By Todd Travis
Inspiration to help
A single moment can begin a domino effect that creates lasting change. For Dawn Whalen, founder of Whalen’s Heroes, that moment came in May of this year while she was doing a continuing education class for her real estate business. The class was geared toward helping realtors as they work with military clients.
“The continuing education class taught us to be better advocates for our military clients. It taught us things that we don’t know because they don’t tell us. During the event, I learned about some of the hardships that our military faces due to deployment and other duty related events. Some of the stories we heard about what our military members have seen and the trauma they have endured were eye-opening for me,” Whalen described.
“I left there wanting to do something, wanting to make a difference and wanting to be able to help those people to the best of my ability,” she stated.
Wasting no time
A few conversations later, Whalen’s Heroes was already being created. Whalen found overwhelming support from friends and co-workers right away, and she wasted no time taking action to get her dream off the ground. By June 1, Whalen’s Heroes became a legal entity in the state and in early August they received their 501(c)(3) determination for nonprofit status. On Aug. 10 they received their first donation, and on Nov. 10 they presented their first service dog after having raised $25,000.
That’s how fast the dominoes fell for Whalen’s Heroes.
Choosing an impactful avenue
Why service dogs?
“A client of mine who is a Purple Heart veteran had gotten to the point where he was withdrawn from his family and didn’t really feel comfortable going outside of the house. After getting his service dog, he began to come out of his shell and was able to interact more with his family. This showed me how service dogs not only help with the mental health and quality of life of the person receiving the dog, but also for the entire family as well,” Whalen shared.
Greg Stevens, who serves on the board of Whalen’s Heroes, is a marine veteran and former IMPD officer who was shot in the line of duty. To help people understand what military and law enforcement go through, he explained:
“We ask our military service members to place their life in harm’s way to go into combat and take another human being’s life. We ask them to do unspeakable things that are uncomfortable to talk about and the military trains them accordingly. Unfortunately, you can’t just ‘shut off’ that training so to speak, and many veterans have trouble adjusting back into civilian life.”
Running the nonprofit
Whalen’s passion for this project has motivated her to give her time and resources to make sure that every dollar raised goes directly to the mission.
“Whalen Realty Group, and myself and my husband personally cover administrative costs for the nonprofit so 100% of the money donated goes to the dogs and none of it goes to operating the foundation,” Whalen stated.
In addition to the cost of the dogs, the foundation also covers the training of the dog and a dog care package. The veteran will be provided with a crate, food, and a dog bed so that they will have what they need to take care of the dog when they first receive it.
The first service dog presentation
The first recipient of a service dog from Whalen’s Heroes is Lois Schenk. While it was meant to be a surprise, an accidental slip during a TV interview while on “Lifestyle Live” tipped her off to the news. But that didn’t stop her from being excited about receiving a dog. She had experienced combat trauma and other trauma from serving in the military and looks forward to bonding with her new companion.
“Our goal for next year is to be able to present two dogs. We have three to four fundraising events planned for next year to help us achieve our goal,” Whalen mentioned.
To find out more about Whalen’s Heroes visit: whalensheroes.com.