■ BY SUE ERWIN
For the past two years, Kathy and Dave Irwin have been organizing and hosting events for disabled veterans through Operation Second Chance. Kathy and Dave live in Silver King condominiums on the island.
They learned about the nonprofit organization when they attended a fundraiser a few years ago, and they were so impressed with the group’s mission that they decided to get involved.
Two weeks ago, the Irwins hosted six men on a private, one-week deer-hunting excursion near Watertown, New York, where they own 600+ acres of land. They also hosted a second group of five female veterans and caregivers on a five-day outing the following week.
“It was a lengthy process to organize, but it’s well worth the effort,” Kathy said. “We made the property ADA accessible and repurposed the home so the injured and wounded were comfortable during their stay.”
Last year, they hosted six veterans who traveled to the property to hunt.
Dave is heavily involved with the organization of the hunts and leads the groups each year. He begins with a tour of the property and explains where the hunting will take place.
Volunteers offer their time to help at the adventures, preparing food and getting the rooms ready for the guests of honor.
Boca Grande resident Wendy Herda flew to New York to cook meals for the two groups this year.
“We just make and serve the food and let them have dinner together and share their stories — it’s their time, and we don’t want to interrupt or make them uncomfortable,” she said.
In September 2004, founder Cindy McGrew began a mission of hope. She heard about three soldiers who were injured and en route to Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in Washington, D.C. She immediately sent emails to the families, letting them know she lived fairly close to WRAMC, offering her support and assistance as a contact in the area in the event they needed anything. She went to the facility and introduced herself to the three families, and from there developed life-long bonds and friendships. Soon, two friends joined Cindy on her daily visits to the hospital. Nearly 15 years later her mission still continues.
McGrew states on the website: “The greatest individuals I know are not politicians, movie stars or even the wealthiest people in the world. The greatest individuals I know are the men and women who put their lives on the line each and every day and serve our country.”
Operation Second Chance is a group of patriotic citizens committed to serving wounded, injured and ill veterans and first responders. Staff and volunteers support veterans and their families by building relationships and identifying and supporting immediate needs and interests. The organization is dedicated to promoting public awareness of the many sacrifices made by all military branches by offering a chance to relax and reconnect. Mentors work with veterans to provide resources including referrals and job recommendations for those looking for assistance.
Returning to “normal” life after experiencing the trauma of a war zone takes time. To help with the transition, OSC offers retreats for wounded, injured or ill veterans who are looking to take on an adventure in a supportive environment. Retreats are currently offered in more than 10 states. Those attending the events are thoroughly vetted, because safety is a priority.
Last year, Brian and John Corcoran of BRC Realty Group hosted a group of veterans who came to Boca Grande for a week of tarpon fishing and relaxation. The Corcorans contributed two condos in Boca Grande North and arranged daily charter boat fishing trips with local captains.
OSC offers retreats specifically designed for injured service members, couples, families and caregivers of veterans.
Veterans from Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas have attended previous ventures.
“We have everything ready when they arrive. Once they get here they don’t have to worry about doing anything – they just relax and enjoy the peace,” Kathy said.
The organization helps not only veterans but first responders as well.
“It’s for anyone who has served the public and deserves a well-needed break,” McGrew said.
OSC provides assistance for veterans in 43 states. The 501(c)3 organization helped 3,525 veterans, service members and their families in 2018.
For more information, visit operationsecondchance.org.