Of all the things I get to do as part of my job as regional marketing director at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation, by far the best is running our annual American Warrior Initiative “Boot Camps” for real estate agents. Conceived as a way of teaching agents how to serve and support returning veterans, these 3-hour continuing education classes have another purpose. They allow the host branches of the events to recognize and honor a veteran from their community and to provide funding for something the veteran needs through the AWI Foundation.
To date, over 2 million dollars in grants have been given to veterans in need nationwide, with the funds for these grants coming primarily from donations by Fairway employees.
Each December when I update my insurance, retirement and other employment information, I am asked to check off if I would like to donate a day’s pay to the American Warrior Initiative, which I eagerly do. I do it because I have met and heard the stories of the recipients of these funds. I know of their sacrifice, their triumphs, and their desire to just live life like the rest of us. I welcome the opportunity to do something to give back to them.
Each fall, I get to plan our Boot Camp events, and this year for the first time, a gala honoring veterans. The Boot Camps are pretty straightforward logistically. Find a location, set up the Continuing Education credits, and then promote it to local agents. It is the search for the color guard, the anthem singer, and most importantly, the veteran that is the fun (and stressful) part. We have had an award winning color guard (all young women) from Lynn English High School perform along with the Singing Trooper. He brought everyone to tears as he sang the service song for each branch of the military, inviting those who were its members to stand. There was the wonderful Rene Rancourt, former anthem singer for the Boston Bruins, who confused everyone with his insistence that he sing the Canadian Anthem, too.
Then there are the veterans. Men and women elevated to hero status, who really just want to live ordinary lives, although that can sometimes be challenging. The veterans honored always seem surprised by the outpouring of support, and welcome the recognition some of them have never received before.
Among our recipients have been a single dad in Rhode Island, retired from the Navy, struggling to care for his two young sons, one of whom has autism. A local firefighter who served as a medic in the army, saving his friend’s life in the field. That friend, one of our first AWI grantees on the west coast, lost his leg in that incident, but it did not keep him from starting a gym with the funds we provided before going onto become a police officer, and the first amputee on his force.
We provided funds for a veteran to start a half-way house for veterans in addiction recovery, something he had overcome, and funds for several service dogs, including one for a woman who had suffered sexual assault during her deployment. The demand for service dogs is high, the wait long, and the cost upwards of $20,000 to house and train each one.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to donate, and to organize the Boot Camps. Yet as compelling as helping the veterans is, my real inspiration comes from the founders of AWI, Fairway branch manager Louise Thaxton and former Army Infantry Captain Sean Parnell (retired).
Louise and Sean travel the country to these events, over 42 annually, with Louise serving as the instructor, and Sean sharing the story of his first day deployed in Afghanistan, the foundation for a best seller he wrote, Outlaw Platoon. Louise is a wonderful presenter, full of wit and charm, her Louisiana accent exotic to our northern ears. Her devotion to the needs of veterans is what drives her, having seen some young and inexperienced veterans taken advantage of when attempting to purchase homes upon their return from deployment. Louise stepped in and made it her mission to educate an entire country of real estate agents and loan officers to “handle with excellence the home purchase needs of active duty and former military clients.” She famously reminds all that, “You may not be able to do everything, but we can all do one thing.”
No matter how many times I have heard Sean recount his harrowing first minutes in Afghanistan, I am overcome with emotion. In part due to the tragic story he tells, but also that he keeps telling it. To relive it is an act of courage and generosity that underscores his belief that veterans must be allowed and encouraged to share with the rest of us what they have experienced while deployed. Frequently, the veteran we are honoring will stand and share a story about their own deployment after hearing Sean speak, moving moments that are just as powerful. So often we hear from the veteran that this is the first time they have been recognized formally for their service, which means so much to them, even more than the grant funds or gifts we are providing.
The years that I have organized and participated in these events has deepened my respect and knowledge of those that have served our country and the struggles they often encounter upon their return. I have seen the compassion and generosity of others in the room who are also equally transformed by the experience. Many agents continue to support AWI by dedicating funds from their own events or a portion of each of their closings. I extend my efforts by volunteering at the local VA Hospital once a month, motivated by Louise’s words in that thick Louisiana accent, “…we can all do one thing.”
This article was written by our Regional Marketing Director, Betsy Boggia.