In 2018, Joe Pawlowski applied for the HOPE Warrior’s Wish program, requesting an art studio to act as a space where he could not only carry out his life passion but serve the military community. After hearing his story, understanding his goals, and learning how he could make a difference for his fellow veterans, we were inspired and granted his wish. Now, four years later, we are excited to share all this wish has done for our nation’s heroes!
As a Corporal in the Marine Corps, Joe deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006 with an infantry reserve unit out of Saginaw, MI. During the deployment, while supporting what is known as the “Third Battle of Fallujah,” Joe and four other Marines were hit by enemy sniper fire, and he was the only one who survived.
After sustaining four bullet wounds, Joe was sent to Balboa Naval Hospital for a lengthy and intense recovery. It was during this time he reconnected with his love of art.
“I’ve always been drawn to art,” said Joe. “When I was in the Marine Corps, I would design tattoos for people. When I got wounded in Iraq it was horrible, but it was also a blessing and part of the plan. Because of my injury, I couldn’t jump back into my civilian job working in construction, so I got back into art for therapeutic purposes.”
As any artist knows, the space to create is crucial to producing masterpieces. With the help from HOPE, and his support network, Joe was able to build a barn that has opened so many doors.
“From the grant money, I was able to purchase the materials needed for the barn that would act as my art studio,” said Joe. “A few of my friends and brother-in-law decided we should build it ourselves. We had people donate some materials and step in to help with different projects that I couldn’t assist on because of my injury. Completing this has been a group effort, and it has been such an awesome experience.”
With the barn up and functioning, Joe has given back to the military community through his artwork. He is able to customize anything from gun safes to tattoos to murals, and even airbrushes motorcycles and boats. The space also doubles as a gathering place for veterans in the area.
“It has been a great opportunity to have this building,” said Joe. “I have veterans over here all the time. For some, it’s a place to get together, and for others, it’s a necessity to keep them from hanging out at a bar. They come here for tattoos, and they will tell me it’s the first time in years that they have felt comfortable enough to sit still.”
But art and good times aren’t the only benefits this barn offers. It also serves as a place for other veterans to find their purpose again and have a place to go when they feel most alone.
“I served with a lot of veterans in this community, and through them have met so many others,” said Joe. “A lot of us struggle to sleep, so I’ll have people coming over at all hours of the night to help me with different projects. I realized that through my art passion, they could benefit from being involved with that because it gives them a reason to come over here and do something productive for hours at a time and move through that tough headspace.”
One of Joe’s close friends and fellow veteran, Mike, spends a lot of time at the barn helping in any way he can. He shared with HOPE what granting this wish has really done for the veteran community in their area.
“The idea of having a place to gather and have camaraderie exists here,” said Mike. “It doesn’t matter what branch you were in or if you’ve never met, everyone acts like brothers and sisters. We all have a genuine care and concern for each other, and there is just organic friendship and welcomeness here.”
HOPE’s Warrior’s Wish program is all about transforming lives, and that is exactly what this has done for Joe and so many other veterans! To read more about Joe’s journey with HOPE, click here.
We are thankful for our generous donors and partners who have helped us continue to give back in big ways to our warrior community. Please click here to learn more about the Warriors Wish program and how you can support granting more in the future!