AMPS: What is Helping Hands and how did it get started?
Darin Fishburn: Helping Hands for Freedom is a 501c3, National nonprofit that takes care of military families of the fallen, wounded and deployed.
Patrick Shannon: The reason why we founded _Helping Hands for Freedom was due to my experience when I was hit at 1201p.m. 11/29/2006 when I was hit in Ramadi, Iraq. Really the big thing was when I came back what I saw was what the families went through. Really the impact whether it was injured or one of the fallen how much between mom and dad. Everybody always thinks that automatically that it’s a father that passed away. We’ve actually lost women over there, or a son or a daughter but there is not a lot of support and not a lot of things for the families. That was one of the things that I saw that there wasn’t a 501c3 nonprofit and there sure wasn’t anything that the government was doing besides the immediate liquidation of ok here’s the cash, here’s how much was left in the checks, here’s the property, so on and so forth. But there wasn’t anything there for the families when the dust settled. The biggest thing is what can we do to impact these families, how can we bring some sense of reality and some type of organization that would support them, understand them and know what we need to kind of mentor and guide them through their tough and challenging times. There’s not one single formula. It’s different for each family. It’s really about kind of getting to know those families. What does this particular family need to heal and go on from there?
AMPS: Patrick can you tell us about your military background?
Patrick Shannon: I first went into the United States Marine Corp back in 1988 immediately when I graduated from Perry Meridian high school here in Indianapolis. My father, my Uncle and my Grandfather was in the Marine Corps, So it’s kind of a sense of pride thing for us in our family and it’s something I wanted to do and went directly in. Being a son of a school teacher, my mom of course had it all planned. I was going to either go to IU Purdue or go in the ROTC Program as a lot of her side of the family did. I chose otherwise and went right into the enlist ranks and served multiple tours between Iraq, Somalia and Iraq again. Then I retired in 2008.
AMPS: When you were on duty, what was the thing that stuck most to your mind that caused you to wonder why? After coming back from being shot during war what happened with your families? If you had not survived in the war what would have happened with your family?
Patrick Shannon: You always prepare before you go like you’re not coming home. My wife still every once in a while pulls out some of those videos. In case I didn’t come home I set up videos to tell each one of my kids that I loved them and missed them for different big events like birthdays. At least for an infantry platoon sergeant, I looked at it as if I wasn’t coming home. For me that was the mentality I always went with. If you’re worried and not reacting when you are over there you are going to have problems coming home. That was something that I always prepared for the worse and that I wasn’t going to be coming home. The thing is I am there to take care of my men. I am there to make sure that every single one of them gets home.
Whatever I have to do and whatever sacrifices I have to make in order for them to come home is my mentality. My mentality is to bring them home as Platoon Sargent so I am going to bring every man home. When I was hit, I was angrier about leaving my men than anything that had to do with myself. I tended to my own wounds; I sewed up a couple of different areas in the leg in the side where I had chards, where it was surface scrap metal that I took out. I wanted to do everything that I could to not go back home. Then when I was medavaced out of Iraq to Germany then to Walter Reed Hospital. The impact that has #1 just talking to my wife and the concern of family members and what they go through out of the unknown, magnify that for the families that never get to say their final goodbyes. Seeing and meeting those families and the impact that has on your life what can I do to try and fill that void? You never will fill it completely but what can I do to help them heal? What can I do to help them have a sense of being and give them a mission in life? Get them back on their feet so they can at least focus and continue on with their lives as a family. That is one of the things that Wounded Warrior project did for the soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors that were injured. But who is doing anything for the families? Besides specific lodging from the Fisher house and stuff like that. That’s all great but what are they doing for their well-being, their mental psyche, what are they doing to really help that healing along the way? There is no one doing that. This organization was first thought of by myself and Rodney Smith. Rodney did a lot with children’s charities and I wanted to do something with the military. That’s what I had talked to him about is that we need to do something with the families and being able to work together and come up with a common mission and common goal of how we can impact these families lives. That is kind of the formation and beginning of Helping Hands for Freedom. I was blessed enough to meet Darin quite a few years ago. We grew up right down the street and we kind of got involved with F.O.P. and helping less fortunate kids with Shop with Cop. He was someone who came to me and talked with me about if there was ever an opportunity. Which it was a surprised me because he was always thought of as executive director of F.O.P. We kind of moved from there and it’s been a great marriage between us. He’s done a great job and he has opened a lot of doors. Our thought lineage is pretty much on the same lines. We think a lot alike, we complement each other, he has been a great asset to us and brings a new vision.
