Help Our Military Heroes Awards 165th Adapted Minivan

The need by severely injured service members for adapted minivans to help them lead independent lives did not decrease during the pandemic. The continued to rise, even as fundraising events came to a grinding halt.

“While fundraisers were at a record low, inquiries and approved applications for accessible van grants were at a record high,” said Laurie Hollander, cofounder of Help Our Military Heroes (HOMH). “We have now awarded 165 grants since fall 2020. including a Navy nuclear engineer here in Connecticut.”

Help Our Military Heroes (HOMH), based in Easton, Conn., is a nonprofit that awards adaptive minivans to allow injured military service members the freedom to drive. Founded by Hollander and  Marybeth Vandergrift in 2009, the nonprofit helps wounded veterans from the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The HOMH Board of Directors is comprised of veterans, educators, philanthropists, and  business executives who came together with the common goal of making a difference in the lives of the most severely wounded and injured service men and women

The mission statement is: “Help Our Military Heroes is dedicated to delivering adaptive minivans to our wounded, injured, and ill military heroes.”

Some of the service members suffered traumatic injuries, including head, neck, nervous system, and spinal cord injuries. The road to recovery can be painful, long, and so hard to deal with for them and their families.  Many of them have trouble finding meaningful employment, housing, and transportation. 

An adaptive minivan that’s designed for an individual’s needs can help him or her gain a sense of independence and self confidence as they get their lives back together, but the cost can be prohibitive. The HOMH program is donation-driven, and 100% of the public donations to date went toward purchasing and retrofitting 165 minivans for active duty service members and veterans who require ramp entry, modified minivans due to their wounds, injuries, and illnesses. 

Donations from the public have been generous. According to HOMH tax records for 2019, they received $316,606 in donations in 2018 and $459,352 in 2019, which shows a generous increase in public donations.

HOMH serves veterans nationwide and has helped hundreds of U.S. service members for over a decade. Their testimonials are posted on the website and all of them are moving and inspirational. Not only are the money donations important, but people, small business owners, and local body shops have donated resources and time as well to help retrofit the minivans. 

The Covid 19 pandemic put a hold on almost every aspect of daily living. According to the HOMH events page on the website, it did not hold any fundraisers in 2020, but sponsored numerous events and fundraisers in the past. 

In September 2019, HOMH celebrated its 10th anniversary by throwing a cocktail fundraiser at Newman’s Own Headquarters in Westport, Conn. The party included words by the Guest of Honor, Corporal Josh Himan, USMC Retired, a minivan recipient and co-founder of the Driver Rehabilitation Center of Excellence. It also included a cooking demonstration by Food Network Chef Palak Patel, and live and silent auctions. 

In July 2019, HOMH held a Stars and Stripes Poker Run, hosted by the Law Dogs Motorcycle Club, with fees of $25 per biker and $15 per passenger on a motorcycle ride in Portland, Conn. Upcoming events for 2021 are pending.

To make a donation to give severely wounded military service members the freedom to drive, visit the Help Our Military Heroes website: Help Our Military Heroes – Home

Photo at topL Help Our Military Heroes awards an adaptive minivan to Larry Standfield of Illinois.

Please Support the Courier

Your donation will sustain Easton’s community journalism project

Most residents remember when Easton became a news desert. Hundreds of local news organizations have closed, as their advertising revenue disappeared, and the pandemic worsened. The print edition of the Easton Courier ceased publication in 2018 — its 40th anniversary year — as a result of diminishing ads. At least 60 local newsrooms nationwide have closed since March, according to Poynter.

Recognizing Easton’s profound community need for local news and information, James Castonguay, Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences at Sacred Heart University, reached out to Nancy Doniger to revive the Courier. Doniger, an adjunct professor at SHU and Easton Courier editor, had worked for years as managing editor at the Courier’s parent company and as a correspondent for The New York Times.

They assembled a team of faculty members to work with them and consulted with Easton leaders and residents. Community meetings about the Easton Courier 2.0 were well-attended, and ideas from Easton residents formed the basis of the new site’s priorities. The nonprofit Easton Courier launched on Leap Day, Feb. 29, just two weeks before the global pandemic shut down schools, businesses and almost all activities of daily living. The Easton Courier has since published over 825 stories.

The healthiest way to sustain and grow the Easton Courier is from the support of the people who value it. You — the residents of Easton and others connected to the town — have supported this community journalism experiment through your readership and by contributing well-written articles, colorful columns and impassioned letters to the editor.

There are many characteristics unique to Easton, “the jewel of Fairfield County.” Talented and insightful observers from a broad swath of professions, businesses, and the art world have contributed articles, archival material, wildlife photographic essays and personal stories about life in this highly spirited small town.

None of this would have been possible without Sacred Heart University’s partnership, which enabled the Courier to operate as a non-profit and an entirely independent organization. The Courier team of Rick Falco, Keith Zdrodowy, Jane Paley, Ann Marie Somma and Taci Batista, in addition to Castonguay and Doniger, has donated immeasurable volunteer hours to produce the news that residents now read every day.

The Courier looks forward to constantly providing you, our valued readers, with timely local news and information. We now ask that you support the Courier by making a donation at the link below.

All donations are placed in a restricted fund earmarked solely for the purpose of sustaining the Easton Courier Community Journalism Project:

Easton Courier Community Journalism Project Donation Page

Easton Courier Needs Community Writers

The Easton Courier needs YOU to become a community writer. The new online Easton Courier (EastonCourier.news) launched during a friendly social gathering at the Easton Community Center. Today, May 29, marks our three-month anniversary.

In that short time, the new Easton Courier has published more than 300 articles and public services releases. Little could we have imagined that COVID-19 would change life as we know it when we began planning the new local news source in late 2018.

The nonprofit, volunteer community journalism project has far exceeded expectations in its reach and the number of stories it has published. But the Courier needs volunteer writers to continue its charge.

Community writers are needed to contribute fact-based articles, photos and videos about local and state issues, town government and the schools. 

We also seek stories about interesting Easton residents, the arts, environment, nature and farms; special events, ceremonies, award presentations, clubs and organizations.

Let your friends and neighbors read about your weddings and engagements, births, graduations, accomplishments and promotions, businesses, places of worship, sports and anything and everything that captures Easton’s essence and rural character.

We want to know how you and your family are faring under social distancing and stay-at-home orders and how you feel about a phased reopening with a possible second outbreak looming on the horizon for the fall and winter.

The nonprofit Easton Courier community journalism project is a partnership with the town of Easton and the Sacred Heart University School of Communication, Media and the Arts (SCMA).

Students from SHU and SCMA will help cover Easton news and events in the fall but are not on campus now due to social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions. We invite Joel Barlow High School students to contribute as well, but they, too, are completing their semester studies under COVID-19 restrictions.

Become a community writer by sending an email to eastoncourierct@gmail.com or by submitting an article and photos to EastonCourier.news. Follow the instructions on the homepage under Home, Article Submission.

We hope to hear from you. We can’t do it without you!