America Supports You: Group Builds Awareness at Brickyard
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 7, 2006 As NASCAR fans poured into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday for the “Allstate 400 at the Brickyard,” John Gonsalves worked to inform them about his efforts to help disabled veterans.
Gonsalves’ nonprofit organization, “Homes for Our Troops,” provides handicap-adapted homes for severely wounded veterans. Whether modified or built from the ground up, the homes are provided at no cost to recipients.
Gonsalves said NASCAR fans are a patriotic group. “It’s really important for us to be able to reach out to those fans,” he said.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels agreed. “There can’t be a state in America that reveres people in military service or those who have served more than Indiana does,” he said.
For the second year, the Speedway helped fans show their support for the military through the sale of “Support Our Troops” T-shirts and America Supports You dog tags. Proceeds from the sales went to Homes for Our Troops.
Homes for Our Troops and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are both members of America Supports You, a nationwide Defense Department program highlighting grassroots and corporate efforts to support the nation’s servicemembers.
The shirts, selling for $10, proved to be a hot commodity. Brad Schweitzer, the Speedway’s licensing coordinator, said the original 600 shirts sold out Aug. 4, the first day they were offered. A rush order for another 500 shirts was placed so fans could buy them on race day. Most of those were gone before the race began.
“We’ve got a lot of friends with children in the military and in Iraq,” Rhonda Thon, of Cornell, Wis., said as she put two shirts into her bag. “I just think it’s a great cause.”
Two troops benefiting from the effort are retired Army Spc. Robert Isaacs and Army Sgt. Shawn Monroe. Both lost one leg above the knee and one leg below the knee.
Isaacs’ lower legs were shattered and one of his femoral arteries was severed when a roadside bomb hit his convoy near Mosul, Iraq. The work of a skilled medic helped save his life, but not before he “bled out” three times. Doctors did not expected Isaacs to survive, and he was given an “imminent death” retirement.
He did survive, however, and met Gonsalves while recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
With help from Homes for Our Troops and a hit ABC television series that renovates or builds homes for people with special circumstances, Isaacs has a home that helps him make the most of his new lease on life. “I believe I was one of the first recipients of a home from Homes for Our Troops,” Isaacs said. “They bought an existing home for me, and with the help of ‘Extreme Makeover (Home Edition),’ they renovated it. And they just did so much more. (It’s) just a great organization.”
Monroe, who is awaiting the groundbreaking on his new home in Santa Fe, Texas, echoed that sentiment. He was wounded when insurgent mortar fire struck an Iraqi police station near the Abu Ghraib prison area, west of Baghdad.
He said he’s grateful for help from Homes for Our Troops. “I hope to continue to help them after they help us,” he said.
Gonsalves said the awareness raised through Homes for Our Troops’ partnership with the Speedway helps the organization. “Any time that we can get out there in front of people and let them know what our mission is, it’s really tremendous,” he said.
Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications and public liaison, said the America Supports You program exists, in part, for just this purpose.
“You have a NASCAR race sponsored by Allstate, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, all of these great corporations coming together and working with America Supports You and Homes for Our Troops -- and, hey, let’s leverage our corporate properties to help raise awareness and some money for a group like Home for Our Troops,” she said.
Gonsalves said being a part of programs like America Supports You also lends credibility to his organization.
“When they see that we’re part of America Supports You and we have things like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the PGA Tour and things like that (supporting us), it really does boost our credibility,” Gonsalves said.
Homes for Our Troops has completed seven projects and has 13 more in progress. “Over the next year, we hope to be able to raise enough money and commit to another 20 (homes),” Gonsalves said.