Darin: With Patrick being a proud marine and father they don’t like to get to the emotions of things that they get but unfortunately that’s what the families and children are doing. They are suffering that, they are worried about that, and they are at home alone. Challenges in life are inevitable but suffering is an optional. We try to take that suffering option out. We try to give them a release, an outlet valve, and a sense of pride of something to do so those kids don’t feel like their mom or dad died in vain. If you go to Walter Reed, every soldier there doesn’t care if they don’t make it home, they don’t care if they lose a limb because they are so proud and it’s what they did. They are worried to death about what is going to happen to their spouse and their children. So we took that worry away. We will step up where the other ones don’t for that niche. That’s where we step in; from sending a kid to say their final goodbyes at Arlington National, to doing kids camps to 600 people going to a ball game on a weekend, to a Heroes Gala, to a an annual 2 day military boot camp serving approximately 200 kids this year. So these are things we can do beside emergency financial assistance, besides all the other life enrichment programs that we do and camaraderie between those families it changes them and gives them hope. It lets them know that their mom or dad didn’t die in vain or didn’t sacrifice without them being recognized.
AMPS: When you first started the program what kind of feeling did you have for the first families that you started helping?
Patrick: For me, I don’t get a joy or satisfaction but to me it’s a sense of what I should be doing, what my mission is in this next phase for me. It’s a sense of who can I help, and who can I do more for. We were able to do this for this family, what’s next and that’s what it is for me. Of course I feel pride in just being able to see them smile a little bit or laugh a little bit and it is where I get my sense of satisfaction. It’s different than that and I don’t know if I can think of an exact word. For me is more of a mission, and I know it sounds crazy, but it’s something that I feel I’ve have been called to do and need to do. It’s my mission to take care of these folks. Of course, you are always going to get a sense of joy or satisfaction from their happiness or well-being. But for me it’s what can we do next, where can we move to next, who can we help next, who can we get involved in this, and how can we get the word out? One of the big things that we want to roll out is a Retreatment Life Center. Where it’s going to be a retreat where these families can go to. We are going to be rolling that out with kind of what are vision is and what we want to do. It’s going to be an actual retreat center where these folks can go and heal, go on vacation; go to seminars we can have there for those families. There are so many things you can do in a facility that. How can we better help these individuals and families heal? We are looking at a place that is strictly for these families and what we want to do is launch a national campaign for this. It maybe 1.2 or 1.4 million dollars or whatever that number is that we are putting together right now. We are going to launch that and put that out for what our ultimate goal is over the next 2 years or 3 years once we look at to see how long it’s going to take to in order for us to be able to reach that ultimate goal. That is something that we are going to be focused on to make happen for these families and we are going to share it with the country and let them be part of it and how they can help us reach that goal.
AMPS: I know you’ve been working on the national campaigns for a few years now. Tell us about what you have done on a bigger scheme so far on the National Campaign? Darin: We’ve been blessed. We’ve ran national campaigns, the cactus league , the Fiesta Bowl, the Military Mini Boot Camp that we did here in Greenwood, IN. One of the things we’re proud of is that we do an annual Heroes Gala and it’s going to be on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino.
They stepped up to the plate, 2nd year in a row to be our title sponsor. We go there and wehave over 200 Troops, service men and women come in from all over with their families. We have Corporate America that comes to support it and we have a live auction. We have BBQ Heaven who just signed on board to give their tribute to the Troops and they just stepped up to be a corporate sponsor. The business world come together and says, ‘Thank You’, because they understand that freedom isn’t free. Unfortunately, freedom does come at a price. There are service men and women that die, lose a limb, and/or lose their homes. So this retreat home would be a great opportunity through these fund raisers and through this National campaign to allow these men and women to heal, to allow men, women and children to get financial and emotional counseling. To be able to get out of the spotlight of the media for just a couple of weeks to get their bearings, realize what happened, take a deep breath and let them know they are not alone. We are here for them and they will not be forgotten.
