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Heroes on the water help veterans nationwide

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Melbourne, FL May 20, 2014 - Back in 2008 I had the privilege to meet Jim Dolan, the founder of Heroes on the Water (HOW), at the Jacksonville Kayak Fishing Classic. It had been a year since Jim started HOW and he was spreading the word about the mission of the organization. How is a 501c (3) non-profit whose sole purpose is to help wounded warriors - injured military personnel - relax, rehabilitate, and reintegrate with society through kayak fishing and the outdoors.

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As of this month, HOW has helped more than 9,000 veterans reintegrate back into civilian life after serving their Country.

This past Sunday morning I traveled to Ballard Park, Melbourne, Florida to meet up with the HOW Space Coast Chapter team as they prepared for a day on the waters of the Indian River Lagoon kayak fishing with military veterans. When I arrived I met Mike Conneen who is the charismatic leader of this merry band of kayak anglers. The Space Coast Chapter meets the third Sunday of each month at a different location here in Brevard County. This chapter fully operates on donations where 100% of all money that is collected goes toward helping veterans who come to Space Coast Chapter. While talking about how a chapter runs, Mike explained that there are a few ways to donate money to HOW.

1) One can donate money to HOW through their web site and not designate a chapter to receive your donation. This type of giving typically goes into the HOW general fund.

2) One can donate money specifically to a HOW chapter. When you designate a chapter, 100% of your donation goes into the chapter’s HOW account.

3) One can show up at a chapter event and donate directly to the chapter. This money will be used to defray operating costs like purchasing refreshments and fishing gear and bait.

4) One can show up at a chapter event and donate refreshments or volunteer to help out.

5) One can donate fishing rods, reels and tackle and kayak gear to the chapter.

As Mike said, there are many ways to support your local HOW Chapter, all of which helps those veterans who reach out for assistance.

This day, as veterans arrived, the Space Coast Chapter team of volunteer kayak guides were preparing their kayaks for a morning of fishing on the back waters of Elbow Creek. Elbow Creek is a small waterway that flows west to east into the Indian River Lagoon. Because of great weather and flat water, this morning looked very promising for the kayak anglers to catch fish.
Each veteran, when they arrived had to fill out a liability and photo waiver and agree to the chapter rules. Safety on the water is very important because many of the new veterans do not have kayaking experience, especially fishing from one. All kayak anglers must wear then personal flotation device and have their whistle close at hand.

After about two hours of getting ready, small groups of veterans and their kayak guide one by one launched their kayaks into Elbow Creek and paddled out of sight heading west to fish. Mike Conneen was the last to head out because he was busy talking to Rudi Thomfohrde and Shawn Waggoner from the new HOW South Florida Chapter who came by to see how the Space Coast Chapter held their monthly events.

I want to thank the volunteer guides, Darryl Benton, Tammy Wilson, Vickie Sallee, Wade Hollowell, Bill Tillou and Mike Conneen, who was the floater, for all they did this day for the military veterans who came to kayak fish. This Sunday there were three veterans, Lance, Jose and Hector and Jose’s sister attended.

Having attended my first HOW Space Coast Chapter event this experience was very rewarding. I applaud all the kayak volunteers who give their time to help veterans relax and learn more about the great sport of kayak fishing.

Now it is your turn. Support you local HOW Chapter. Make a donation. Be a volunteer and help veteran.

Until next time, be safe in the sun and have a great day in the great outdoors.

See you next month at the HOW Space Coast Chapter gathering of kayak anglers.

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