The Independence Fund began with a chair.
A new advisory board now includes a sister.
Port St. Joe resident Brenda Garth, president of the Semper Fi Sisters, was recently named to the advisory board of the Miami-based The Independence Fund, a volunteer organization that strives to provide tools and therapies to assist injured veterans.
In addition, Semper Fi Sisters, which began seven years in Port St. Joe and has blossomed into a nationwide network of hundreds of wives, mothers, sisters, aunt and grandmothers of members of the military, was named one of two officials non-profit partners of The Independence Fund.
The advisory board was created to help guide The Independence Fund’s strategic direction and will undertake an array of projects, especially helping to plan and coordinate the upcoming Lt. Dan Weekend in Charleston, SC.
In addition to Garth, Blair Hughes of Hartford, CT (a wounded veteran’s wife), Jane Horton of Washington, D.C. (Horton’s husband was killed in combat), Sarah Verardo of Charlotte, NC (her husband was severely injured in battle) and Capt. John Woodall of North Carolina (a wounded veteran) were named board members.
“We are extremely honored to have these leaders on board with us,” said Steve “Luker” Danyluk, the president and founder of the Independence Fund. “They represent a broad spectrum of advocates and expertise in the military and wounded veteran community.
“Collectively their voices will help guide Indy Fund into the next chapter as we continue to offer initiatives and programs to best serve our nation’s most deserving population – our severely injured veterans.”
Garth had already been tabbed, along with Hughes, to assist the Fund to “reconstruct, organize and produce” the annual Lt. Dan Weekend, which takes place in September.
Primary filming for the movie Forrest Gump took place in South Carolina.
The character Lt. Dan, played by Oscar-nominated actor Gary Sinise, was severely wounded in Vietnam but rehabilitated to become a partner in a shrimp business with the movie’s title character.
Lt. Dan came to symbolize the recovery process of today’s war wounded and the annual Lt. Dan Weekend is a weeklong community-based event which begins in Beaufort, SC and closes with a concert in North Charleston, SC with the Lt. Dan Band, led by Sinise.
This year’s event will be the fifth edition. All proceeds from the Lt. Dan Weekend benefit veterans.
The Independence Fund started at one of the first Lt. Dan concerts.
In 2012, Danyluk was presented with a check for $12,000 by a veterans’ motorcycle club.
By coincidence, that year’s concert was attended by a Sgt. John Peck, who lost his legs in Iraq.
Peck had spoken to Danyluk about an all-terrain wheelchair that would be perfect for a new piece of property Peck was moving to in Virginia.
Putting that $12,000 contribution with $1,000 in donated funds, Peck and another veteran received new wheelchairs, presented at the Walter Reed Army Hospital Christmas party that same year.
Not long after that, television personality Bill O’Reilly endorsed the work of The Independence Fund and that in turn helped steer millions of dollars into the organization.
The Fund has provided nearly 500 all-terrain devices to severely injured veterans with service-connected injuries.
The Independence Fund is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit that has provided more than $11 million in services including $5 million in mobility devices that assisted over 1,000 severely injured veterans.
The Independence Fund’s three pillars are: providing the necessary tools and therapies otherwise not provided to veterans; fund and promote physical and leisure/athletic activities that enhance a veteran’s physical and emotional well-being; and advocacy and case management.
Ninety-nine percent of all donations are devoted to veterans.
Sgt. Major Jesse Acosta of California, who lost his eyes in war, is one the board of directors of the Independence Fund.
He was the keynote speaker at the most recent Forgotten Coast Wounded Warrior Weekend held in Gulf County.
In addition to the appointment of Garth to the advisory board, Semper Fi Sisters and the New York City Fire Department were selected as the two official non-profit partners of The Independence Fund.
The Semper Fi Sisters have held a Beach Blast in Gulf County the past seven years, growing from 12 Marine moms to more than 70 participants.
“I have been blown away, humbled and honored at the same time,” Garth said of her appointment to The Independence Fund advisory board. “It is truly such an honor to work in tandem with such a fine organization.”