WNY Heroes, Inc.
It always amazes me when I hear about a group or organization that I have never heard of before. I was at a meeting at my church when a woman passed out flyers about an organization called WNY Heroes, Inc., Supporting Our Western New York Veterans. She told us they were doing amazing things for veterans.
When I contacted them, I spoke with Dan Rossi who is on their Board of Directors and an Air Force Veteran. He told me he has been with WNY Heroes for about a year and a half. He told me he is working in the office as a part-time employee for the summer. I asked how he found out about this organization and he said, “Chris (president and co-founder) came to Lancaster High School where I am a full time social studies teacher. One of my classes is Advanced Placement Psychology. I invited him to tell the students about this group to explain Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the difficulties the veterans go through. He explained about how service dogs improve the lives of veterans.” Dan told me he believes it is important for people going into this field to hear from the people they will be treating. He said he was so impressed that he joined the group. When summer ends, he told me he gives up his paid position and works as a volunteer.
Dan served in the Air Force from 1985–1994 before switching to the Air National Guard and Reserves. He worked on nuclear ballistic systems as a radar operator with the Air National Guard and served in the Air Force Reserves in Niagara Falls. Dan served in the Gulf War from 1990-1991 but did not have combat experience.
Dan Said, “We meet once a month with Chris Kreiger, president/co-Founder and Iraq War veteran and Alex Knolls. Alex is a former Army Chaplain and served as a Major. While most of our members are veterans, we also have some civilian members, both men and women, who want to volunteer and help veterans. Dan went on to tell me that they keep all the money in WNY and that it is not a national organization. He said 80% of all the money goes to WNY Veterans. Their mission is “to provide veterans, members of the armed services, and the widows and children of deceased veterans with access to essential services, financial assistance, and resources that help support their lives and sustain their dignity.” They were established in 2007 and now have amazing programs that veterans can apply for.
Grant programs include:
BRIDGING HEARTS: Helps veterans and their families with financial assistance for life-sustaining needs. This program will cover up to three months of past due mortgage, rent, and utilities.
PAWSITIVE FOR HEROES: The service dog program was created in 2014 to help address the needs of many returning combat veterans experiencing PTSD, anxiety, and hyper-vigilance. An approved rescue dog and a qualified veteran are matched and then trained together. This method has allowed veterans return to a more normal life with their families, employers, and throughout their communities.
WNY KIDS ARE HEROES TOO: This grant helps veterans provide their child or children with the ability to participate in a wide array of extracurricular activities in their communities, from organized sports, martial arts, and dance to art and other enrichment programs.
ADOPT-A-VETERAN FAMILY: This is a seasonal grant program that helps the veteran and family during the stressful holiday time through the use of local donations and sponsorships. These help provide the entire chosen family with gifts, food, and clothing.
BACKPACK DRIVE: With donations from local businesses and sponsors, backpacks filled with essential school supplies are given to children in all grades prior to the start of each new school year. This allows children to have the tools needed to be successful in school.
ACADEMIC SCHOLARSHIPS: Veterans may apply for a scholarship to help complete their college education after their GI Bill has been exhausted. They offer six scholarships per year in the amount of $1,500.
OPERATION B.O.O.T.S. “Battle Buddies On Our Troops Side”: This program brings veterans and their families together in a casual, safe, non-clinical, and fun environment, that fosters teamwork, networking, and friendship. This has been going on for a few months now. Combat vets are given priority. We take them fishing, bowling, and to a variety of other events. It is to build a comfort level and connecting with others who have similar backgrounds.
Dan shared, “We try to participate in a wide variety of events in the communities. If we are invited to something in Jamestown, we check if we have any volunteers in that area or who are willing to go down there. We are doing our best to let people know about us and that we are available. We have flyers and we have advertising on the side of buses. We also have a weekly radio spot on WGR55 that focuses on veteran issues that airs every Sunday from 8am–9am. Sal Capaccio is the host and he brings in guests every week and talks about aspects of our programs. He has interviewed our chairman of the board, Alex Knoll.”
Alex is currently running a place called Camp Pioneer for children of vets. That is another program they help sponsor so veteran’s children can go to camp with no charge to the family. It is called Operation Purple because if you mix the colors of all the services together you get purple.
There is also a Camp Star for children of men or women that have been killed in action. Right now, there are about 150 children there at camp. WNY Heroes are just one of several groups that sponsor children there.
WYRK also Recognizes a Hometown Hero every Friday at 11:30 am with Brett Allen– WNY Heroes and Batavia Downs Gaming.
Chris told me he grew up on the West Side of Buffalo and then his parents moved to Sanborn and then to Niagara Falls. He said the military always was a part of his family. He grew up watching MASH on TV. He said, “I joined the Army and went to medical school in Texas. Of the ten years I was in the service, three years was active duty in Iraq during the invasion.” He said his vehicle was hit with a road side bomb which left him seriously injured. He required surgery on his right leg and lower back. He also dislocated a hip, lost significant hearing in both ears, and experienced a traumatic brain injury.
He went on to say that when you go in the military you are told you will be taken care of when you are discharged. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Chris was released from the military in 2007 and in 2008 was sent to the Polytrauma Brain Injury Center in Richmond, Virginia, where he spent 5 weeks in extensive care, including getting medical attention to control his seizures. He was told he would get 100% temporary disability, but he was denied. It took two years to receive 100% disability pay and during that time, his family lost their home, cars, and everything for which they had worked hard. Chris continued, “We were forced to start our life over again. I saw the same thing happen to other veterans and so wanted to do something to help ease the transition from combat to civilian life and eliminate the hardships and complications too many veterans experience.”
Since then he has received several medals: National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and many more. In 2011, Christopher M. Kreiger was also presented with the Purple Heart on center ice at the Buffalo Sabres game on 11/11/11 for Traumatic Brain injuries suffered by multiple roadside bomb attacks.
For more information, visit <www.WNYHeroes.org> or contact by phone at 716-630-5020.
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|Carol S. Wolf is married to her husband Dick for 52 years. She has 2 sons and 4 grandchildren. She is a writer, speaker, storyteller and leader of workshops and retreats. She is an Associate Spiritual Director at the St. Joseph Center for Spirituality and a member of the Network of Biblical Storytellers WNY.|
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