Mitch Serlin just knew he had to help his ‘brothers and sisters.’
So, he started one leg at a time. That is, he raised money to buy prosthetic legs for wounded warriors.
That, then, led to the founding of Hope for Heroes, an organization focused on helping veterans and first responders heal their emotional and physical wounds through recreational therapy. The Foundation invites injured military members, police officers, and firefighters – all expenses paid – to its lodge in Burkesville, Ky., 1,600 acres in the Kentucky foothills to enjoy hunting, hiking, fishing, and most of all, camaraderie.
Knowing that sunshine and fresh air is a great healer, Mitch takes individuals dealing with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other injuries outdoors. “I just know that dealing with PTSD myself, there’s going to be a time when they need to be around other individuals and being outside will help heal them,” says Mitch, the organization’s Founder and Executive Director.
“The idea is to get these individuals out and involved in something instead of sitting at home,” Mitch continues. “We provide the outdoor experience, but the healing happens at the table where the guys are able to talk and share similar experiences. It’s an organic way the guys heal from being in the outdoors. They get to enjoy nature and simply be with each other.”
Essentially, Hope for Heroes creates experiences that are physically and emotionally possible – and therapeutic – for all heroes. “The guys put their trust in me,” says Mitch. “And, it’s my way of helping and also showing appreciation to our wounded soldiers.”
Hope for Heroes hosts 12 outings annually. The excursions are small intimate trips for four or five guys. Since the organization was founded in 2010, over 400 individuals have participated in different events.
With a little help from the great outdoors and through companionship and hunting for doves, deer, or turkey, the outings re-charge the soldiers and others who may not see any hope for the future. At the end of a few days together, they find peace, possibilities, and strength. Camouflage therapy is an important part of the rehabilitation process for many with PTSD, according to Mitch.
Mitch welcomes them like brothers. “We’ve become a family; we’re a community,” says Mitch, who adds that it’s important to let the warriors know they’re not alone. “The therapy is camouflage in what we do,” says Mitch. “And everybody is a success story.”
Alex was depressed and was considering quitting on life, but was convinced to participate in a Hope for Heroes hunt. It was with ‘Mitch and the guys’ that he realized that others cared about him and the sacrifice he made for his country. Today, Alex is happily married with a child and embraces the future with courage and determination.
James participated in a hunt at Project Healing Waters at the urging of some friends. His wife said James had hardly left his house for over two years. But, after the hunt, he was all smiles. His wife said she had not seen him smile in two years. And, now, James has a strong desire to pursue other opportunities.
“People who serve their country or community are bonded because they have a similar innate trait that they want to help others. When you have been through stuff that’s very difficult, such as a loss of life, you can’t help it and it stays with you,” says Mitch. “When they were in the trenches, there is this connection, and this trust, people feel comfortable.”
Indeed, it’s a close community. Mitch’s “family” includes a self-deprecating cast of characters. Stories abound from every outing.
When Perry attended a Hope for Heroes event, he looked at Mitch and said, ‘I know you from somewhere. I’ve been blown up 18 times and I can’t remember much, but I remember you.’ Lo and behold, Mitch and Perry discovered they had taken sniper school together. Now, Perry participates in every event.
Jasmine, with one prosthetic leg, was out on a hunt when she saw a mother coyote and her pup. She told Mitch she was scared the mom coyote would eat her other leg off.
Adam, who started the rabbit hunt with Mitch, has a tattoo of a ‘wheelchair only parking’ sign on his arm. “He’s one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet,” says Mitch. “People who participate in our outings are very appreciative. They like what we’re doing.”
Car-Mart lends a helping hand to support our heroes
Car-Mart is a proud partner of Hope for Heroes. “We’re honored to support what Mitch and his organization do for our heroes. We have veterans and first responders in our Car-Mart family. Because of their sacrifice, we all enjoy safety and freedom in our local communities. It’s our way of saying ‘thank you,’” says TJ Pike, Car-Mart’s Senior Director – Marketing.
And, Mitch is appreciative of Car-Mart’s involvement. “It’s extremely helpful and confirms that we’re doing the right thing. We can’t grow without the support of corporations and individuals,” Mitch says.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to help those who have answered the call and sacrificed so much for us. And, we thank them for their service,” says TJ, who participated in the Foundation’s rabbit hunt in January. “It is our utmost honor to be a small part of their [the warriors] incredible journey in finding hope again. These heroes have sacrificed so much for us and each of them has such a servants’ heart. They look forward to these gatherings. It was truly humbling to share this time with these fine individuals.”
Helping the brotherhood in recovery, healing, and hope
After serving in the military, specifically as a Desert Storm Combat Veteran of the U.S. Army, Mitch served as a K-9 police officer in Westchester County, New York. He, also, operated a hunting business, so now he handily applies his military, law enforcement, and outdoor experience to Hope for Heroes.
Mitch joined the army in 1989 at 23 years old. He served during the first Gulf War in the 101st Airborne. “I wanted to serve my country. We are afforded so much in this country. My family came over and built a particularly good business. I recognized that we get a lot from this country and the way we get to live. I wanted to give back in some way and say, ‘thank you,’” says Mitch, a former recon scout, and sniper.
His most memorable moment in the military was receiving his E-5 sergeant status in a ceremony in the Gulf. “There were good times, the camaraderie and the friendships. There’s just something about being on the battlefield together,” Mitch recalls.
While serving as a police officer, Mitch served on a swat team and trained K-9 dogs. Mitch’s unit helped at the World Trade Center rubble and recovered several remains of individuals, including one body of a New York Fire Department fireman.
And, now, Mitch is totally focused on Hope for Heroes. The organization has plans to build a 4,000 square foot lodge in the Hudson Valley of New York where warriors can snowmobile, ice fish, and of course, bond with each other. “With this lodge, we’ll be able to help more people. So, we’re on the push to raise money,” smiles Mitch.
Making a difference in other’s people’s lives gives Mitch a sense of purpose in giving back to his ‘brothers and sisters.’ “They’re not alone. And, I get something out of it, too,” Mitch concludes. “It gives me a sense of purpose. We’re healing one hero at a time.”
To learn more about how you can help our wounded warriors, go to Hope for Heroes Foundation.