Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation

Newman’s Own honors charities, support groups

Navy Times
Karen Jowers

Charities providing retreats for wounded warriors who are burn patients, assembling a traveling museum of military children’s artwork, and sending Purple Heart veterans to hunt and fish in outdoor sporting events around the country are among the six diverse groups recognized in this year’s Newman’s Own award competition.

This year’s competition awards a total of $100,000 for the groups’ work to improve life in the military community, an increase from the total in previous years of $75,000.

The competition is sponsored by Newman’s Own, Fisher House Foundation, and Gannett Government Media Corp., which publishes the Military Times newspapers.

Since its inception in 1999, the Newman’s Own awards have recognized 145 programs with grants totaling $825,000.

The overall winning entry this year was the Moonlight Fund of Bandera, Texas, receiving $25,000 for its mission to provide tailor-made retreats for wounded warrior burn patients and their families. The retreats are held at a peaceful site in Texas hill country, about an hour’s drive from the burn unit at Fort Sam Houston’s Brooke Army Medical Center.

Since 2007, the organization has held 29 retreats, each with about 25 families, said co-founder Celia Belt, who is herself a burn survivor, as is co-founder Henry F. Coffeen III.

“We’re humbled and blessed to be part of such a life-changing program for our wounded soldiers,” Belt said in accepting the award in Sept. 20 Pentagon ceremony. She said she hopes that $25,000 will pay for five more retreats.

The late Paul Newman, who founded Newman’s Own and its charitable works, “was so proud of this award,” said Tom Indoe, president and chief operating officer of Newman’s Own, Inc. “He felt the people in the groups that focus on the military represent the best America has to offer, people giving of themselves to help military families.”

While these awards recognize six groups, Indoe said “there are many more. I want to thank all of the organizations that work with our military men, women and families to make it a better place.”

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, thanked the organizations for their work. “When you think about what we have to do to take care of this generation of veterans, we’re going to be in this for a long time,” he said. “We certainly want you all in that fight with us, both while we remain in contact with the enemy and well beyond.”

The Moonlight Fund retreats began in 2007 as a result of the requests from case workers at the burn unit when Belt was volunteering there.

Activities are tailor-made for each group, but include archery, fishing, swimming in a pool or river that runs through the property, and massages.

But “the best activity is rest and relaxation,” away from schedules, she said.

She also brings in long-term burn survivors who inspire the burn patients.

The money is important for the work of these charities, but officials said they equally appreciate the recognition that the awards bring to their work.

“There’s something about being a military kid and being recognized for helping military kids,” said Donna Musil, executive director of Brats Without Borders, Inc., which received $15,000 for its work in assembling a traveling museum, designed to educate and raise awareness of the military kid subculture.

“There’s also something special about being surrounded by people working so hard to help military families,” she said.

The $15,000 will pay for much of the costs to assemble and frame about 70 pieces of art and historical artifacts, reproduce exhibit signs and instructions, and create an interactive exhibit for continuous data collection, Musil said.

They expect the museum to go on the road between January and April, opening in Washington, D.C., then moving to museums outside military installations.

The award winners have stepped forward to do what government can’t, said Tobias Naegele, editor in chief of Military Times, at the ceremony.

“We need people like you who can step forward and say, ‘I have a solution that would work and would solve that problem,’ ” Naegele said. “You’ve done that. You’ve stepped forward and said, ‘I have an idea.’ … When you do that, you add a human dimension to a human problem. I thank all of you for thinking of those things and for believing in them.

Other $15,000 winners:

Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation provides hunting and other outdoor sporting opportunities around the country for Purple Heart recipients. The $15,000 will allow about seven or eight veterans to participate in these events designed to help in the healing process, welcome them home, and repay a debt of gratitude for their sacrifices, said retired Army Lt. Col. John McDaniel, the group’s founder.

It costs an average of about $2,000 per veteran for travel, licensing, lodging, insurance, and other expenses. A number of sportsmen have donated services and resources.

The foundation sends small groups of veterans on trips ranging from hunting alligators on air boats at night in the swamps of Florida, to fishing charters, to elk hunting in Montana.

With these small groups, they can provide a support staff to work with veterans, said McDaniel, who is on the road about 43 weeks a year.

In 2012, the foundation expects to do 45 independent events in 30 states with 100 combat-wounded veterans, he said.

“When I started the foundation in 2007, I knew hunting and fishing would be something that would help the veterans,” he said. “But I didn’t know the American sportsman community would turn out and offer so many opportunities.”