A few years ago, a group of friends and avid boaters gathered on the Ohio River. Their casual conversation turned to the topic of injured service men and women – those whose sacrifices make enjoyment and freedom possible. Unlike most conversations of gratitude, this one compelled the friends into action.
Michael Greenwell, president of Titan Marine in Prospect, had worked regularly with veterans and military contracts in his business. Throughout the years, he had a reoccurring vision of throwing a fundraiser to support veterans. This vision, coupled with the conversation that took place that night on the river, inspired the creation of the Warrior Empowerment Foundation (WEF).
Greenwell founded the all-volunteer organization in 2013 and acts as CEO. “We pay no salaries. We rely on donations and the great support of our friends and neighbors to serve, support and empower injured service members of the United States Armed Forces and their caregivers,” he explains.
Unlike other organizations, the WEF is a home-based operation. “We are entirely local and are completely separate from the national Wounded Warriors group,” he says. “What’s raised in Louisville stays in Louisville and the surrounding communities.”
WEF recently held the fourth annual Tribute to Troops, their annual fundraising event. The largest to date, this year’s benefit saw nearly 1,000 guests and garnered $200,000 in one evening. This is all the more impressive noting the first-year planning goal of $10,000. Money raised will be distributed throughout the coming year to support U.S. military service men and women injured during active duty.
The Tribute to Troops fundraiser, originally envisioned as a casual summer get-together, has grown over the years. It now features a massive buffet dinner provided pro bono by Sysco Foods and Tumbleweed, music and both a live and silent auction. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the evening is the arrival of injured and recovering service men and women from Ft. Knox.
More than 120 soldiers and veterans, along with their families, are escorted from Ft. Knox to Prospect in a motorcade provided by the Jefferson and Oldham counties’ sheriffs’ offices, fire departments and EMS, as well as the Kentucky Patriot Riders motorcycle club. “These soldiers and veterans feel like rock stars when they arrive at the Tribute to Troops,” says Lt. Col. Paul Sanders, WEF board member and commander of the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) out of Columbus, Ohio.
“It’s a night to celebrate their service and let people put faces to these brave heroes. But the real story comes after the fact, when we provide funding that can truly make life-or-death transformations for these service members,” Sanders says. He saw firsthand the difference funding made for members of his 412th Civil Affairs Battalion Alumni Fund. “Some of our soldiers and their families who are struggling were able to pay electric, water and medical bills. They also funded the purchase of Christmas presents for those who could not afford gifts for their children.”
Greenwell adds, “When a soldier returns from war injured, it can be obvious, like a missing limb, or more concealed, such as a PTSD or closed head injuries. Veterans and their families may have housing issues, face homelessness, or their children may suffer needlessly because of unforeseen difficulties assimilating back into society.”
Thankfully, WEP is there help. This year alone, they have already distributed more than $100,000 in grants to several area nonprofit organizations that serve veterans, active duty members and their caregivers. Some of the recipients include USA Cares, the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion Alumni Fund, Paws with a Purpose, the Coalition for the Homeless, the Salvation Army and St. Vincent DePaul.
USA Cares, based in Radcliff, is a major beneficiary of WEF funding. According to Bill Roby of USA Cares, “The Warrior Empowerment Foundation and USA Cares partnership is a win-win for all parties.” Funds donated through Warrior Empowerment foundation to USA Cares are used to assist military families in crisis. “Grants, not loans, are provided to military families through four core programs: emergency assistance, housing assistance, career transition and combat injury expenses.”
For those injured in combat, USA Cares is able to pay basic expenses. “For veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or a Traumatic Brain Injury, they can rest assured that their family is taken care of while they receive treatment,” he says. “When USA Cares is contacted to provide assistance, we are able to respond to the request and have a payment made within 48 hours.”
Elaine Weisberg of Paws with a Purpose is grateful for the Warrior Empowerment Foundation’s support. “Being a recipient of funding from the Warrior Empowerment Foundation means a lot to Paws with a Purpose, especially since we are a nearly all-volunteer organization. Having the opportunity to meet veterans and let them be aware of Paws with a Purpose will help us in our mission of placing assistance dogs with individuals who have physical and other disabilities.”
Placing a puppy with a service member is no easy task. “It takes two years to train and place a dog, and all of our dogs are placed at no cost to the recipient,” Weisberg explains. “During that time, there are many training costs as well as medical costs. The funding will assist in this endeavor.”
Greenwell considers it an honor to assist the organizations that provide the much needed care our veterans and military personnel so rightfully deserve. “Our job is to raise funds and community awareness for the ongoing challenges. We believe it’s a privilege to serve those who have so bravely served us.”
For more information on the Warrior Empowerment Foundation or to seek support, visit wefoundationky.org.
STORY BY SARA GIZA