Mashpee Gold Star Family Hopes To Aid ‘Heroes In Transition’
By: Brian Kehrl
US Marine Captain Eric A. Jones wanted to fly since he was a boy. But in his service as a marine, he also wanted to be close to fellow servicemen. So to balance those two competing goals, he chose to be a helicopter pilot because it enabled him to fly missions that directly support troops on the ground.
“He always wanted to be close to the guys. He felt that by protecting them from above, where he could really see them, he could keep them safe,” Captain Jones’s father, Kenneth A. Jones, said.
Captain Jones’s love of the military and desire to take care of his fellow Marines has led his parents to set out to do the same.
Mr. Jones and his wife, Cynthia J. Jones, have founded Heroes In Transition in honor of Captain Jones, who was killed in action last fall while flying a support mission in southern Afghanistan. The not-for-profit corporation has set a mission to provide support for veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The First Fundraiser
- The Joneses are planning an inaugural event for Heroes In Transition on October 2, at the Flying Bridge in Falmouth.
- The fundraiser, which the Joneses said will be the first of two or three similar events each year to raise money for the new program, will include dinner, hors d’oeuvres, and silent and live auctions.
- The Enterprise will provide more details on the event closer to the date.
“Because he felt that way, we felt we needed to continue his support,” Ms. Jones said in an interview at their home on Monomoscoy Island last week. “We wanted to help those coming back from conflicts, to make sure they get all the help they can get.”
“Our basic mission is to fill in the gaps where state, local, and federal money stops,” Mr. Jones said. “The VA does a great job. But they can only do so much. Now it is give back time.”
The Joneses have spent the last few months deep in research about how their help might best be targeted, Mr. Jones said. “It has been a working summer,” Mr. Jones, who is retired from a career in marketing, said with a smile.
They toured a food pantry set up at Otis Air National Guard base and met with military and civilian officials there to get a sense of what is needed. They spoke with veterans agents, direct social service providers, and other nonprofits.
They ended up with a combination of what they identified as areas where additional assistance is needed and others that are tied to the memory of Captain Jones. They hope to provide support both directly to individual veterans and indirectly through agencies that offer different types of assistance.
The local veterans service agent, for example, suggested offering additional assistance for handicapped home modifications, above and beyond what the VA covers. “They have a limit. We take it from there,” Mr. Jones said.
The Joneses also hope that Heroes In Transition can step in where the VA does not to provide trained service dogs for disabled veterans. Ms. Jones said she hopes a marine who served in Afghanistan with Captain Jones, and who was injured in the same incident in which Captain Jones was killed, will be the first beneficiary of the service dog assistance.
It can take up to 18 months, and between $20,000 and $30,000, to train a service dog to help veterans with both physical and emotional needs.
The foundation will work with Canines For Combat Veterans, an organization based in Princeton that trains service dogs and veterans on how to work with them.
John Moon, a spokesman for NEADS, the parent organization of Canines For Combat Veterans, said he got a call from the Joneses last winter, inquiring about the program. “We got talking and I offered to come down to their home, to talk about what we do and what the program is all about. It has been the beginning of a very special relationship. They are good people. They want to do exceptional things in honor of their son’s life,” Mr. Moon said this week. “They have been devoting a lot of their time and effort, not just in honoring their son, but in helping others.”
Mr. Moon said NEADS was started 34 years ago, but the veterans program began just five years ago. And more recently than that, they have started a program aimed at helping veterans with emotional struggles such as post-traumatic stress disorder. “It is an exploratory effort, but we are having great success. We are finding that the dogs are innately aware of someone’s distress,” he said. A veteran was visiting the organization last week to learn how to work with his new dog. He said he was having a nightmare, and woke up to find the dog nudging him with a toy. “That contact can often trigger a positive reaction; it will return them from thinking about the past to living in the present,” he said.
The VA does provide help paying for service dogs, he said, but the process can be difficult to navigate. He said they only know of one veteran who has successfully applied for the funding.
The Joneses identified service dogs as an area where additional support from the nonprofit would be helpful, but it also made sense on a personal level. Captain Jones loved dogs, they said, and in one of his last correspondences with his parents he announced his intention to get a collie, a larger breed of the sheltie the family had when Captain Jones was growing up.
A volunteer at Canines For Combat Veterans is also the marine chaplain who organized the escort of Captain Jones’s body from Dover, Delaware, up to Massachusetts. “So working with them just seemed like a closed circle,” Ms. Jones said.
They also were introduced to two social workers in the area who are starting a therapy group for veterans, another effort the organization will aim to support. “They are just two women who care,” Ms. Jones said.
Freda Diamond, a social worker for three decades at Falmouth Human Services Department who is a co-organizer of the program with the VA office in Hyannis, said it will aim to use writing and creative expression as a stress-reduction technique. “It is to facilitate their transition returning home,” Ms. Diamond said.
“This certainly would address PTSD, in that it would facilitate the expression and management of emotions,” she said.
The group, which will be open to veterans from throughout the region, is still in its planning stages, Ms. Diamond said, but Heroes In Transition has agreed to support it.
Heroes In Transition will also aim to provide more general support for military families.
Ms. Jones said the couple has had tremendous support in the effort, from friends and neighbors on Monomoscoy and elsewhere: Roberta E. Cannon, for example, a close friend and neighbor who helped organize a blood drive in Captain Jones’s name, is sitting on the board for Heroes In Transition. So is Michael Warshaw, Captain Jones’s closest childhood friend and a “second son” the Joneses, Ms. Jones said.
“They give us the courage to go on,” Ms. Jones said.
Mr. Jones said the process of researching and putting together the organization has been “wonderful and rough.”
“It seems like every time a door seems to close, another one opens, leading us on another path. There have been some challenging times. But in a way it helps us with grieving. It just keeps us going on this tough journey,” Ms. Jones said.
Ms. Jones said the idea to start a foundation was not suggested by anyone; it just seemed like the right thing to do. “We knew it. We just didn’t want Eric’s life to be in vain. We have to give back,” she said.
Through their research, the Joneses gathered reams of information and contacts, loaded in a three-ring binder full of plastic sheets with business cards. “It has been a joy meeting all these very compassionate people,” Ms. Jones said. “We have had great people giving us guidance along the way.”
But with the research and planning largely behind them, now comes fundraising.
“We are really just starting out now. We don’t have any funding,” Ms. Jones said.
They plan to solicit donations and host fundraisers in the community, Mr. Jones said.
“We’ve got to get the word out,” Ms. Jones said. “It is helping us with the grieving, but it is helping support our vets.”
Mr. Jones said they have applied for formal 501(c)3, nonprofit tax status and are awaiting a response.
More information on the organization is available at www.heroesintransition.org/.
Those interested in the veterans support group can reach Ms. Diamond at 774-487-7499.