In a recent all-school assembly, Cushing welcomed guests representing two extraordinary organizations whose mission is to support and better the lives of United States military personnel and their families: the Fisher House Foundation and Canines for Combat Veterans, a program of NEADS, the National Education for Assistance Dogs Services.
In a recent all-school assembly, Cushing welcomed guests representing two extraordinary organizations whose mission is to support and better the lives of United States military personnel and their families: the Fisher House Foundation and Canines for Combat Veterans, a program of NEADS, the National Education for Assistance Dogs Services. In addition, we were most privileged to welcome two veterans who have served this country with enormous dedication and at great sacrifice.
Kenneth Fisher, Chairman of Fisher House Foundation, detailed the “comfort homes” the organization provides on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers, which enable family members of military personnel to be close to a loved one during hospitalizations, illness, disease, or injury. There are currently 54 Fisher Houses across the United States and Germany, and none require a fee to stay for any length of time.
“What we do has nothing to do with politics,” Mr. Fisher said, “What we do is pro-military family. Our goal is to support them and to honor them. And to be there for them at their most stressful time.” In addition to lodging, the Foundation assists in other ways, such as its “Hero Miles” program in which individuals donate unused frequent flier miles to help purchase airline tickets for family members needing to travel to a hospitalized veteran.
Stressing the importance of community service and finding a way to make a difference in the word, Mr. Fisher noted, “What I do, I do for free. And as long as there is a man or a woman in uniform defending our country, we need to make sure they have what they need. This is my way of serving this country.”
Mr. Fisher is the cousin of the late M. Anthony “Tony” Fisher, a graduate of the Cushing Academy Class of 1969 and former president of the Academy’s Board of Trustees. Tony served as Fisher House Foundation Board of Director’s Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer.
Serving veterans in their day-to-day living, the NEADS Canines for Combat Veterans program was the first assistance dog placement program to focus on Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Gerry DeRoche, CEO of NEADS introduced the group’s mission as well as his own goal of being part of an organization that really touches a client.
Relaying her story of such a transformative experience, Alexis Courneen spoke about her return home after suffering a traumatic brain injury while serving as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. “The hardest day of my life was not my injury. It was the day I received my exit papers. My life changed that day. I lost my military family. I lost my dreams. I lost who I thought I was.”
After several years of intense speech and physical therapy, Ms. Courneen was put in touch with NEADS to explore the help of a balance dog. “My life took on a whole new meaning after I was matched with Sooner. Service took on a whole new meaning, too. I got my military family back. I go to schools, I visit veterans, I go out in public. I’m teaching people about what I can do and how I can do it. My new life is still service, but now it’s bigger and more beautiful.” In addition to Sooner, her yellow lab, Ms. Courneen lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two daughters.
Echoing her testimony, veteran Chris Maddeford relayed his rehabilitation story following an IED explosion and how his life changed after NEADS provided him with his black lab, AJ. “Before AJ I didn’t have a life. I felt hopeless. But once he came to me that all changed. Things I couldn’t do, I can do now. But in addition to helping me physically, I feel like I have a team again with AJ.” Mr. Maddeford is currently pursuing his education in Chicago with his fiancée.
Based in Princeton, Massachusetts, NEADS is a non-profit organization that was established in 1976 to provide canine assistance for people who are deaf or have a disability. The group has since trained over 1300 service dogs and placed over 35 specifically with veterans at no cost. The assistance dogs’ tasks include help with the transition to the veteran’s prosthetics, aid with balancing when walking, retrieving and carrying objects, and responding to sound for veterans with hearing loss.
Don Irving, a member of the Cushing Academy Board of Trustees, and his wife, Karen, are long-time supporters and instrumental members of NEADS programming and are parents of Melissa ’00. We were pleased to have them join us for this special event.
Following the assembly, Cushing Scholars had the opportunity to meet with our guests over lunch and a casual discussion.