world.

Then there was Marcella Johnson who lost a child at birth and used that pain to fuel her nonprofit The Comfort Cub. Marcella and her team provide healing weighted stuffed teddy bears/Cubs to help those mothers who grieve. We had such an incredible conversation that we set up lunch after and a friendship was born, she is a truly special human.

Marcella wasn’t the only new friend made in 2019, Roberta Lombardi the founder of Infinite Strength was so inspiring with her mission to financially assist women going through breast cancer pay for things such as daycare. We talked for over two hours and could have kept going. She is remarkable with her passion for serving and supporting these women and a true girls girl. I adored getting to know Roberta.

This year was not just about the girls, there were amazing men accomplishing unbelievable work, one of them was Seth Maxwell of the Thirst Project. At 19 years old Seth discovered how many people on this planet live without clean drinking water and made it his life’s mission to change that. Now at almost 35, he has. Seth’s organization has actually taken that number from 1.1 billion people without access to clean drinking water to 663 million and he is still going strong. More than that Seth is using his passion to inspire thousands of high school students across the country to join him in his mission.

Speaking of missions we met Colin Baden, the former CEO of Oakley sunglasses turned nonprofit founder, who continues to find ways to use technology to support Veterans with Infinite Hero Foundation. Colin’s humility and commitment to our Veterans left a lasting impression on me and the thousands that he serves. Our conversation left me in awe and reminded me that true heroes serve from a place of humility and Colin is a true hero.

While we met so many incredible and inspiring humans this past year there was one person whose positive attitude, commitment to joy and service left an indelible mark on me. His name is Hal Hargrave and he is the founder of The Be Perfect Foundation. Hal is a paraplegic and his organization works to help provide wheelchairs, cars, physical rehabilitation and a list of services for those with spinal cord injuries. Hal is someone who chooses joy and to live his life in the service of others.

All of these nonprofit founders serve humanity each and every day in so many different ways. I loved every single person I had the privilege of meeting this year and I loved introducing them to you just as much, I wish I could highlight them all here. 2019 was an amazing year and I am excited about what this New Year and decade will bring.

I think the perfect way to wrap up 2019 is with a quote from Hal Hargrave. I think Hal speaks for all the remarkable nonprofit founders and heroes when he said, “I fear not being on this earth more than anything because I know there is more that I have to give to this world and that I have more in the tank. I have an opportunity to either live life for myself or for others. It is an easy decision every day to live my life for others. The most interesting thing about it is that I am always the benefactor, whether it is a smiling face or a new attitude. It makes me a better and more aware person each time this happens. “

Wishing you a Very Happy New Year!

Charity Matters.



Copyright © 2019 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.

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



Copyright © 2019 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.

Infinite Hero Foundation

Mike in front row without shirt

What started as a phone call from my sister last week in hopes of helping a friend turned into an amazing journey. She called to tell me about a friend and Vietnam Veteran named Mike Stirling who is currently undergoing cancer treatment, from an agent orange related cancer. She went onto say that she and my brother-in-law knew Mike and his family and had watched him lovingly restore a M37 truck just like the one he had in Vietnam. Now that Mike’s not well he wanted his beloved truck to go to serve others. My sister and brother-in-law purchased the truck from Mike and are now auctioning this special truck off next weekend for a nonprofit called Infinite Hero Foundation that supports Veterans in amazing ways.

Naturally, I needed to know more about this nonprofit and that lead me to an incredible conversation with Infinite Hero’s founder, Colin Baden. In addition to being a nonprofit founder, he is also the former CEO and President of Oakley but even more impressive is what a remarkable human he is.

Charity Matters: Tell us what Infinite Hero Does?

Colin Baden: Infinite Hero’s mission is to connect our military, veterans and military family members with innovative and effective treatment programs for service related injuries. Our focus is to help our Veterans where the VA leaves off, we support Veterans and organizations that help our Veterans with physical rehabilitation, leadership development, brain health, family support and suicide prevention.

Charity Matters: What was the moment that you knew you needed to start Infinite Hero?

Colin Baden: Oakley has a long history of working with the military in our core eyewear business, so through that work we got to know a lot of people within the military, predominately special forces. When we had been at war for as long as we had, we started to see some of the people we had worked with pretty closely return from war pretty messed up and some not coming back at all. It wore on us.

One day we lost an entire Seal team when their helicopter was shot done and I was really upset. I was 52 at the time and what I tried to do initially was to enroll in the military and I thought if I could just take the place of someone else. I quickly realized that you can’t join the military if you are over 45. Since, I couldn’t join I called our military liaison at Oakley, Eric,  and said we need to do something bigger for our Veterans and that was in 2012. From that we began Infinite Hero.

Charity Matters: What makes Infinite Hero different from some of the other military nonprofit organizations?