Patrick: In Fort Knox, KY, we got a chance to do a lot with the Red Cross and really get to help out the WTB Battalion, which is the wounded transition Battalion. We got to bring a lot of those guys up to the Heroes Gala, some up to the boot camp and some to the football camps. You have the wounded transition battalion and those are all over those are the ones that we help service. We have partnerships with different organizations, like American Legion, The Wounded Warrior Project, and we are able to reach a lot of people that maybe didn’t reach out to us but went through one of those other entities or 501c3’s and they don’t have what we have in order to help some of those families. They have specific mission statements; they have specific things that they are driving and what their goals are. They are able to reach out to us to be able to help because that is what it is about. The 501c3 community, the help between each other in the 501c3 community. Being able to help each other out, that’s our niche. We are able to help those families. In Denver, CO, the Ed McCaffrey camp we are able to be out there and help those families there. Boulder, CO is where the Sergeant 1st Class Beaver received our Wounded Warrior of the Year through the Helping Hands for Freedom last year. So they are flying out from Boulder, CO this year, he is a multiple Silver Star Recipient, Purple Heart Recipient. So we are really starting to network, we are really starting to get out there. In San Diego, CA we ran a subway campaign for about 2.5 years there. We’ve done things with the San Diego Padres out there. At Camp Pendleton, right there in San Diego being able to help at the wounded Transition Battalion out there. Yuma, AZ, North Carolina, Jacksonville, out there getting some contacts through one of our Gold Star families that have some roots out there. I’m really just starting to Network and get our mission out there. One of the biggest things is getting the mission out there so people know who you are. That is starting to really pick up. It’s about us being able to get our mission statement out there and people identifying with that, understanding it, and finding the people that really need us. They don’t always go out for help. We hear from people that say they are fine and they don’t need any help. Then mom, sister or friend that say, ‘here is an organization that might be able to help’. In the long run to be able to have an area where you have a treatment facility/counseling facility/getting away from the World facility where the retreat center has all of that. There are so many things we can do. Where you can say, ‘Mom, I think you just need to get away’, or ‘sister, I think you just need to get away’ or friend, ‘I think you just need to get away’. ‘They have a great program; you can go out there for a week or 10 days or whatever’. We do those things now, but to have a place we can send everyone to will make a dramatic difference. We are looking
in a lot of different places so if anyone has some land they are trying to donate in North Carolina, Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, or wherever, please let us know. Or if you have a great piece of property to donate or would like to sell for pennies on the dollar to our 501c3 that is what we are looking for. The money that you’re already going to put into it a facility like that is going to be quite a bit. The better deal that we get on the land is what is going to help us to make our decision. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where that’s at, we want it out, and we want it somewhere remote. Where it’s going to be at doesn’t change what our mission is and it doesn’t change what we are going to do there. It’s just a location. Family and home is where the heart is; wherever that is, wherever you land at. Those people out there that are philanthropist, that have a lot of money and/ or a lot of land they want to donate to a 501c3 or sell for pennies on the dollar. That’s what we are looking at. We are going to come up with a place but we just got to look and find it.
Darin: A lot of those high wealth people they are in a position they need a tax write off. They are actually in a position where they need to write off more than anything else. Since we are a 501c3, regardless of what State it is, if the opportunity arises then it makes sense we can put ourselves immediately in that position to assume that. They get the tax deduction and write off Cornerstone the naming rights of it, and it’s just an opportunity that when the men and women come back to have a home to go to away from the spot light, away from the media, away from the stress for a couple of weeks will change your life. They will get all the necessary help they need there. The kids will get to play, we’ll have activities for them, we’ll have all the games and the toys for them to play and do. But it will also be a regimen where they can actually get the help. We’ve did this for years for the National Law Enforcement Memorial in D.C. and I’ve seen it 1st hand work. My nephew was shot in 2008, I’ve seen it in my own family work and I’ve been to these classes. Our men and women in the military deserve it and we are going to make sure we are going to make it happen.
Patrick: Our 1st biggest thing is if anyone who wants to help sponsor a Life Center, our retreat. Our 2nd biggest thing is a shoe company, whether it’s Adidas or under armor has huge contracts with the Wounded Warrior Project. A lot of things we’re doing for our t-shirts, hats, and shirts, a lot of it is about what Brand we are trying to portray that is similar to us, that is about the family. That’s about that image taking care of the family. If you are a company out there that’s about the family, that’s about taking care of others, that’s about projecting a positive image for our young folks and our families then that is what we want. That mirrors and exactly falls into what we represent and stand for as a 501c3. We are about the family first. Those are the types of companies that I want on my team.
Darin: We want them to have their heart in it because this is the heart of America and that’s our military. If they have their heart in it and they have the position to do that, that’s who we want to be associated with. We want to be proud of them and we want them to be proud of us.
On Friday, April 11, 2014 at 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm we will be doing a variety show for a Tribute to Our Heroes at Indiana Grand Casino. It’s going to be a variety show, with two comedians and three live musical acts (two local, one national). We are doing this as a Thank You to Indiana Grand Racing & Casino for stepping up as our Heroes Gala as a treat to their V.I.P. Guests and the community. It’s open to the public, you don’t have to buy a table, you don’t have to be a corporate sponsor and you can buy individual tickets. On Saturday, our annual signature event, the 2014 Heroes Gala is where we will do our National Awards. There will be our Local Hero Awards where we always pay tribute to someone in public safety locally to let them know that we haven’t forgotten them either. Then we will do the National Wounded Warrior Award of the year and we will do a new Award we created this year. And an Award for people in the community that step up. At the end of the day none of this is possible without donations and people’s help. Sargent First Class Beaver, Silver Star, multiple Purple Heart, he’s coming back in to pass the baton to this year’s recipient. Last years, Local Hero Award was Officer Santos Cortez that was paralyzed by a drunk driver from Indianapolis Metro Police Department and if he heals he is going to come and pass the baton. He is in the hospital again with a lifesaving surgery as we speak. Those are the types of impacts that we make on the community and they make on us. It’s our way of saying. If a corporation wants to make a donation or buy a table for Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 5:30pm to 9:30pm and see a national act, get a deduction, come to an auction raffle, meet the families and say Thank You to the Troops gave us the freedom to begin with. Visit us online at www.hh4f.org or looks us up on Facebook, helpinghandsforfreedom.