by Jade Moldae
From its founding meeting in 2007 with several industry executives, HAVA’s mission has remained the same: assisting disabled veterans in their healing process through guided hunts, shooting events and other outdoor sports activities.
Now entering its 13th year of serving our nation’s heroes, HAVA has refined its efforts into three distinct areas of focus — HAVA Family Days, the Learn to Shoot Again (LTSA) program and hunting/long-range shooting events.
“By and large, our original business model and mission haven’t changed — we’ve really been able to be consistent to our founding principles,” said Tom Taylor, HAVA chairman. “We’ve grown, we’ve been recognized [HAVA was a recipient of the DoD’s Spirit of Hope Award in 2018] and we’re an organic volunteer organization that continues to serve with very robust numbers.”
FAMILY DAYS EVOLVE
HAVA Family Days are signature events on the organization’s calendar each year — starting with the first one held in San Antonio over 12 years ago, which had 43 attendees.
Chris Fleming, a double-leg amputee, is the director of HAVA’s Family Day segment. (Of note: two of the three leaders in HAVA’s focus areas are severely disabled veterans, whose involvement with the organization began as volunteers at a HAVA event.)
“We’ve reached a place where we’re really well organized; our Family Day events always come off well — and we wanted a dedicated leader for this area of focus. Chris was a volunteer at one of our early events in San Antonio and has now grown into a director in the organization leading all of our Family Days,” Taylor said.
HAVA held three Family Days in 2019, serving 835 people. These annual events were hosted at ACADEMI in Moyock, N.C. (June 8), Rockcastle Shooting Center in Park City, Ky. (Sept. 14) and the San Antonio Police Training Academy (Oct. 19).
With such a strong track record, Taylor shared HAVA is exploring the expansion of its Family Days concept on a smaller scale: regional range events focused on the markets of its sustaining sponsors.
“What we hope to do is to bring our infrastructure to these smaller events — with the sponsor products, the ability to give raffle prizes, etc. — and place them near where sustaining sponsors are. This would facilitate team-building activities for company employees, especially for those who can’t fly halfway across the country to one of our regular Family Day events,” Taylor stated.
These smaller range events would serve a twofold purpose, according to Taylor.
“They would give us an opportunity to branch out to not only serve some new markets with disabled veterans, but also to allow sustaining sponsors who have been passionate HAVA supporters for many years to invite employees to participate in an event,” he said.
(Editor’s Note: If these events move forward, Taylor said HAVA would be open to welcoming local dealers or wholesalers based in the area to be partners as well. As we hear about them, we’ll be sure to let readers know how they can get involved.)
LTSA’S CONTINUED DEVELOPMENT
First launched in 2016, HAVA’s LTSA program provides individual shooter adaptive training for severely disabled military veterans and active-duty military who can no longer shoot conventionally due to their injuries. LTSA Director Rick Cicero and his team engaged in 25 events this past year across the country — the majority of which were one- to three-day training sessions that served more than 180 severely disabled servicemen and women.
“These classes have a high level of engagement with each student,” Taylor shared, “sometimes when Rick and his team put on a class there might be 10 participants and six instructors.”
Almost all of LTSA’s instructors have overcome challenges while shooting, as well, to offer solutions to students.
“At this point, the LTSA team has seen a wide variety of issues and developed a curriculum specific to those needs — whether a student has a missing arm or severely damaged body part, is a burn victim, visually impaired or not as flexible as they once were — to help them be successful,” Taylor added.
LIFE-CHANGING HUNTS & LONG-RANGE SHOOTING
HAVA’s first full-time volunteer Heath Gunns has been with the organization since its inception and leads the hunting, long-range and PRS arm of the organization. Gunns coordinated 10 events in 2019, serving 60 people.
“With these hunts, our goal is to put disabled veterans in challenging situations and encourage them to face the realities of various outdoor activities,” Taylor stated. “It’s wonderful to watch these American treasures test their resolve, and to see the joy when they overcome tremendous odds.”
One of the highlights of the year — illustrating how impactful these events are — took place during the Eighth Annual HAVA/Monroe Schuler Foundation Elk Hunt at Vermejo Park Ranch, in Ranton, N.M.
A severely injured Marine, a double-lower extremity amputee injured in Jan. 2019, was just beginning to learn to walk with his two prosthetics in challenging conditions (the hunt encompassed two days of snow and fog at 9,000 feet with temperatures as low as 0 degrees). For the event, HAVA provided him with two trekking poles, a volunteer and hunt guide. After some testing, the Marine began walking up the mountain yelling to all who could hear: “Hell yes I can walk up there.”
“The story of this Marine embodies what the HAVA experience has meant to thousands of injured veterans over the past 12 years,” Taylor said. “Helping the disabled veteran recapture confidence that the best of life is in their future is our mission, and each HAVA activity is designed to achieve that goal.”
Above: Trevor Baucom, U.S. Army Blackhawk pilot and sponsored shooter, runs an attendee through the rifle shooting portion during the 12th Annual HAVA National Family Day in San Antonio. Below: Led by long-time volunteer Heath Gunns, HAVA’s long-range and hunting segment held 10 events in 2019 — serving 60 wounded veterans. HAVA Chairman Tom Taylor shared these hunts provide life-changing moments for participants.
THE RESULT OF A TEAM EFFORT
These three key areas of focus enabled HAVA to serve over 1,000 people directly in 2019 alone. It’s the result of an industry-wide effort.
HAVA currently has over 20 sustaining sponsor companies and nearly three dozen sponsors at various levels supporting the organization — meaning approximately 50 companies facilitate HAVA’s continuing influence. The significance of the industry’s support is not lost on HAVA’s team.
“We’ve been very blessed with the support of the industry. In all but one or two cases, when a sponsor comes aboard, they stay with us and help us accomplish so much for our disabled veterans,” Taylor closed.
To learn more about HAVA and how your company can support its mission, visit www.honoredveterans.com or contact HAVA Chairman Tom Taylor at email@example.com.