Flagler County, FL (May 17, 2021) GratitudeAmerica has long considered Flagler County as a home base since the first veteran’s retreat took place in Marineland, Florida.
Started as a way to help post 9/11 combat veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and other challenges associated with combat, the programs serving men and women in uniform have been a strong source of therapeutic healing and support for more than 1,500 veterans and their support persons since 2013.
Among the program’s supporters, Tom Heiser, whose own son was active duty military, has gone above and beyond to provide for GratitudeAmerica, hosting fundraisers and providing financial support to ensure those in need are able to attend the no cost, 4-day retreats in Flagler County.
On Friday, in conjunction with this weekend’s retreat, Heiser was able to present GratitudeAmerica with a donation on behalf of The Heiser Foundation for $160,000 to help with the new facility in development and sponsor upcoming retreats according to GratitudeAmerica’s executive director Michael Anthony.
“In 2020 they sponsored 12 veteran couples to attend a 4-day retreat in Palm Coast and then chose to sponsor four more retreats in 2021. This equates to over 125 veterans and their support persons being able to attend an immersive experience steeped in nature-based recreation and focused on post traumatic growth – all in Flagler County,” said Anthony.
“In addition to their five retreat sponsorships, The Heiser Foundation has donated $100,000 to GratitudeAmerica’s center for post traumatic growth in Macclenny, Florida. This center, located on 25 acres is bordered by the St. Mary’s River and will be the site of GratitudeAmerica’s Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes) Program. The veterans lodge and training center are dedicated to MSGT Michael Heiser and the Khobar 19 – Airmen who were killed in the terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers. Without The Heiser Foundation’s generous support, GratitudeAmerica could not have achieved these important milestones,” he said, reminding the public why the Heiser Foundation was created.
He was humbled and proud to be a steward of the generous donation.
“Tom Heiser, his family, and realty company have been one of our biggest supporters since GratitudeAmerica’s inception,” said Anthony. “They have personally raised many tens of thousands of dollars for GratitudeAmerica since 2012. The Heiser Foundation, I believe, saw how we effectively and efficiently used their initial donation and because of that good stewardship, I believe they wanted to invest more into combat veterans locally.”
“The Heiser Foundation was founded by my brother and sister-in-law, Gary and Fran Heiser, after losing their son from the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia,” shared Tom Heiser.
“The Heiser Foundation provides economic assistance to individuals and to partner with other organizations to support and assist those that have suffered tragic losses. We place emphasis on, but not limited to, any military connections, specifically those left childless or those without a parent. We also offer support to organizations that perform services to local communities and award scholarships for educational advancement.”
“This year The Heiser Foundation earmarked funds to help Teens-in-Flight here in Flagler County, Service Dogs of Virginia, three Scholarships and GratititudeAmerica,” he said.
Home to more than 12,000 veterans, Flagler County has welcomed the veterans and the program with an open arms approach since 2013, offering up support and unique experiences that can only be found in the area.
“Marineland Dolphin Adventure has opened their doors to our veterans, free of charge, over 21 times so veterans and their support persons can experience the therapeutic nature of dolphins,” noted Anthony.
“Ripple Effect EcoTours, has shown veterans the beauty of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve with private kayak and electric boat tours since our founding. Mr. and Mrs. Davis, owners of Whispering Meadows Ranch have opened their doors since 2016 and offered equine therapy with a barbecue lunch all free for the veterans and their supporters,” he said. “Before COVID restrictions, Flagler County Transportation shuttled the retreat participants all over the county between the hotels and activities.
“We love the business and residents of Flagler County, because of their support, we have offered over 500 combat veterans and their support persons a chance to make peace with the past.”