‘Numb from the generosity’

‘Numb from the generosity’

One Lehigh Acres veteran is still “numb from the generosity” he received from the Wounded Warrior Anglers Acts of Kindness Emergency Fund, earlier this month.

“It’s just awesome,” Allen Sparks, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said. “My heart and soul goes out to you guys. I appreciate it to no end.”

Wounded Warrior Anglers Acts of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund Committee Member Keith Campbell said a few weeks ago Mary Jo Sparks reached out to him when her husband Allen went missing. He said Allen had suffered a stroke when he was found, which left him in the hospital for a few days.

“Mary Jo had reached out to me again saying she was behind on financial bills and didn’t know where to turn to as far as help,” Campbell said, adding that he guided them to a couple of veteran organizations, including Wounded Warrior Anglers.

He presented the Sparks with a $2,500 check on Tuesday, May 5 to help them financially.

Mary Jo Sparks, Allen Sparks and Keith Campbell.

Mary Jo Sparks, Allen Sparks and Wounded Warrior Anglers Acts of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund Committee Member Keith Campbell.

“It feels good as long as we can get them back on the right page and right direction,” Campbell said. “I hope they can maintain it and move forward in the right direction.”

Allen served in the Air Force from 1987 to 1989 before being honorably discharged with a service related injury. The veteran suffers from many health related issues, including amnesia caused by PTSD. Due to his medical condition, Allen is not able to work, which leaves his wife generating the income to pay the bills.

“It’s like a hand of God that came through,” Allen said of the donation. “It was a beautiful thing. Keith being a long time friend and the people of the Wounded Warriors were awesome. They are great people. It’s a major blessing for that to happen. I don’t know what I would do without an organization like that that would step up.”

The donation, he said will help with his recovery, as well as stress that comes with worrying about paying bills.

“We were able to take a step forward and continue on with strong strides,” Allen said.

He said he has been in the area for 22 years working in the towing business, as well as delivering pizza. Over the years he has grown to know the people of the community, often times helping people broken down on the side of the road.

“People say that you are blessed 10 times over. It seems to be coming back around. I appreciate the people of Lee County that are able to reach out like this,” he said.

Allen said he looks forward to helping the organization, just like they helped him.

“All they have to do is pick up the phone and call and I will be there with bells on,” he said, adding that he offers a hearty gratitude to the organization. “I love them to death and I have some good new friends.”

The Acts of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund also helped Cape Coral resident Joe Boccuzzi’s brother John late last month. He said his brother, a disabled veteran who served during the Gulf War era, is looking to relocate from Ohio to Florida for work.

“I didn’t hesitate to ask any questions,” Campbell said. “If it is going to help them get a job and turn things around for them . . . let’s do it.”

Wounded Warrior Anglers provided $250 to the Boccuzzi family to help pay for John’s flight so he could attend the interviews.

“He wants to work somewhere year round,” Joe said.

During the winter months John, who works in a labor union for a commercial road construction crew, is laid off because of the Ohio winters.

“He has been with the same company for years. The winters are hard and he is getting older and wants to be able to work year round instead of seven or eight months a year,” Joe said.

He heard about Wounded Warrior Anglers during a motorcycle run that was benefiting the organization. After a conversation with President and Founder Dave Souders, he decided to become a member because he too is a veteran.

“There’s no looking back,” Joe said. “It’s a great group of people.”

The Acts of Kindness Emergency Relief Fund became a part of the organization on Oct. 14, 2014. The fund was created to provide appropriate relief to eligible veterans or disabled veterans who experience a qualifying event or emergency.

WWA gearing up for annual tournament

WWA gearing up for annual tournament

Anglers will soon hit the water in Matlacha for the annual Wounded Warrior Anglers fishing tournament to raise funds to further support wounded warriors, caregivers and their children through its various programs.

Wounded Warrior Anglers President and Founder David Souders said their first tournament was held on Veterans Day in 2012. He said the small fundraiser was held to help support the organization.

“The first year we raised about $680 after expenses, which was pretty good,” Souders said of the trashcan slam.

