The Long Walk Home is hosting its fourth annual Veterans Day Bike Ride on Sat, 13 November, 2021, which raises funds to help Veterans transition from military to civilian life. This bike ride is a casual ride with beautiful scenery. It has a bit of everything, from beaches to city parks, bike lanes on roads to paved bike trails, and is guaranteed to be one of the best bike routes you have been on. It has a couple Support and Gear (SAG) Stops which provide snacks and water/Gatorade to fuel you along the ride. You can choose between 55, 32, or 10 mile routes, all which start and finish in Fort Desoto Park. There is a $5.00 entry fee per vehicle to enter the park and a few tolls along the entrance route. The ride includes a t-shirt, a steak lunch, live music, a beautiful beach to swim in, and much more. To register, visit: https://veteransdaybikeride.raceroster.com/

Often, when Veterans get out of the service, they find themselves lost and without a purpose. This is especially true if they are discharged prematurely, for example a military member being involuntarily sent home due to medical reasons or military downsizing. Sometimes, this sudden shift results in feelings of loss, sorrow, and aimlessness. Due to a lack of support and resources, Veterans will often self-medicate to numb their pain, which can make the situation worse. The Long Walk Home (TLWH), a non-profit headquartered in Venice, FL, has recognized this problem and is determined to solve it. Through its Founder, Ron Zaleski, TLWH is working day-and-night to support and inspire Veterans in a non-judgmental way. This is done through a holistic approach and has already seen successes through saving several Veterans’ lives.  

Ron Zaleski, a Marine Veteran, founded TLWH in 2006. He started out by walking the Appalachian Trail barefoot in 2006 as a personal challenge to find himself and to raise awareness for Veterans experiencing PTSD. In 2010, he upped the stakes and walked barefoot across America, from Massachusetts to California, wearing a sandwich board that said “18 Vets A Day Commit Suicide”. When the VA released new figures during his walk, this number was crossed out and replaced with “22”. Every day, family members of Veterans who suicided pulled their car over and stopped him. They tearfully told him stories of loved ones they lost and the guilt they felt, which touched Ron and strengthened his resolve. After completing his coast-to-coast journey, he went to speak on Capitol Hill about the need for mandatory counseling for Veterans returning home. 

This has led to TLWH’s newest initiative, “Campaign 22”. Campaign 22 encourages a $22/month donation to represent the 22 veterans we lose daily to suicide. All proceeds go toward supporting Veterans, their families, and TLWH’s mission. Donors can choose where their money goes, and they will receive a Campaign 22 T-shirt, 10% Off Merchandise, and a TLWH Sticker! TLWH is simultaneously launching its Mentorship Program, which pairs Veterans in need with one of its Mentors. The Mentors act as an ear as well as a resource guide. They will always have the Veteran’s back⁠—a sentiment of comradery that is crucial in the military. The mantra, “Leave no one behind!” rings true even after a Veteran takes off their uniform. 

In the Mentorship Program, a series of 10 Life-Changing Challenges, the ‘10 Challenges to Service’, are given in order to address, and perhaps change, the Veteran’s way of thinking in a positive and constructive manner. This came about from Ron’s experience opening and running a homeless shelter in the Florida Keys for two years. There, he encountered many Veterans seeking help as a crutch, which turned into enabling their destructive behaviors.. Ron realized that to create lasting change, he had to change his approach. The Mentorship Program is built upon the lessons that Ron learned. As he states, “The ‘10 Challenges to Service’ are designed to help us continue our mission to serve and protect. “How?” you might ask. We do it by being the person we want our children to become one day, a person who leads by example. The more we can learn and take the time to work on ourselves, the more value we can add to the lives of those around us.” Take the first challenge, for example: Write down what you are grateful for when you go to sleep at night and what you are grateful for as you wake up each morning. 

Money raised from events like the Veterans Day Bike Ride and contributions made through Campaign 22 are used to fund workshops and classes like the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshops. From the LivingWorks (creators of ASIST) website, ASIST is an intensive, interactive, and practice-dominated course designed to help caregivers recognize and review risk, and intervene to prevent the immediate risk of suicide. It is by far the most widely used, acclaimed, and researched suicide intervention training workshop in the world. All Mentors of TLWH will attend this workshop and be prepared to listen and aid in any crisis their assigned Veteran has.

Another use of the funds goes toward assisting Veterans in need of either a gift or a loan, allowing them to stay above the ‘waterline’ after an unexpected expense. Sometimes Veterans live on meager wages, which is what they draw in disability, and perhaps social security, if they rate it. When “life happens” as they say, and their air conditioning goes out, their roof starts leaking, or their car breaks down, it can really throw them in a downward spiral. The immediate need is met through TLWH financial aid procedures, but not before the Veterans start to invest in themselves. This aid requires the proof of a DD214, a financial statement, and participation in the Mentorship Program. 

TLWH also conducts other therapeutic activities for Veterans and conducts meet-ups, whether in the woods, on the beach, or recreational activities such as throwing axes. There are a number of animal encounter trips planned as well. Examples include swimming with the dolphins and working with elephants, both of which provide a fun, therapeutic experience. Many more activities are planned to connect Veterans with each other and provide them with experiences that are designed to inspire a new mission within them. TLWH has a ‘Pay it Forward’ donation method in which donors can directly pay for a Veteran’s ticket, transportation, or housing so that they might attend one of these special events. 

If you would like to help out by donating funds through Campaign 22 ($22/month), a one-time monetary gift, or in other ways,  the website has all the donation and contact info on it. There are ways to volunteer time as well through helping with events or acting as a Mentor. TLWH currently has Mentors waiting to be assigned Veterans in need of help, so whether you are wanting to help, or are in need of it, please reach out through the contact information below. 

Finally, TLWH is also offering sponsorships for businesses who want to have their name and logo up front for the Veterans Day Bike Ride. This is an excellent way to attach your business to a good cause, while also gaining exposure to potential customers. There are different levels of sponsorship and each level increases your business’ advertising and presence in the event, by putting its name on the banner, T-shirt, and website. Last year, there were 360 cyclists and this year, TLWH is expecting around 500. If you would like to discover more about the levels of sponsorship, please reach out via email or phone:

Email: info@thelongwalkhome.com 

Phone: (305) 399-5354

Website: https://thelongwalkhome.org/

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