The words of Jesus in John 15:13, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” are lived out in the men and women who serve our country. But sometimes, the individuals who serve and the families who are at home supporting their soldier from afar have needs that their military budget can’t support. Active duty takes its toll on the mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial health of military members and their families. Overlooked or isolated from others and just trying to survive, these individuals can slip into crisis situations.
That’s where Wish for Our Heroes comes in.
Belief in Action: Needs Met through Wish for Our Heroes
Like the Roman Centurion who approaches Jesus on behalf of his servant in Matthew 8:5-13, Wish for Our Heroes is a volunteer army led by a five-member board, most of whom are veterans, who learn about the needs of fellow soldiers and their families, reach out for help, and work together to meet the needs that lead to health and healing for servicemen and women and their families.
Wish for Our Heroes began in Indiana 12 years ago. Now, they provide outreach across the country, including chapters based in Utah, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and the Mid-Atlantic. Wish for Our Heroes exists to help people get back on their feet, helping people with their core necessities to survive, and digging in when needed to identify the root issues so they have a sustainable plan forward.
“Wishes happen locally when a soldier, airmen, or guardsmen’s spouse is left behind, and the spouse at home doesn’t necessarily understand their financial situation because the government doesn’t pay the same way as the civilian world,” explains Russ Chargualaf, the Wish for Our Heroes Indiana Chapter Deputy Director. “The spouse is left behind with less than they thought they’d have.” As a result, the spouse at home might struggle to provide food for their family, buy gas, pay the mortgage, or cover unexpected auto repair expenses.
When this happens, a soldier, veteran, or spouse can visit the website to ask for a wish. “Often, soldiers or veterans are too proud to ask for help,” Russ said, which can exacerbate the family’s situation, so others can also request help on behalf of someone else on the website. In a matter of two weeks, a $2,500 debt can increase to $7,500 with late notices and interest fees and so on. It’s critical to be able to reach folks as early as possible to give them the help they need so they can get back on their feet.
“We have a board of five people who make a decision within 24 hours when a wish comes in,” said Russ. They have to decide, “Are we granting [the wish], not granting, or pointing them in the correct direction of getting the help they need” through other social service agencies or healthcare providers.
Generating Funds and Providing Support Services
Wish for Our Heroes partners with area organizations to offer discounted or free services to veterans and servicemembers in exchange for donated tickets to sporting events and other opportunities. This might range from complimentary nights at a local hotel to free auto repair and more. Other professionals, like counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, and physicians, donate their time and services to help someone in need.
The overarching goal is “to get people mentally in a safe space and financially in a stable place,” Russ said. “Our goal at the end of the year is to have zero dollars in our account – it does no good to have money sitting in our account when we know there are people who need help.”
Needs Met and Soldiers Blessed
While most of the organization’s efforts aren’t flashy trips or sporting event tickets, they have been able to bless families with some very special moments over the years.
A couple years ago, a wife of a soldier on active duty in Afghanistan for 14 months was struggling mentally and financially at home with her two boys and no access to a vehicle. Wish for Our Heroes was able to work with leaders of his command and people at the Pentagon to bring her husband home, surprising her and the children at halftime at the Indianapolis Colts game.
“In December every year we get two charter buses and have corporate businesses sponsor families,” said Russ. “They raise $1,000 each, fill two buses worth of presents, ring the doorbell, and have 30 people come to your place with presents.”
At Thanksgiving, Wish for Our Heroes locates soldiers and veterans who may be single or alone in the area and either brings meals to them or gets them all together to share a meal, so they don’t have to be alone on this holiday of togetherness.
The work Wish for Our Heroes does is a beautiful example of our call to “serve one another in love:” As soldiers serve their fellow countrymen, their fellow countrymen have an opportunity to serve them.
How You Can Help Wish for Our Heroes
Because Wish for Our Heroes is 100% volunteer, “We are able to give back 96.7% of every dollar donated to our veterans,” shares Russ. Many of the events where they typically fundraised in the past were canceled last year due to COVID, which has made it difficult to grant wishes. The well is pretty dry.
Perhaps you can join in the effort to serve one another in love, and bless the soldiers and veterans across our country who could use a helping hand. Visit wishforourheroes.org/donate/ now to contribute to this worthy cause, and if you’d like to learn more about how you can volunteer to make a difference “Helping Heroes Battle Hardships,” visit wishforourheroes.org/volunteer/.