The organization reorganized and decided to hold its only fishing tournament of the year in 2012 with its newly developed original Redfish Poker Fishing Championship themed tournament. Souders said the fishing championship began to encourage families to become involved while leveling the playing field.

The tournament raised approximately $13,000 last yeUS Flag & Redfish - Glowar.

The 3rd annual Redfish Shootout, previously known as the Redfish Poker Fishing Championship, will be held Saturday, May 23. The shootout is being held in memory of Spc. Michael Plath.

The tournament will include two redfish, one trout and multiple Calcutta’s.

It is a $350 entrance fee for a team of three anglers for the boat division with $100 for each additional angler. There is a $50 entrance fee per angler for the kayak division.

“I am expecting we are going to have at least 100 boats,” Souders said.

This year, Wounded Warrior Anglers decided to make the shootout its premier tournament with a larger winning pot.

The boat division prizes include $4,000 for first place; $1,750 for second place and $1,000 for third place. The kayak division includes $350 for first place; $150 for second place and 2016 kayak entry for third place.

“We wanted to be up around the Flat Masters and Backwater (tournaments) in payouts because we want to draw in boats,” Souders said. “It doesn’t matter how many boats we have in, we are still paying the same amount.”

He said the idea is to draw in boats to increase the funds from entry fees that will be dispersed into various programs for the organization.

Other prizes include $1,000 for the heaviest slot redfish for a team, which includes a $100 entry fee; $500 for the heaviest trout for a team, which includes a $50 entry fee; $500 for slot redfish with the most spots for a team, which includes a $50 entry fee; $100 for the heaviest slot redfish for ages 16 and younger and $100 for a slot redfish with the most specs for ages 16 and younger.

There are also categories that veterans can enter to win. Those include $250 for the heaviest slot redfish with a $10 entry fee; $250 for the heaviest trout with a $10 entry fee; $250 for a slot redfish with the most spots with a $10 entry fee and $100 for the heaviest trout for ages 16 and younger.

The organization is also seeking sponsors for the tournament. The sponsor levels include The General, the presenting sponsor, for $5,000; The Colonel, the premier sponsor, for $2,500; the Command Sergeant Major, position sponsor, for $1,500; the Sergeant 1st Class, large t-shirt sponsor, for $1,000; The Sergeant, small t-shirt sponsor, for $500; The Private for $250 and the Patriot for $100.

“We are having very good success with sponsors coming aboard,” Souders said, adding that the sponsorships are covering what the organizations payouts are for hosting the tournament.

For information about becoming a sponsor, call Souders at (239) 257-3410, or email david@woundedwarrioranglers.org.

Souders hopes to raise $40,000 for this year’s tournament.

The annual boat raffle winner will also be announced during the May 23 tournament at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are still available for the 2015 NauticStar 2110 Sport Bay with 150 horsepower four stroke and magic tilt trailer. Raffle tickets are $20 for one or six for $100.

Wounded Warrior Angler’s mission is accomplished through actively mentoring wounded warriors with fishing therapy and camaraderie in a friendly and peaceful environment that allows warriors to heal while being surrounded by other veterans who understand their mental and physical issues. The organization’s mission also includes actively mentoring caregivers with a relaxing day away at a spa while their warriors are fishing.

For more information about the tournament, visit http://www.redfishshootout.com, or visit http://woundedwarrioranglers.org for more information about Wounded Warrior Anglers

“That event itself was life changing”

The life of one medically retired United States Marine changed forever after coming into contact with the nonprofit organization Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc.

“I believe it’s an outstanding organization that is perfect right now for the pulse of America and the veteran community,” Peter Paskewicz, a Cape Coral, Florida resident, said. “It’s a little niche not found out there.”

Approximately six months ago, Paskewicz paid a visit to his local bait store, which resulted in an invitation to talk to the organization after asking about other veterans in the area that enjoyed fishing. He said he happened to be in the store when Dave Souders, co-founder of the organization, was also there.

“That is basically how I really got connected,” Paskewicz said.

He joined the Marines and served for three years during the first Gulf Wars from 1990 to 1993.

“I was with some very outstanding people and I know that the Marines made a positive influence on my life,” he said. “I wish I could go back. I love it.”

