Written by Jack Ries
In a previous issue of this publication, I wrote an article about the American Legion Riders (ALR). In that piece, we went over the history of the ALR, their mission, and the work that they do both for veterans, and for their local communities. Well, all shameless self-promotion aside, I’d like to do another piece involving the ALR, but this time focusing more on the beneficiaries of the charity work accomplished by the group. Specifically, the two amazing organizations which will be the primary beneficiaries from this year’s slate of ALR fundraisers. All organizations that receive charitable donations from the Riders are 501(c)(3) status non-profits, and all of them make a difference for soldiers, veterans, and military families in our local area. Here’s who is on the slate for this year:
Building Bridges Foundation – This organization is in Conestoga, Pennsylvania, and focuses on mental, emotional, and physical rehabilitation of veterans as well as the general community. Their mission is to “provide a safe space for personal growth through equine assisted activities for veterans and their families, those suffering from trauma and loss, and those who are struggling with cognitive and emotional challenges.” And yes, by “equine” they mean horses. So, why horses? Well, horses are remarkably intelligent creatures. Due to the necessity to evade predators in the wild, horses have evolved to be extremely sensitive to their environment, even developing an intuition into the behavior of other animals around them, including humans. Because of this, they can create strong emotional bonds with the people who work with them, keying in on body language and other non-verbal cues. Over the course of 40-plus years of research into equine therapy, the mental health community has found that these types of bonds are essential to mental and emotional rehabilitation of people suffering from emotional distress disorders, such as PTSD. Since the horse will respond negatively to a handler or rider who is angry, emotionally distressed, or anxious, those engaged in this therapy learn to handle their emotions in a calm, rational, and healthy way. The work that Building Bridges Foundation is doing is helping veterans to rejoin the civilian world with a fresh, healthy, and positive outlook, resulting in fewer veterans ending up out of work and homeless. The American Legion Riders are proud to support such a remarkable organization, and we will be having a chicken barbecue for their benefit on Sunday June 4th, as well as hosting our third annual ride to benefit Building Bridges Foundation on Saturday June 24th. If you would like more information on this organization, feel free to check out their web page at www.buildingbridgesfoundation.org.
Veterans Outreach of Pennsylvania (VOPA) – VOPA is a relatively new organization, dedicated to assisting homeless veterans in getting off the streets, getting educated, learning valuable work and social skills, and getting back on their feet. Their mission statement, “We stand to combat homelessness among veterans by providing support and services needed to promote an empowered life filled with strength and purpose” resonates loudly at this time, as 51% of homeless veterans have disabilities, 50% of homeless vets have serious mental illness, 11% of the national homeless population are veterans, and 22 veterans commit suicide every day due to not receiving the support they need in order to be able to function normally in the civilian world. I know that wasn’t a very cheery statement, which is a departure from the norm for me, but this is a horrible truth that cannot be ignored. Being a veteran myself, I have dealt with bouts of PTSD, and I have had friends and battle buddies who dealt with the same thing. Some of them became homeless, and a few have even taken their own lives or attempted to do so. The difference between the veterans who rise up and overcome, and the ones who become horrific statistics, is the support of organizations like VOPA. Currently, VOPA is building a village of tiny homes on a 5-acre parcel in Harrisburg, right on the shores of the Susquehanna River. This village will give homeless veterans a place to live, learn, and develop their skills. It will also feature a community and education center, as well as leisure and vocational training facilities. Of course, construction of this project, as well as staffing and running it, will not be cheap, so VOPA gladly accepts any donations that come their way. The American Legion Riders will be proudly hosting a ride to benefit VOPA on Saturday August 19th, and a chicken barbecue for VOPA’s benefit on Sunday September 17th. If you would like more info on VOPA or their Harrisburg tiny homes project, visit their web page at www.veteransoutreachofpa.org.
As a reminder, all of the ALR chicken barbecues will be held in the front parking lot of Penn Medicine Family Medicine at the intersections of River Road and North Bank Street in Marietta (it’s the corner at the stop light that isn’t Rutter’s, Sheetz, or Dunkin’). All ride events will start at the American Legion Post 466 parking lot at 19 S Gay St in Marietta, with registration beginning at 9:30 am, and kickstands up at 11:00 am. All rides are $10 per rider, and $5 per passenger, and will feature raffles, Chinese auctions, and entertainment at the post after the ride. And as always, all rides are open to the public, no membership required.
So, now that I’m done stumping for these two fine organizations, I can only hope to see you all at our chicken barbecues and charity rides this year. Every single dollar spent at these events will go to benefit disabled and/or homeless veterans. Every veteran taken off the streets, put back to work, and made able to once again function as a productive member of society strengthens our communities, our economy, and our great nation as a whole. We’re just trying to do our part and hope you will too.
“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”