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thedrifter
08-10-07, 09:32 AM
2007 Newman’s Own Award recipients named
By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Aug 9, 2007 21:52:18 EDT

When Mike Conklin heard about a severely injured warrior returning to his hometown of San Ramon, Calif., he gathered a group of people together to ask the question, “What is our responsibility?”

They soon had a plan to pick up where the Department of Veterans Affairs’ responsibilities ended in helping Spc. Jacob Brown.

“I said, ‘I’m going to get him a home, and a car,’ ” said Conklin, father of three Army Rangers, one of whom was injured in Iraq in 2003.

The community put together a support system for Brown that succeeded so well they decided to help another injured service member. In the past three years, the effort evolved into the Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation, which Conklin founded to help other caring communities connect with permanently disabled service members.

And for its efforts, the organization can count on part of its funding this year from Newman’s Own, the grants program run by actor Paul Newman to recognize charitable efforts that support the troops.

In the program, communities mobilize volunteers, including attorneys, financial counselors, real estate professionals and others who help service members with housing, transportation, employment, mentoring and ongoing support.

“We give them opportunities, and we stand at their side so if they stumble we can help them,” Conklin said. “These kids are heading home, and we want to be ready for them. Communities have been outstanding.”

Application information is at www.sentinelsoffreedom.org.

“We’re looking for candidates who are severely mobility-impaired,” he said. “We demand that they do have a positive attitude, and request that they want to further their careers.”

The communities where disabled service members are placed “have raised 100 percent of the money for the soldiers,” he said.

It takes about $100,000 for four years to fund one service member, Conklin said, so he’s grateful for the $15,000 grant the organization receives as the winning entry in the 2007 Newman’s Own competition.

“One hundred percent of those dollars will go to one soldier,” Conklin said.

Ten organizations received grants totaling $75,000 in the competition, which is sponsored by Newman’s Own, Fisher House Foundation and Military Times Media Group.

This year’s grants bring the total to $432,000 given to 99 programs since the annual competition began in 2000, aimed at providing funding to programs that improve the quality of life for the military community.

All winning programs this year emphasize helping wounded troops and their families.

That includes the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, www.semperfifund.org, which receives two grants totaling $15,000 for two separate programs. Their specialized equipment program, providing special gear that has a dramatic impact on Marines’ quality of life, received a $10,000 grant.

For example, the group has given two iBOT wheelchairs to service members at a cost of $23,000 each. “But that one chair gives the service member the chance to work and have quality of life ... it gives them the independence and confidence to get back out there,” said Karen Guenther, founder and executive director of the organization.

The program also helped purchase a treadmill for a blind Marine who wanted to keep in shape and couldn’t run on the streets anymore, she said.

The fund’s family support program, which received a $5,000 grant, offers financial assistance to Marines injured in combat and training and to their families, who travel long distances and often have to quit their jobs to be at their Marine’s bedside.

“We’re in the trenches with the wounded,” Guenther said. “The hospitals trust us. They know we get the checks into the hands of the families within 72 hours, and in emergency it could be in a couple of hours.”

Guenther said the group has evolved from a few Marine spouses and $500 three years ago, to 90 volunteers around the world. Thanks to donors worldwide, they have given $13 million to help in 5,000 cases.

“The network of spouses keeps us going, and people know the money they donate will go to the service members.

“But I feel like we’re just getting started,” she said. “There are so many needs. It touched our hearts that we were able to receive these two grants.”

Other groups receiving grants:

$10,000

* “A Warrior’s Wish,” Hope for the Warriors, at Camp Lejeune, N.C., which grants special wishes to severely injured service members. Examples are all-terrain wheelchairs given to two disabled service members so that they could enjoy the woods and outdoors again, said Shannon Maxwell, vice president and co-founder of the organization, and wife of a wounded Marine.

$5,000

* “Wheels for Warriors,” Operation Support Our Troops, North Kingstown, R.I., which purchases and customizes vans to meet specific needs of disabled service members who have been severely injured in Iraq or Afghanistan.

* “Operation VALOUR IT,” Soldiers’ Angels, San Antonio, which provides specialized wireless laptops and training to the severely injured services members at Brooke Army Medical Center.

* “Operation VALOUR IT,” Soldiers’ Angels, Pasadena, Calif., which provides these specialized laptops to major military medical centers on a national level.

* “Wounded Family Assistance Program,” Operation First Response, Inc., Culpeper, Va., giving wounded families grants of up to $750 to help in immediate financial crisis.

* “Operation Vet Tech,” The Volunteer Center of RI Capitol Region RSVP, Providence, R.I., providing a self-sustaining computer lab at the Providence VA Medical Center to offer technical training to active-duty military, veterans and their families.

* “Life Transformed,” Harker Heights, Texas, providing training and education, small business opportunities, educational materials, computers and mentors for wounded service members and their caregivers.

* “Wounded Warrior Wives,” Operation Homefront — Texas, Fort Sam Houston, with funds for day care, meals, transportation, and professional facilitators to build the morale of spouses of the seriously wounded.

Ellie