Paskewicz sustained lower extremity injuries, some of which include a lower back injury from a fall and a shattered hip.

He said since he has some physical problems, he wanted to get to know other veterans who liked to fish, a passion he found when he was a youngster.

“I enjoy the environment,” Paskewicz said of why he loves fishing. “I believe we are connected to the water in one way. If the water is healthy, I believe the rest of the environment is healthy.”

Before medically retiring from the service, he said fishing had always been his most private and personal time where he could reflect back on the good in his life, as well as allow all the negative things to fade away.

As a wounded warrior who loves fishing, Wounded Warrior Anglers was a perfect match for this gentleman.

battle of matlachaThe organization helps its warriors by taking them out on the water for a day of fishing, an outing that promotes a friendly and peaceful environment to help warriors heal.

“I think the Wounded Warrior Anglers provides a platform that is easy for people to meet and greet one another,” Paskewicz said.

He said the commonality and disability portion of the organization really brings everything together, making Wounded Warrior Anglers what it is today.

He said after leaving the service, fishing provided a new kind of therapy.

“It made me feel like I am still capable of doing things, still capable of accomplishing goals,” Paskewicz said. “It gives me a sense of achievement.”

Wounded Warrior Anglers holds a few retreats throughout the year that invites wounded warriors and their caregivers to Matlacha, Florida, for a day of relaxation on the water fishing, or at Spa 33, with others who have gone through similar experiences.

“That was a very important day for me and my family,” Paskewicz said of the retreat he attended about two months ago. “I had been struggling with medications and pain for about six and a half years and not feeling very good about fishing or anything.”

Once this wounded warrior received an invitation to his first retreat, it provided him with the freedom to go out fishing, while knowing he was not alone, knowing he was going to be with other wounded warriors.

“That event itself was life changing for me,” he said. “I have a whole new attitude. It was absolutely what I needed.”

That single day of camaraderie, that one day of sharing a love of fishing with others, has kept positive thoughts flowing through Paskewicz.

“I’m very grateful for the Wounded Warriors and I feel strongly that it is something really needed in our communities today for our veterans and community members as well,” he said. “It brings veterans closer to the community and the community closer to the veterans. I think it is an outstanding platform.”

Paskewicz recently volunteered at the organization’s 2nd annual Redfish Poker Fishing Championship, in memory of Sgt. John R. Pestel, last month. He said he provided a helping hand in the morning to set things up and whatever else was needed to show support.

“I was approached by at least 100 people that day, all thanking me for my service,” he said.

Those words touched this Marine.

“It was an honor,” Paskewicz said. “It made me feel proud and glad I served for people like them. That was a very special day in itself also. The civilians got to interact with the veterans and I think it was great

“It was grand”

The 2nd annual Redfish Poker Fishing Championship, in memory of Sgt. John R. Pestel, was a huge success for the nonprofit organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers, this past Memorial Day weekend.

“I think it was grand,” Judy Souders, co-founder of Wounded Warrior Anglers said after the event. “The tournament was 100 percent successful. It raised good money for Wounded Warrior Anglers and that’s why we did the tournament.”

20142ndannual1a-2Dave Souders, also co-founder of the organization, said 23 boats and 11 kayakers participated in the Saturday, May 24, tournament.

Although this year’s tournament included seven more kayakers, the number of boats decreased by six. David said the decrease really did not affect the success of the tournament, due to the interest in the silent and live auctions and 50/50 raffles.

“I think everybody had a great time and really loved the event,” Dave said.

The event kicked off with a captain’s meeting the night before, which he said went pretty smooth without any problems, as the anglers learned all the specifics of the tournament at Beef O’ Brady’s in Cape Coral

The following morning the anglers arrived at their destinations with the  same thought in mind – claiming one of the first place prizes by catching the biggest red and the redfish with the most spots.

The photo and release tournament required the anglers to take a photograph of their catch on an approved measuring board. Those photographs were then brought back to the Olde Fish House Marina for weigh in that Saturday afternoon.

