We raised over $25,000 in 2016
Since 2006, the Graybeards began sending injured soldiers and their families to Disney as a sign of our appreciation for their service and sacrifice on behalf of our Country. The intention of this program is to also acknowledge the sacrifices the soldiers’ spouses and children have made ... and continue to make. Their sacrifice often goes unrecognized.
I believe this endeavor is unique. When I initially contact the soldiers, they are often overwhelmed that someone is thinking about their families. They say things like, "This is going to be great. My wife really can use some time away." Or "We haven't gotten time away as a family since I was deployed.” Or "Financially, we could never have considered bringing the kids to Disney."
Often times these trips are the injured soldier's first time out of the hospitals...away from the doctors and therapy. Countless numbers of hours of "family time" is spent in hospitals and recovery. The things I often take for granted like coaching my kids, throwing the ball around, PTA meetings, doing homework or sitting in the living room watching a movie with my kids is not something these soldiers are able to do...and many will never be able to do. The children have sacrificed a great deal.
The first soldier to benefit from the Disney trip was George Lambouy. He spent Thanksgiving (2006) at my house with his 2 daughters. He had been deployed for most of 3 years at the beginning of the Iraq War. He came back badly injured. But, his physical injuries seemed to be the least of his worries. His daughters had grown a lot over those 3 years he was away. His wife had left the family prior to George's return. Now injured, he would have to find work suitable for his disabilities. There was an overwhelming amount on this man's plate.
I told George that I had a time share near Disney that he should take his daughters to. My family and a few friends put together almost all the money to get them there. They went and had a great time reconnecting with each other away from the hospitals and daily worries. The Lambouy's are in one of the accompanying pictures. (Under the Animal Kingdom sign)
George summarized his family vacation like this: "The trip to Disney was like a springboard for my family to re-connect, catch up on lost time and plan for our new future together." That one sentence motivated me to continue to reach out to more families that "could use a family trip". I had been helping the WWP and was aware of the sacrifice's the soldiers had made but meeting George and his girls helped me understand that the families of our soldiers have also sacrificed a great deal.
As of July 2019 we have sent 77 families on these vacations, with several being planned right now. As long as funds remain available we will continue to send our soldiers on these trips. We cover all the soldier's expenses which include: travel, rental car (if needed), food stipend, park tickets and the timeshare.
Over the years we have established contacts within the WWP, at the Tampa VA Hospital, at Fort Bragg and Fort Benning, Bethesda, Walter Reed and with a Special OPS support group called 9-line. The injured soldiers are recommended to us by a number of trusted sources. The last two years we have been been in a partnership with The Yellow Ribbon Foundation.
Soldiers to Disney is supported and sustain in numerous ways. We have run raffles and received monetary donations. Many families have donated timeshares that they weren't going to use that year. Some groups/organizations have chosen to sponsor a trip for a soldier on their own. In 2015, the Graybeards were given a generous donation from The Sean Lugano Foundation which allowed us to send even more families.
Every single dollar collected goes towards these trips and every effort is taken to stretch those dollars to the max. Avis has donated rental cars when needed, 9-line has provided transportation on occasion, a few groups have had fund raisers to donate to our effort and donations of timeshares allow us to send even more families.
The Retired FDNY members of Central Florida have been very supportive of our effort by donating funds and making themselves available when a family is on the trip. Numerous times over the years they have stepped in to help a soldier while on vacation; getting them money, purchasing food, car troubles, transportation...They have been a valuable asset.
The Viper's Nest, which is a nickname of an FDNY firehouse, raised enough funds at their company party to sponsor a family’s trip. Virginia Madden makes an annual donation that is matched by her company and that sends a family on a trip. Timeshares over the years have been donated by numerous families: Billy and Karen Erhardt, John and Laura O'Connor, Timmy Butler, The Werner's, Dr. Peter Galvin, Richard Peete, Marty Murray and Bob Broderick. Fellow Graybeard, Gene Kelly has been instrumental in making our annual raffle a success. He has been extremely supportive over the years and it is greatly appreciated.
As you can see, there are a large number of people who keep this effort going. I am deeply grateful for all their support and friendship.
Here's how you can help:
This Fall and number of establishments will be running raffles to support this cause..... Participate if you can.
Thank You for your support !!