Colin Baden: When we started it everyone at Oakley was super passionate about it so we had instant volunteers and help. We had no trouble getting support and because of our connections with the military we able to pull together an incredible board and get to the people we wanted to serve. We kept our mission simple and framed it within the culture of Oakley. Oakley has been successful because of its ability to innovate so we wanted to replicate that for Infinite Hero.

It felt to us that the VA model wasn’t diverse enough to solve the complexity and challenges to solve the problems. So we took the simple approach that if we could find innovative ways to help our Veterans we could probably make an impact unlike any other group. Over the course of the last five years we have found some exciting ways to have real impact.

Charity Matters: What are some of your biggest challenges?

Colin Baden:  You would not think that giving the money away is truly our biggest challenge but it is. Identifying a cause that aligns with our mission and being able to use that innovative filter  isn’t easy. We receive over 200 grant applications each year and we struggle to get it down to a handful of organizations that are going to have a real impact. We take the fact that we are stewards of this money very seriously and want to make sure that we are investing it where our Veterans will best be served and have the greatest impact.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

Colin Baden: I think its because so many people have been a part of this conflict for such a long time and the challenges they face are really profound and not going away. Some are very hard to grapple with, when you see someone with their limbs amputated from an IED or suicide prevention. When the suicide rate amongst veterans is 30 a day and how you grapple with all of this is not a simple thing. There are not enough VAs to be there to adapt and deal with so many of these challenges, so we need the diversity of all of these foundations to make a difference. We are just one piece of this work.

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

Colin Baden:There are moments when an investment has paid off, when Gary Linfoot gets to walk his daughter down the aisle for her wedding and we had a hand in that or someone going through one of our leadership development programs and is passionate about his new life as a result of our work. All of these moments make me feel really good about the little work we have done.

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

Colin Baden: We manage to raise about a million dollars a year. We aspire to always have a bigger impact and we do everything we can to make sure all of these funds go directly to the cause. What has been so nice about Oakley being a part of this is that we have already had so many skilled people that we didn’t need to pay who could help us make this work.

Investing in innovation in this space has been interesting. We signed up to take on really huge challenges of problems that are not simple for our Veterans. For example we found a treatment center that does amazing brain work with depression and we have been paying for a number of our veterans to go through this treatment and it has been eighty to ninety percent effective. When you think of suicide being one of the biggest challenges our Veterans face and we are really excited about what this can do for so many.

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

Colin Baden:What has always struck me about the military and their families is their humility and the realization that they really struggle asking for help. I will give you an amazing story as an example and try not to cry telling it. When we launched Infinite Hero we went to Walter Reed Military Hospital. When you are blown up in Afghanistan you are bandaged together enough to get to Walter Reed. When you show up there you are a bandaged ball. The minimum stay at Walter Reed is one year to give you an idea of the severity of these injuries. On average soldiers have an operation every other day.

I walked into a room at Walter Reed and there is a guy who has lost both his arms and legs to an IED laying there. I had a great conversation with this guy who was a beautiful human being and he tells us how happy he is to see us because he wants to thank us for all we have done for him. You have lost your arms and legs and are thanking us? Are you out of your mind? The soldier said, “No, no, no you don’t understand. I am going through training so I will be fitted with artificial legs and will be able to walk around. More than that, I am getting fitted with artificial arms so I can pick my baby girl up. If it wasn’t for you guys I wouldn’t be able to do that. That is why it is so important that I thank you.”

That kind of humility taught me all I needed to know about Veterans. They are not the ones to help themselves. It dawned on me that if you have any ego on the battlefield, people will die. I have learned humility from these soldiers and I just admire them for that so much. I have made that my personal mantra to never let my ego take over and to have humility.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

Colin Baden: This work is so rewarding and more people should do this. We have had such huge returns emotionally from all of this work. I just wake up every morning and think how am I going to out nice humanity. 


Charity Matters

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Copyright © 2019 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.

The sweetest thing to do this Halloween

” We must give more in order to get more. It is the generous giving of ourselves that produces the generous harvest.”

Orison Swett Marden

How much do we love Halloween and more importantly Halloween candy? If your like me, you have already been eating your favorites for the past few weeks and hope to never see a Snickers again. Here is some good news, now Halloween candy is twice as sweet (whether it’s from your own bag or your children’s) because there are a number of ways to donate your candy.

So think about giving a treat to these amazing organizations that support our troops:

Operation Gratitude:

You may remember the amazing story of Carolyn Blashek and her incredible cause sending care packages to our troops. Operation Gratitude just sent their 2,000,000th care package. Add your candy to one of their amazing care packages. They also love hand written notes too, so if your children are so inclined this is a great way to teach philanthropy and compassion.