The boat division was won by JBA Construction Jeff Asbury, who claimed $1,000. The first place kayak division winner was Jeff Gabrick who won $500 cash.

The calcutta winner was the Dirt Necks, who claimed $2,000.

Caleb Smith also walked away from the tournament with some additional funds in his pocket. He won $600 for the most spots calcutta and $100 as the 16 and under winner.

Caleb, 10, who goes out fishing pretty much every weekend, said catching the fish was his favorite part of the tournamnet.

“We went to different spots and went red fishing,” the youngster said during the tournament.

Caleb also said it was exciting winning $700.

Throughout the day, five bands donated their time and talent, to bring some music to the event. Not Guilty, Grayson Rodgers, Sticky Revenge, Wild Caught and Bonham528 kept the crowd entertained from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“The bands were incredible,” Judy said.

The second annual boat raffle was also deemed a success, due to the organization selling out of all 3,000 tickets by 12:30 p.m. the day of the tournament.

This year’s boat was a 2014 NauticStar 2110 Sport Bay with 115hp Yamaha four-stroke and trailer.

The lucky ticket holder was announced at 7 p.m. at the Olde Fish House Marina on May 24.  Bill Swartzwelder of Cape Coral, Florida, became the owner of the brand new NauticStar. He said he plans on letting Asbury use the boat to take individuals out on the water.

Next year’s boat raffle, Dave said, may possibly increase to 5,000 tickets, which will provide more individuals with the opportunity to donate to the organization.

The organization is seeking a boat manufacture who would like to donate a boat to the cause, to provide the organization with the opportunity to put more funds into the organization, and therefore help more wounded warriors and their caregivers.

Judy said overall the day was awesome.

“The weather was beautiful, the volunteers were awesome,” she said. “The people that came were awesome, they gave, they were pleasant.”

Judy said it amazes her how the wounded warriors come out and work with each other and stand up for their brotherhood.

Tate Hutchinson, a board member of Wounded Warrior Anglers, had the opportunity to attend this year’s tournament.

“It was great,” he said of his experience. “It was very inspirational and it was nice to see the community come together for the veterans.”

Before the day concluded May 24, approximately 500 people stopped by the Olde Fish House Marina to support the organization Wounded Warrior Anglers.

Approximately $12,500 was raised during the 2nd annual tournament, which will help the organization fulfill their mission of helping our wounded warriors and their caregivers.

The 3rd annual Redfish Poker Fishing Championship has already been set for the Saturday before Memorial Day in 2015.

Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. was founded in 2012 by Dave and his wife Judy. Its mission is to “help rehabilitate the mind, body and soul of all service members who have been injured, wounded or disabled in the line of duty no matter what their era of service.”

The organization helps its warriors by taking them out on the water for a day of fishing. This outing helps promote a friendly and peaceful environment to help warriors heal.

Wounded Warrior Anglers also help the warrior’s caregivers by treating them to a day of relaxation at Spa 33 in Matlacha, Florida.

For more information, visit http://woundedwarrioranglers.org/

To view more blogs about this organization, visit https://meghan80.wordpress.com/wounded-warrior-anglers-of-america-inc/

New chapters take off for WWA

Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. was founded in battle of matlacha2012 by Dave and his wife Judy Souders in an effort to help all American military veterans cope with their stress management and PTSD therapy.

Dave served in the Marines from 1985-1992, before going into the reserves from 1992-1995. He then served in the Air National Guard in 2006 and medically retired on May 31, 2012. In 2008, he was injured while in the service.

Judy, his wife and caregiver, experienced first hand what our wounded warriors have and still are going through.

The nonprofit organization is a nationally chartered public charity.

Its mission is to “help rehabilitate the mind, body and soul of all service members who have been injured, wounded or disabled in the line of duty no matter what their era of service.” The organization also “actively supports the wounded warrior’s caregivers and their immediate family.”

The nonprofit organization recently added two new chapters to the cause, which in turn is helping more of our wounded warriors.

First Chapter: The “Matlacha Redfish Regiment”

 Chapter 001, The “Matlacha Redfish Regiment,” was nationally chartered and formed on Feb. 10, 2014. David is the commandant and James Conant is the executive officer of the chapter.

