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My 91 year old father-in-law is a WWII Veteran.  Every year on Memorial Day my family calls him to say thank you.  At family gatherings, the younger generations try to coax him into telling stories but he is reluctant to share.  He is a humble person and although we all see him as a hero he will never take ownership of that title.

I was startled to recently learn that we are losing an average of 1,000 of these humble WWII servicemen a day.  As a nation, when we lose them we lose their stories and recollections that many of them have been reluctant to share, and we lose the opportunity to say thank you, both collectively and individually.

Prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan I thought of veterans in terms of older relatives and images I carried from a childhood of watching the Vietnam War unfold.  Memorial Day seemed like the only chance I had to acknowledge their sacrifices on my behalf.   I joined with the rest of the Country in a day of remembrance and gratitude for their service.  It all seemed very ceremonial and not all that personal and I had limited opportunities to extend my thanks on an individual level.   I wasn’t sure my thank you counted.

But as the warriors from our most recent conflicts have returned home, I have taken any chance I get to tell them I am grateful for their sacrifice.   I have made it a point over the last few years to thank a uniformed member of the armed forces in airports, restaurants and other public venues. I know I am not alone in this desire to take action to support and thank those who have served our country. I have seen complete strangers stand in unison to applaud a reservist boarding a plane, and over the last decade services and nonprofits that support veterans have seen dramatic increases.  Grassroots efforts have emerged in communities, schools and service organizations and several weeks ago, First Lady Michelle Obama announced a national initiative to support our Vets.

Our gratitude has a unifying effect, because no matter where we stand politically or philosophically on our involvement with military conflict, we can all join the efforts to support those who have been protecting us.  In many cases they have put their lives on the line and some have returned as wounded warriors.

Locally at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we have worked closely with donors who support veterans organizations, established scholarships for students who have volunteered to assist veterans and held roundtables to learn how to the community can bring a collaborative approach to solving issues veterans face in Southwest Florida.

National nonprofits like Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers (DVIC), an organization dedicated to educating and providing employment for disabled veterans, was founded by Southwest Florida philanthropists and is headquartered here in our region.

Our willingness to step up with hands on help for our veterans is a compelling way to put our gratitude into tangible action.  It takes the handshake or applause in an airport to another level and creates a culture of sustained support and appreciation. It allows us to thank the veterans we know, acknowledge those we never meet and it honors those who lost their lives in service to our Country.  It all counts.

If you are involved in a nonprofit that supports veterans, or if you are a veteran and have an idea on what support services are needed in Southwest Florida I would love to heard form you at [email protected]

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been supporting the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry, and Collier counties since 1976. With assets over $75 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $57 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our web site at www.floridacommunity.com.

 

Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More