Honoring Wounded Soldiers and Their Families With Holidays for Heroes
On Memorial Day 2011, 61-year-old Tom McCann woke up bright and early in Nantucket and went fishing. He spent some time at the beach, and then returned home for big family barbecue.
As the festivities began to wind down, the group gathered in front of the television to watch a celebration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The show featured stories of young soldiers, wounded in the last two wars. One particular soldier, a 23-year-old who had lost both legs, made an immediate and lasting impression on McCann.
"He stood up with all his might on his prosthetic legs,” says McCann. “The crowd went wild with admiration and inspiration; tears were streaming down my face. We had just enjoyed the most perfect day and yet I knew we would soon go about our daily lives and forget what these young men and women had given up for us.”
McCann and his wife were determined to find a way to bring some of those heroes to Nantucket, to give them the opportunity to take part in all the things they had done over the holiday weekend.
He spent the next six months working with a newly-formed board of directors to establish the nonprofit that would come to be called Holidays For Heroes. In its first year, the organization brought four families to Nantucket for Memorial Day to spend the weekend fishing, sailing and eating.
"Plenty of organizations do things for wounded heroes,” McCann says. "But they're geared to helping them rehabilitate, which means still more time away from their family. What we wanted was the exact opposite. For us, it was all about the family being together, the caregivers, the spouses, the small children."
Hundreds of local businesses, inns, restaurants and attractions have gotten behind the idea, donating in-kind services to help make Holidays For Heroes possible.
“Everyone, down to the ice cream place where you have to stand in line for an hour, donates something,” McCann says.
Holidays For Heroes now welcomes families to Nantucket on three different occasions each year, for Memorial Day, July 4th and Sept. 11. The organization identifies service members and their families by visiting Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and by teaming up with other nonprofits that work with wounded soldiers.
"When I meet these young men and women, I ask them what they want to do with the rest of their lives,” says McCann. "And I've been inspired by their stories."
These conversations have led to a second effort, The American Dream, which issues grants — and offers mentoring and business advice — to help veterans realize their aspirations. So far, seven soldiers have received funding to establish businesses ranging from a fitness center to home inspections.
McCann, a businessman himself, finds joy in helping others achieve success.
"I've always had that barn-raising mentality where working together achieves great things. If we all take care of just one piece of the puzzle, no matter how small, we all help improve the world. It makes a huge difference — and adds up to an amazing puzzle."