Chief Executive Officer of Dream Foundation Kisa Heyer said her nonprofit’s nationwide Dreams for Veterans program unites a community of people under the shared belief that fulfilling a final wish for a terminally-ill veteran — like a visit to the nation’s capital — is a powerful way to thank them for their service.

“I’m often asked, ‘What makes a dream?’ I can tell you every dream is different, unique to the individual. But at the end of life, a dream is everything,” she said during a ceremony Wednesday in northern Virginia.

The organization was one of five programs presented with the Fisher Service Award for Military Community Service. A total of $250,000 in grants were awarded by the Fisher House Foundation, in partnership with the Military Times Foundation, to the nonprofits for their work to improve the quality of life of military and veteran communities.

The top award of $90,000 went to Dream Foundation’s Dreams for Veterans program. The four other nonprofits each received $40,000 to bolster their programs, which include aiding veterans with post-traumatic stress, training veterans to become farmers, reducing veteran homelessness and suicides, and building veteran mentor relationships.

The five organizations were chosen by a panel of judges from more than 460 applicants.

Dreams for Veterans

A nationwide program of Dream Foundation, Dreams for Veterans acknowledges the service of terminally-ill service members and veterans by fulfilling their final “dream.” It provides them, their families and their caregivers with joy, comfort and closure at the end of their life.

The organization has fulfilled over 34,000 “dreams” in its history, Heyer said, adding that the grant will help with the continuation and expansion of the program’s services.

“Pop was never really recognized for his service, his service was long, long ago. I think this really gave him a whole new outlook on life,” David West, a family member of a program recipient, said previously in a video on the organization’s website. “As the family, this changed all of our lives. It really brought us together.”

The Heal Program

The Heal Program, from Acadiana Veteran Alliance, helps veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress absolve or reduce their symptoms through utilization of Stellate Ganglion Block — a procedure that involves injecting an anesthetic medication — and traditional therapies.

Andrew Ward, founder and chief executive officer of Acadiana Veteran Alliance, said his group has worked on the project since 2021 and helped over 42 veterans come back from the brink of suicide.

“Since I had the shot ... I’m feeling myself, a lot better,” Andy Bankard, a veteran in the program, said previously in a video on the organization’s website.

Farm Military Agricultural Program

The Veteran’s Farm of NC, Inc. has offered training, equipment and networking to over 1,000 veterans in North Carolina to assist them in becoming farmers. The free training programs teach bedrock skills in agriculture and provide purpose after service, helping to reduce veteran suicide.

Robert Elliott, the nonprofit’s executive director and founder, said the funding will allow him to hire another farm manager to assist students and to purchase additional supplies.

Beyond the Streets

The Vets on Track Foundation’s Beyond the Streets program works to end veteran homelessness and significantly reduce the number of veteran suicides by helping rebuild self-worth, dignity, pride and purpose in veterans transitioning out of homelessness into permanent housing. It provides critical resources, like home furnishings and follow-on care.

Vet2Vet Maine

Vet2Vet Maine matches veteran volunteers with other veterans who need a friend or mentor. The pairs connect on a regular basis, share stories and enjoy activities together through newly developed friendships. Trained volunteers also help the veterans apply for needed services and benefits.

The nonprofit’s executive director Maggie Catanese said the grant funding will help the program, which started in 2018, touch a larger geographic area it previously had not been able to serve. Each year it currently makes between 30 and 40 matches.

The judges for the awards included the spouses of many senior military leaders, trustees from the Fisher House Foundation and Kelly Facer from Military Times.

Since the annual award program began in 1999, it has distributed around $3 million across roughly 200 nonprofit programs. Last year, award recipients included a program that connects volunteer pilots with injured and disabled veterans and their caregivers.

Applications for the 2024 award cycle opened Wednesday and will close promptly at 9:00 p.m. EST on March 21, 2024.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

In Other News
Load More