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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (Dec. 12, 2023) – Originally from southwest Ohio, U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard veteran Dave Jenkins has lived all around the world and across the United States during his time in the military and as a missionary.
However, when it was time for him to retire from the military, he and his wife Ginger did extensive research for a year to find the perfect humidity that would be the most accommodating for his limited lung capacity. Their results netted a small community on a canal, on the west coast of Florida in Port Charlotte.
“Once the morning dew burns off … the humidity goes away,” shares Dave’s wife, Ginger.
This is where Dave, Ginger and his service dog Freedom, are now able to kayak in a small canal in their backyard, courtesy of Hope For The Warriors and its Warrior’s Wish program. The two adaptive kayaks and trailer have an estimated value of over $6,000, allowing a safe and stable activity for both Dave and Freedom.
Dave’s lung injury is a result of burn pits in Iraq during his last deployment (his second to Iraq) which led to Dave medically retiring from the U.S. Air National Guard after 17 years of combined service between the Guard and U.S. Air Force.
“While I deployed in Iraq I went out one morning for a run and got really sick and almost passed out. By the time I was back in the states, I couldn’t climb more than a flight of stairs without passing out. Today, I’m a 100 percent disabled veteran due to the burn pits,” said Dave.
Dave served all over the world in his military career, including serving in Desert Storm, Italy, Japan, Guam, Washington state, Colorado, Alaska, South Carolina, Indiana and more. During his last deployment, Dave and his U.S. Marine son were both deployed in Iraq but at separate locations.
Not only are the kayaks beneficial for Dave but also for Ginger, his wife of 17 years and fulltime caregiver.
“It’s been good to force us to go out once a week (it takes Dave about a week to recover from each outing). Every time we go out … he says, ‘that’s just so relaxing’,” shares Ginger. “It’s nice, as our home is our safe place/home base. We like to leave our house but the outside world brings a lot of social anxiety, so being able to go out and do something in our backyard is special. Even on the canal there is socialization going on but there is also a safeguard, being able to wave but don’t have to get too close.
“I think in the next month, we’ll find some safe kayak paths. It’s freedom, a liberty of being able to get out,” she adds.
“The goal of our Warrior’s Wish program is to give something back to a veteran that their service took from them,” said Robin Kelleher, co-founder and CEO of Hope For The Warriors. “Providing a way for Dave, his wife Ginger, and service dog Freedom to leave their home and to safely enjoy an activity together, that is healing for all and is precisely the goal of the Wish program.”
“It’s given me freedom, the same name as my service dog,” shared Dave. “It’s given me the opportunity to speak to others on the water … the biggest thing for me is freedom. It gives me an opportunity to do something I’ve never done before. A lot of my physical activities are now limited and it bothers me … and this gives me back some of that. I can actually standup with these kayaks and lean against the seat and still paddle.
“The other thing for me is, I know I’m not alone in thinking this, you feel like people have forgotten about you and the things you’ve done and when someone does something like this it means folks really do care and try to help.”
Today, with the new kayaks, the couple enjoys cleaning up the canal.
“We like to clean up the canal when we’re out. We feel like we’re doing something for the community,” shared Ginger.
Since 2006, Hope For The Warriors has provided over $2.5 million in grants through its Warrior’s Wish program, assisting with 271 wishes.
Hope For The Warriors
About Hope For The Warriors: Founded in 2006, Hope For The Warriors is a national nonprofit dedicated to restoring a foundation of stability, strength and community for post-9/11 veterans, service members and military families. Since its inception, Hope For The Warriors has served over 159,000 through a variety of support programs focused on providing financial, career and educational stability; physical and emotional strength; and social support that builds community. One of the nonprofit’s first programs, Military Spouse and Caregiver Scholarships, has awarded 232 scholarships to caregivers and families of the fallen. For more information, visit hopeforthewarriors.org, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.