This column in Attraction by Amelia Blades Steward will visit the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid-Shore. Amy has been a freelance writer in our community for over 15 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid-Shore whom she has met along the way.
At a time of year when we are celebrating our veterans, there is a new charity that is providing substantial support and relief to the wives and children of our fallen heroes in the military, as well as from fire and police departments. The Widows of Warriors Fund was created by Jason S. Bell, of Trappe, a Master Freemason and a Navy Veteran. He felt in his heart the need to support these widows and children that have already lost so much.
Jason, who served in the Navy from 1989 to 1993, and is a Gulf War Veteran, lost friends due to armed combat overseas and later watched the hardships their families faced after their deaths. He comments, “In my 20s and 30s, I had no way to help them financially. The memories of their struggles, however, stayed with me over the years.”
After going on to build a successful local business as a Professional Tile-Setter, Jason realized that he wanted to give back. He reflects, “It was a culmination of things in my own life that got the Fund started. I had watched my own parents’ financial hardships after my brother was killed at a young age in a tragic car accident. This combined with remembering the struggles of the military families I knew who had lost loved ones, really set things in motion.”
He started the nonprofit charity in 2014, realizing that none of the veteran organizations he contacted were meeting the needs of widows and their families on the Delmarva Peninsula. He originally named the Fund after his parents, Ernest and Eileen Bell. The Fund then grew into the Widows of Warriors Fund. He recalls, “I wanted to give back and help the organizations and families that gave me so much experience and knowledge. I also wanted to leave a legacy and teach my son about giving back and how important that is to do in our lifetime. He continues to work with me in my business and on the Fund today.”
Sandra McArtor, of Federalsburg, Manager of Operations for the Widows of Warriors Fund, has had first-hand experience with the issues veteran widows face when her own mother-in-law lost her husband to the long-term effects of Agent Orange from service during the Vietnam War. Her mother-in-law was left without support after his death, which was a hardship. Sandra points out, however, that although the majority of people helped by the fund are military families, the fund also supports widows of policemen and firemen. She comments, “We need to help people whose warrior died – no matter how he or she died.”
In October, the Fund held the Legacy Poker Ride 2017 – a Poker Run bike ride through the backroads of Dorchester County and a Bake Sale and Costume Contest at Little Rascals in Easton. On November 11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Fund is hosting its First Paint Ball Event at Breckenridge Adventures near Linkwood. Breckenridge Adventures is donating the venue and food for the event and all proceeds will benefit the Widows of Warriors Fund. The event will feature five-man civilian teams competing against three-man ex-military, police and fireman teams in games of paintball. The cost is $20 per person per game, plus the cost of the paintballs and CO2.
Elizabeth O’Connor, new owner of Breckenridge Adventures with her fiancé Patrick Wieglosz, who is partnering with Jason to provide the venue and food for the event, finds the cause hits close to home, stating,“I have never known of a fund like this one. They are starting out like us and are local.” She adds, “My fiancé is with the East New Market Fire Company and my brother is a Marine. I realized how my life would change if anything happened to Patrick in the line of duty.”
Referrals to the Widows of Warriors Fund come through awareness created through social media like Facebook and media interviews. To date, 12 families have been helped by the Fund, supporting such benefits as building a ramp for a widow of a Korean vet; dance lessons for a daughter of a veteran who passed away; helping with past due bills for mortgages and utilities; providing home repairs; and purchasing Christmas gifts for families in need.
Although the Fund started by helping mostly widows of World War II veterans, in the past year, there has been a sharp increase in requests for support from widows of veterans who have committed suicide because of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). Sandra comments, “There is no life insurance in the case of suicide, which really leaves the family with no resources.”
The Widows of Warriors Fund works with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), local Veterans of Foreign Wars, Royce Bell with the Mid-Shore Recovery Veterans Group, as well as local psychiatrists and a Social Work Intern with For All Seasons – who are helping with the PTSD requests for assistance.
In regard to PTSD, the group is helping to promote the upcoming event, “Modern Warrior Live,” an autobiographical musical drama detailing a soldier’s life in the military and his transition home, which will be held at the Avalon Theatre on November 18 at 8 p.m. Modern Warrior Live and Chesapeake Music are premiering this production, which features a musical score by renowned jazz trumpeter Dominick Farinacci and promotes Post Traumatic Growth for our Veterans.
To support the Widows of Warriors Fund, contact Sandra McArtor at 410-690-4475 or visit widowsofwarriorsfund.org.