AH student leads ‘Helping Our Heroes’ campaign

First Posted: 11/1/2014

Abington Heights High School junior Carolyn Hickman set out on a campaign on July 4 to make a difference in the life of someone who fought for her own freedom: a wounded United States military veteran. Now, with Veterans’ Day right around the corner, she and her team of seven other Abington Heights students are just past the halfway mark of their goal.

And they plan to keep working at it until they raise a total of $15,000 to purchase, through the Independence Fund, an all-terrain track chair for a young veteran who was combat wounded and disabled in the conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The motorized vehicle looks like a cross between a high-tech wheelchair and a military tank, and allows the driver to navigate through streams in the woods and even sand on a beach.

“Many of them [recipients of the track chair from the organization] have lost limbs or were paralyzed,” said Independence Fund spokesperson Sarah Verardo. “And so this allows them to get back out and do things like hunting, fishing and shooting on terrain that is difficult to walk on with prosthetics or in a manual wheelchair. So it allows them to regain some of the freedom and independence that they lost.”

Hickman said she is glad she decided to run the fundraising campaign.

“I think it’s important to show the next generation of military men and woman that, as communities, we can step up and help them when they come home,” she said.

She pointed out the government does supply some needs, but not all, and many wounded veterans returning from war rely on the generosity of others and organizations like the Independence Fund.

Hickman’s committee of fellow students is comprised of her brother Freddie Hickman, a freshman; Alex Calvey, a junior; Jamie Loughney, a junior; Nick Carr, a junior; Luke Gualteri, a freshman; Claire Reed, a freshman and Carina Salerno, a freshman.

The group set out on various ventures to raise awareness and funds, such as writing letters, standing on the street corner with signs, attending a football game and seeking donations at several Clarks Summit Downtown Go Around events.

Hickman was even invited to attend Lieutenant Dan Weekend Sept. 19-21 in Charleston, N.C., where she presented the Independence Fund with a check for the money she and her friends raised up to that point — $7,500. She met the founders of the organization as well as many young veterans who were disabled in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We were only there for two days,” she said, “but I learned so much in such a short amount of time. Everyone thanked me, which I thought was crazy, because I’m doing something for people who did so much for me. And I thought it was really cool how all the vets were so positive and proud to serve their country. Each one who I talked to even said that they would go back if they could — and all of them had severe disabilities, so you wouldn’t expect that response.”

Verardo said the organization is grateful for all the students helping out with the Helping Our Heroes project.

“It’s grassroots efforts like that that founded Indy Fund,” she said. “We’re all volunteers, there’s no salaries, no overhead, so we’re always appreciative of campaigns that have that same foundation as how we started. We love seeing young people getting involved for us. They’re making sure that their generation is aware of the price of freedom. And that’s something that is not as recognizable as it has been in generations past. …We’re very appreciative and proud of their efforts.”

Another who is proud of their efforts is state Rep. Tom Marino, who expressed this by paying a visit to the school. The students were called out of class for about 15 minutes on Thursday, Oct. 30 to meet him and pose for a photograph.

“I’m really excited to meet him,” Hickman said prior to the visit, “because he’s such a big supporter of veterans. And he’s really generous to give our campaign a shout-out.”

Those wishing to donate to the campaign or learn more about how to help can visit the Facebook page at http://tlgets.me/eme.

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