BROOKSVILLE — In just two years, Standing Tall For Veterans has gathered donations and goods valued at more than $10,000 for programs and activities aimed at improving the quality of life for military personnel, veterans and their families.
The accomplishment is particularly noteworthy because the core group of Standing Tall numbers only four.
"We have lots of volunteers," explained Charles Bennett, 57, a Ridge Manor Air Force veteran who informally leads the quartet, a registered and certified nonprofit corporation. "There are a lot of lovely people who help us out."
Some of those, along with other individuals and business representatives, were on hand Wednesday afternoon as the organization announced its new fundraiser, the sale of $10 cards that will provide discounts at several local restaurants and other businesses.
Proceeds will help pay for myriad programs the organization has established or contributed to in its relatively short life, primarily Operation Thanks to You, where financial assistance is provided to families of troops serving or returned from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Other programs include:
• A Day at the Park or a Night on the Town, where veterans and a guest are treated to a major league baseball game or a movie, along with dinner.
• Phone cards sent to troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
• Baseball game outings for patients with spinal cord injuries.
• The Fallen Soldier Scholarship of $500, available to Hernando County Junior ROTC students.
• Operation Entertainment, where artists perform at VA hospitals.
A particular draw at Wednesday's kickoff event at Dunkin' Donuts in Brooksville was Brooksville native Bronson Arroyo, a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. Arroyo, 33, a supporter of the Standing Tall group since its inception, signed Standing Tall ball caps and T-shirts.
Explaining his interest and involvement in Standing Tall, Arroyo said: "In the years that I've played (baseball), I didn't have a charity. Chuck (Bennett) was just so passionate about helping vets."
Arroyo, who plays guitar and sings, first entertained with his music at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa. He said he was overwhelmed by the returning servicemen — amazed that they could sit up in bed after taking a bullet in the neck, or dealing with the amputation of an arm or leg. He wanted to do more to help, and did so by donating signed caps, baseballs and pictures for Standing Tall fundraisers, and he continued to entertain for veterans programs.
James Brooks of Brooksville, a disabled Army veteran who served in Vietnam and another founding member of the charity, said: "If it weren't for Bronson Arroyo, we wouldn't be in existence."
Bennett said the discount card project will help both Standing Tall and the participating businesses, many of which have suffered because of the bad economy.
The cards will be available in about two weeks, with sites to be announced, Bennett said. The kickoff couldn't be held off because Arroyo will soon be leaving town to join the Reds in Arizona for spring training.
Among the businesses participating in the program are AutoWay Ford, Dunkin' Donuts, Domino's Pizza, Texas Roadhouse, Publix and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
AutoWay comptroller Ryan Sussums said his dealership is "focusing on and supporting the troops" by participating in this and other Standing Tall programs. He said the dealership also makes donations to the group's scholarship fund if customers mention the organization when buying vehicles or having their oil changed.
Jerry Campbell, owner of Domino's Pizza in Brooksville, explained his decision to participate in the discount card program this way: "It's the greatest country on earth due to our veterans, and we'll do anything to support them."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.