“Being a wounded warrior myself, it’s great to be with other veterans,” Jim said about the camaraderie they all share. “It’s a great thing to help out each other and be around people that you have a lot in common with.”

Matlacha Redfish Regiment Wounded Warrior Angler Chapter Executive Officer Jim Conant.

Matlacha Redfish Regiment Wounded Warrior Angler Chapter Executive Officer Jim Conant.

Jim was in the U.S. Army for 22 years before retiring in June 2010. He said all the men in his family are veterans, which is one of the reasons he joined the service.His involvement in Wounded Warrior Anglers began 13 months ago after meeting Dave at a booth he had set up at the Taste of Pine Island.

The chapter got going this month when it held its first bimonthly meeting on March 10. The meetings are held at the Olde Fish House Marina on Matlacha because of the relaxed atmosphere.

Jim said they have about 65 members so far in the Matlacha chapter.

Disabled veterans can join the chapter for free by logging onto http://www.woundedwarrioranglers.com. He said they are waving the fee for veterans for a year to get more people involved.

In addition to the bi-monthly meeting, Jim said the chapter is also holding an internal fishing tournament.

“It’s a great team building event,” he said, adding that the tournament draws the members closer.

The first internal fishing tournament will be held on Saturday, April 5 for the members. Jim said they currently have eight boats participating. After the kind of fish was drawn for the tournament, a few more captains came onboard because the fish can be found in deeper waters.

He said every fishing tournament members will be paired up with different teams, so everyone has a chance to meet new people.

The first place winner of the tournament will fly the Wounded Warrior Angler flag on their boat every time they are out on the water.

With Jim recently earning his captain’s license, as well as being retired, he said he takes one or two veterans out at a time two to four times a week.

Second Chapter: “Port Charlotte/North Port Area”

The second chapter is currently underway for the Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. organization due to it working towards nationally chartering Chapter 002.

Wounded Warrior Anglers of America President David Souders and Keith Neal.

Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. Founder David Souders and Port Charlotte/North Port area chapter commandant Keith Neal.

“It’s a great cause to be involved with,” Keith Neal said, who is the commandant of the second chapter. “I couldn’t think of anything better to do.”

The second chapter, “Port Charlotte/North Port Area,” will cover Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, Englewood, Bradenton, North Port, Sarasota and Venice. Once the chapter receives more members and sponsorships it will go full blast.

There are currently 16 Wounded Warrior Angler members living in the Charlotte County area. Keith said veterans who live in the area can join the Wounded Warrior Angler chapter by visiting, http://www.woundedwarrioranglers.org.

Once an individual logs onto the website and enters what city they live in, he said, they will be assigned to the chapter out of his area.“We want to keep continuing and expanding it further,” Keith said of Wounded Warrior Anglers.

“We don’t want to change anything. We are hoping to expand it even more to help more individuals and gain more awareness.”

His hope with this chapter is to grow more awareness about the organization, hold more functions and help wounded warrior’s cope with their issues. One of those coping mechanisms, of course is taking wounded warriors out on the water.

Right now, Keith, as well as some other captains are volunteering their time and boats to take the warriors out fishing.

Keith said he first started volunteering with Wounded Warrior Anglers a year and a half ago after he heard about the organization through a friend.

Keith will retired from the United Sates Navy at the end of August after 22 1/2 years of service. He said he knew he was going to be a Navy man in high school because both his mother and grandfather were in the Navy.

“It’s been an amazing career and I have enjoyed every minute of it,” he said.

Although Keith is not on the water as much as he wants to be, he tries to go fishing a couple times a month in the winter and more in the summer.

A year of changing lives

June 1 marked the one year anniversary for Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, a nonprofit organization that is changing the lives of our service men and women and their caregivers.

I had the honor of meeting Dave for the first time last June at an event held in Matlacha, FL. His vision and excitement for an organization that is near and dear to his heart poured out of him as he told me what his mission was and what he hoped to accomplish.

battle of matlachaAn excerpt from my blog “Hearts of Gold” . . .

The concept of the organization formed after David was injured in 2008 while he was in the service. The serenity of fishing, along with his wife Judy, helped him get through the difficult times during his injury and healing process.

