New veterans charity hosts open house for local heroes

15 Sep

Veterans, active-duty military, first responders and their families are invited to an open house this Saturday at Casey Park in Ontario to learn more about a brand new local organization, Heroes on the Water.  

Heroes on the Water, established in 2007, is a veterans charity which

creates alternative wellness programs to serve veterans, active-duty military personnel, first responders and their families. These experiential programs incorporate structured activities proven to improve the lives of these men and women. Each experience reduces the impact of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury while providing much-needed camaraderie and support. (from the Heroes on the Water website)

The primary therapy utilized by the program is kayak fishing, offered at free events hosted by more than 60 volunteer-led chapters around the country.

And THAT part — the kayak fishing part — is what reeled in Webster resident Tracy Holley. 

Holley, a technology and art teacher for the GOAL program at Webster Schroeder High School, has always enjoyed fishing. Last winter, when COVID was at its peak, he discovered kayak fishing and did a lot of it (there wasn’t much else to do, after all). Somewhere along the way he heard about Heroes on the Water. When he read about their mission to provide therapy for veterans and first responders through kayak fishing, he knew he wanted to get involved. 

When he called the national organization, however, he was surprised to learn there was no New York State chapter. He pondered that situation for just a few weeks before deciding to do something about it. 

“I’m not a veteran,” he said. “Never been a first responder. (But) I love kayak fishing. I know how peaceful and relaxing it is for me. It’s one little thing I thought I could give back to the folks that give so much to us.” 

“It’s one of the only veteran organizations that also directly supports the families of vets and first responders,” he added. “Being a schoolteacher, that’s very important to me.” 

After a few phone calls, he had recruited good friends Gordon Clarke, Ned Stromfeld and Justin Erdley for his administration team. Together, they established the Genesee Valley New York Chapter of Heroes on the Water, which was formerly chartered in March. 

This Saturday’s Open House is the Genesee Valley Chapter’s first big event. It’s kind of a “get-to-know-you” opportunity, Holley explained. Being brand new, the organization doesn’t have enough equipment yet to host a large-scale kayaking and fishing event for veterans and first responders. Instead, this will be a chance to meet the administrators, ask questions, grab some information and find out about volunteer opportunities. Holley will also have a few of his fishing kayaks there to try out, and volunteers will be on the water to offer support.

Fishing kayaks, by the way, are different from other kayaks in that you sit, or stand, on top of them. They’re more stable, easier to get in and out of, and easier to adapt for special needs.  

The open house will be held Saturday, Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Casey Park, 6551 Knickerbocker Rd., Ontario. Veterans, active-duty military, first responders and their families are all invited, as well as anyone who simply wants to learn more about volunteer opportunities.   

If you can’t make it to the event and would like to find out more about Heroes on the Water and the Genesee Valley Chapter, check out their Facebook page here. You can also email them at GeneseeValley.NY@heroesonthewater.org 

Interested in donating or volunteering? The new chapter is trying to raise $8,000 to purchase their first six fishing kayaks and all the equipment they need to hold larger events starting next spring. Click here to help out. If you’re interested in volunteering, click here.

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