Heels and Wheels Event to Benefit RI Military Families in Need
Relief fund offers "stop-gap" for guardsmen and their families in emergencies.
This year’s Wickford Heels and Wheels gala event in North Kingstown focuses on military families in need with proceeds going to both the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Rhode Island National Guard’s relief fund.
Though many are familiar with Woodruff’s organization — a charitable group started by the well-known television journalist and his family after he was critically wounded while covering the war in Iraq — the story behind the latter is not as well known, even within the state.
The fund began only 15 years ago in 1997 and serves as a “stop-gap” measure for guardsmen and their families in emergency situations, according to Lt. Col. John Sullivan of the RI Air National Guard. Since the war on terror began in 2002, roughly 6,000 Rhode Island guardsmen (both army and air) have been deployed. There are 320 guardsmen from Rhode Island deployed — 307 from the army guard and 13 from the air guard.
“It’s really a means for families and soldiers to have a place they can go for emergency funds,” said Sullivan. “It’s the stop-gap for when the boiler needs to be fixed or your car needs a major repair.”
Though many guardsmen have families, friends or some sort of support system who usually step up to the plate during these situations, there many others who don’t. For those who don’t have a parent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandparent or friend to help with a costly vehicle repair or any other unforeseen expense or hardship, the relief fund is pivotal. According to Sullivan, the fund helps 10 to 15 families every year in the state.
“It’s one less stress for these guardsmen to worry about — to have someone to lean on,” said Sullivan.
The need for such a support system was extremely evident during the March floods of 2010 when guardsmen helped the families of deployed soldiers, helping to pump out flooded basements and set up sandbags around homes.
“When you’re deployed, the worst feeling is not being able to do anything while you’re gone,” said Sullivan, who recently finished his sixth deployment. “It’s nice to know people are out there to look after your family.”
Since its inception in 1997, the relief fund has been solely funded by private donations. The biggest source of funding comes from donations collected at the RI Air National Guard Air Show and Open House in Quonset each June, which contributes about $20,000 toward the fund. The fund also received $1,000 to $2,000 from outside donations.
“The air show only raises a finite amount, so this is just a very worthy effort on behalf of Heels and Wheels to donate to the relief fund,” said Sullivan.
This year’s Wickford Heels and Wheels is set for June 1 and 2. Tickets for the June 1 gala and auction (with proceeds benefiting the relief fund and the Bob Woodruff Foundation) starts at 5 p.m with a cocktail reception followed with silent and live auctions, dinner and dancing at the town beach. Tickets information can be found at the event’s Web site.