Dave served in the Marines from 1985-1992, before going into the reserves from 1992-1995. He then served in the Air National Guard in 2006 and medically retired on May 31, 2012. In 2008, he was injured while in the service.

Military life runs very deep in this gentleman’s family, due to members of his family serving since the Revolutionary War.

His love of fishing and passion for helping others turned into something bigger while he was rehabbing himself through injury. Dave always says since he is out on the water fishing, why not bring other wounded warriors with him to share the sense of relaxation and escape from every and any stressor that goes hand-in-hand with an injury.

End of excerpt … which was written on Jan. 4.

Soon after meeting Dave, I met his wife Judy on another assignment where a lifelong friendship instantly formed.

This woman has been Dave’s caretaker for more than 20 years, which in itself is a beautiful thing.

I have experienced so many great moments, so many great conversations and met so many incredible wounded warriors and their caregivers since that initial conversation with the co-founders. My life has become enriched in numerous ways, all because I am a part of an organization that does so much for others.

Now looking back, I am proud to say I have experienced almost every step of the way during this past year with the co-founders of this wonderful organization. Their “hearts of gold” are constantly forming new ides to continue to help these men and women who have kept us safe while serving in one of the branches of our military.

I remember receiving a phone call from Judy many months ago sharing an exciting phone call Dave received out of the blue. That phone call led to a very special day for this couple last week.

A tremendous contribution was given to this organization a day before their first year anniversary, so Judy and Dave can further help those in need.

Wounded Warrior Anglers Member Guy Lee, Caregiver Rosa Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Angel Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder David Souders, Seafarers International Union Port Agent Kris Hopkins, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder Judy Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Board Member Tony “The Judge” Rogers.

Wounded Warrior Anglers Member Guy Lee, Caregiver Rosa Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Angel Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder David Souders, Seafarers International Union Port Agent Kris Hopkins, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder Judy Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Board Member Tony “The Judge” Rogers.

Seafarers International Union Port Agent Kris Hopkins donated $20,000 to Wounded Warrior Anglers, funds collected from a tournament they held at their school in Maryland earlier this year.I decided to call Kris, so I could interview him for an article I was working on for the Eagle. I wanted to share with the entire community what took place at the Olde Fish House Marina on Friday.

A quote that stood out to me during our interview, one that I included in the article . . .

“I think it is important that we recognize the people that have served our country and became injured and critically disabled,” Hopkins said. “It is important that we give back to them.”

This donation, this generous offer, all came about because Seafarers International Union Executive Board Member George Tricker decided to make Wounded Warrior Anglers the recipient of the inaugural event.

Dave and Judy said they were initially excited because Seafarers International Union wanted to include some of their wounded warriors in the tournament – a day for these men and women to spend out on the water fishing.

Never in their wildest dreams did they expect to receive a donation, let alone a donation of that magnitude.

When I talked to Judy and Dave Saturday they were still speechless from the donation.

“We still are really overwhelmed with the generosity of what these folks have done for the origination,” Judy said in a quote that was added in the Pine Island Eagle article.

Judy and Dave’s voices were filled with so much emotion and pure joy . . . Although we were not talking face-to-face, I could hear the smilies spread across their faces, the smile that remained during our entire conversation.

This donation will only help them further serve the wounded warriors and caregivers during their retreat. The money will allow them to continue to buy rods and reels, a gift to the men and women to take home once they are done with their fishing outing, as well as covering the cost of housing while they are in town.

The Warrior and Caregiver Retreat is a beautiful event that brings together individuals while treating them to a stress free day. My heart is always filled with extreme joy after attending one of these functions because of the laughter, conversations and friendships that are formed.

I truly look forward to witnessing what transpires during the Wounded Warrior Anglers second year, especially now that I am a board member. It’s amazing to be a part of something that is incredibly special, something that brings so much joy to an individuals life who has suffered so much while keeping us safe.

Here is too many more years of helping others and expanding this wonderful organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers.

“Changing lives one warrior at a time.”

For more information visit http://www.woundedwarrioranglers.org.