Soldiers Angels:

A similar organization to Operation Gratitude in that they support our troops. Soldier Angels coordinates Treats for Troops each year and this year their goal is to raise over 17,000 pounds of Halloween candy. That is some serious sugar!

Operation Stars and Stripes:

This nonprofit runs Trick or Treating for Troops but sends care packages to service men and women who are stationed in the United States, as well as abroad. They collect unopened candy all year, and so don’t forget them after Christmas or Easter.

Operation Shoebox:

This organization distributes candy all year-long to the troops that are missing the holidays at home. What makes Operation Shoebox unique is that you get to choose which branch of the military you would like to send your treats to; Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.

When you think about it Halloween is all about giving candy away, so why not keep the giving going just a little bit longer? This Halloween think about a sweet way to inspire compassion, kindness and a little patriotic spirit in your children or yourself. Truly there is nothing sweeter than making someone else’s life better. That is a treat we can all enjoy!

Happy Halloween!

Charity Matters


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Copyright © 2018 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.


“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

What does it take to be a legend? These past few weeks we have lost two legends, two very different legends, Aretha Franklin and Senator John McCain. Two people that could not be more different, in their backgrounds, upbringings or their work. Yet, two people that were legends and at the end of their lives have been revered in the same way. So what made them legends?

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ross D. Franklin/AP/REX/

Was it what they did when they were alive or how they are remembered when they are gone?

A legend is defined as; Legend – a person whose natural reflex is to be selfless and make an extraordinary effort to put others before themselves.

Aretha Franklin was known as one of the bestselling musical artist of all times, the Queen of Soul, an artist without boundaries, a trailblazer and someone who brought joy to all by sharing her passion and gifts with others. Her music made us think and her passion connected us all.

John McCain, an American who is the product of two Navy Admirals, his grandfather and father. A man tortured as a prisoner of war for over five years. A United States Senator that was known for standing for principals before politics, a maverick and a man who believed his true strength lied in his love of country.

Two different people that used their lives to make others lives better. They served by sharing their gifts. They are not nonprofit founders but they both exemplified the same traits. Individuals who give of themselves to make the world better.

Charity Matters is not a place for music or politics but a place to highlight remarkable everyday heroes who make our world better. John McCain’s last words, in his recently published book The Restless Wave, remind us that we all have the ability to do just that….make our world better than we left it. So as we celebrate  Labor Day today, I think these final words from Senator McCain explain why the word legend is so fitting.

“Before I leave, I’d like to see our politics begin to return to the purposes and practices that distinguish our history from the history of other nations. I would like to see us recover our sense that we are more alike than different. ‘The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it,’ spoke my hero, Robert Jordan, in [Ernest Hemingway’s] ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls.‘ And I do, too. I hate to leave it. But I don’t have a complaint. Not one. It’s been quite a ride. I’ve known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war, and helped make a peace. I’ve lived very well and I’ve been deprived of all comforts. I’ve been as lonely as a person can be and I‘ve enjoyed the company of heroes. I’ve suffered the deepest despair and experienced the highest exultation. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times.

I leave behind a loving wife, who is devoted to protecting the world’s most vulnerable, and seven great kids, who grew up to be fine men and women. I wish I had spent more time in their company. But I know they will go on to make their time count, and be of useful service to their beliefs, and to their fellow human beings. Their love for me and mine for them is the last strength I have.

What an ingrate I would be to curse the fate that concludes the blessed life I’ve led. I prefer to give thanks for those blessings, and my love to the people who blessed me with theirs. The bell tolls for me. I knew it would. So I tried, as best I could, to stay a ‘part of the main.‘ I hope those who mourn my passing, and even those who don’t, will celebrate as I celebrate a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued service is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine.”


Charity Matters



Copyright © 2018 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.

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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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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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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Memorial Day 2017

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life for something bigger than oneself.”

Joseph Campbell

Over the years I have interviewed a handful of veterans who started non-profits; Eve Chase of American Women’s Veterans, Mark Brenner of Veterans Career Xchange to name a few.  I have also interviewed so many more who started incredible organizations to serve those who serve us….Carolyn Blashek of Operation Gratitude, Rob Berquist of Cell Phones for Soldiers and the list goes on…each person more inspiring than the next.

The common thread between all of these extraordinary individuals? Gratitude. Each one is grateful to have either survived their journey and inspired to help their fellow veterans. Or they are like you and I, ordinary Americans, filled with gratitude for the country we are blessed to live in and the freedoms which we have. They have used that gratitude to fuel their work to serve and honor our veterans.

So today, I will take a page from Carolyn and Rob’s book of gratitude, as I reflect on those who sacraficed to serve us. I am filled with gratitude for these heroes who gave their lives for something bigger than themselves…..

our freedom.

Wishing you all a day full of gratitude.

Happy Memorial Day.

Charity Matters.

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.