Taking Care of Their Own: Outdoor Sportsmanship Heals Injured Law Enforcement Officers
Law enforcement is a calling, and when an officer is severely injured in the line of duty and unable to perform, an essential part of that person has been lost. How can law enforcement officers hope to regain a sense of worth and self-esteem when they are no longer capable of serving?
Hunting for Heroes, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, has an answer. Founded in 2010 by a pair of active duty officers with a desire to help, this group provides recreational therapy and counseling for severely injured law enforcement officers (LEOs), creating healing experiences through the media of hunting and camping. How successful is this process? Chris Allen, one of the founders, reports, “We have been credited with preventing a suicide. We have had our programs called ‘life changing.’” Every hero served by the program returns to volunteer, demonstrating the code that LEOs take care of their own.
A Sense of Normalcy and an Air of Excitement
The heroes are living with a variety of life-changing injuries: loss of limbs, partial or total loss of mobility, traumatic brain injuries, along with post-traumatic stress. In planning hunting trips around these unique issues, Allen strives to afford every participant the comforts of home while not making a big deal of disabilities. He says, “we take all steps to make their trip memorable. They are able to function at our events without having to think about this struggle. We don’t highlight their disability; we treat them like one of the family.”
Combining a sense of normalcy with an air of excitement goes a long way toward healing. Allen’s “favorite part of the events is seeing the heroes’ faces when we present them with our token of appreciation. This is usually a custom firearm with their name engraved on it. They are like kids at Christmas!” The biggest problem the group usually encounters “is fatigue. The guys are so excited they refuse to take breaks and they run out of gas. We have found that we have to structure in down time to make sure everyone takes some time to get some rest.”
Coming Together: Campfires for Healing
Fortunately, they have no difficultly finding assistance for all the tasks involved. “We don’t have to reach out to volunteers,” Allen observes. “If people want to help out, they let us know!” The Hunting for Heroes website includes an online volunteer intake form, and interested parties “don’t need special training. We…coach them on site.” Everyone is welcomed and no one is turned away.
Built into the trips are healing moments of informal peer to peer support. Hunting for Heroes tries “to bring individuals with similar injuries so they can connect with each other to create their own support network.” Creating a family atmosphere allows for meaningful communication. Allen finds, “when you sit down with a hero, next to a campfire, the walls come down and their stories roll out.” Many of these disabled LEOs “have been neglected by their communities and their friends.” Desperate for interaction, they find the right kind of attention on these life-changing retreats.
New Charities, New Fundraising Opportunities
Behind the scenes, Allen and his associates work hard to generate these comforting moments. He found the process of setting up a 501(c)3 organization, “very time consuming and very difficult,” and advises others, “please do your homework,” citing, “hundreds of hidden expenses and hours.” He concludes that “it’s much easier to join another nonprofit that to start one,” but in the case of Hunting for Heroes, “we are the only organization of our kind, so we had to clear a path!”
Of course, everything costs money, and, “as a new nonprofit, we don’t have any money for marketing, so we rely on social media to get our word out.” It’s a cost-effective strategy for outreach and fundraising. To raise money in support of their work, Hunting for Heroes hosts poker tournaments, golf tournaments, trap shoots, and even a few fishing tournaments. Guns are a “hot seller to our base,” leading to a string of successful raffles. Currently, they’re running their “Heroes Dream Raffle.” Tickets are available on the website.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
In addition, Hunting for Heroes has no trouble enlisting willing sponsors, some of whom they find by soliciting at trade shows or just cold calling various sponsors they feel would be a good match for the organization. While they have a lot of offer potential sponsors, including highlights in social media, print, and web publicity, the draw of their mission is usually all it takes. Most of their sponsors truly believe in their cause and offer backing because it’s one they honestly support.
Allen has learned a lot in the last few years. While he wouldn’t necessarily recommend that everyone start their own charity, he understands the call to do so. Despite the difficulties, he reminds other fundraisers that “every ‘no’ is one step closer to a ‘yes!’” His advice, if you’re intent on choosing this path is “Don’t be afraid to ask for help!” Anything else? “Don’t forget that the day after the event is the worst. Plan to have help then too!”