The Algoma Veterans Association wants to establish a permanent sanctuary for military veterans who have been ravaged by depression, anxiety and PTSD.
Ideally, the non-profit organization - which has five military veterans on its board - would like to purchase a lakefront property where veterans can go to fish, relax and take their minds off of things.
Enter Greg Lafave.
He’s a co-founder of the Twinkie Foundation, a charity that raises money for families who have sick or critically ill children staying at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.
Now, he’s lending his fundraising expertise to the Algoma Veterans Association in order to make their wish for a military veterans retreat a reality.
“I’ve always had a strong support for the veterans and I’ve always wanted to get involved,” said Lafave. “I was just never really, really sure how to go about doing it.”
“I actually already have my own charity that I run, so I know the ins and the outs and I have the contacts in the business community to help as far as the fundraising goes, so it was essentially a perfect match to really get this off the ground and running.”
Lafave recently learned that one of his childhood friends - a military veteran - took his own life.
“Everything seemed like it was fine and OK with him, and one day we found out that he committed suicide just kind of out of the blue,” Lafave said. “His inner circle might’ve known that he might’ve been in trouble, but I just had a conversation with the guy a couple weeks ago, and I would’ve never been able to figure out that he needed help, or he was in that dark of a place where that was an option to him.”
“For me, that was it. I was like, ‘this is ridiculous.’ I have the ability to help with this, and I’m not doing enough to push this forward,” he continued. “So for me, that was really my line in the sand and my starting point as far as getting involved in something like this and getting it off the ground.”
Algoma Veterans Association president Frank Iezzi has been throwing around the idea of partnering with Lafave for the past four years.
Specializing in aircraft mechanics, Iezzi began his military career working on Snowbirds aircrafts in Moose Jaw, Sask. in 1987.
He retired as a sergeant in 2008, and has been experiencing a series of “ups and downs” since that time.
Iezzi says that he still feels the impacts of trying to make the transition back to civilian life, much like the 80 or so members in the local veterans association.
“Veterans, when they get released, don’t have a doctor, don’t have anything to help them, so basically you’re left alone to deal with it yourself,” Iezzi said.
The retired sergeant invited the Military Resource Family Centre from North Bay and Veterans Affairs Canada to the Sault back in April, where there was a series of open session meetings for all the veterans.
A common concern, says Iezzi, was a lack of resources to help military veterans reintegrate into civilian life, such as finding doctors or mental healthcare professionals.
The closest Veterans Affairs Canada offices, Iezzi says, are located in North Bay and Thunder Bay.
“They were surprised, they were astonished by the lack of support in the Algoma District,” Iezzi said.
The Algoma Veterans Association is now actively fundraising for the acquisition of a permanent lakefront retreat, so that veterans can get together in order to combat the onslaught of PTSD and mental illness in a serene, private setting.
“It blows my mind that these guys can literally put their lives on the line to defend the country, and when they come back it’s, ‘hey, you’re on your own,’” Lafave said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Lafave has started a GoFundMe campaign in order to start raising funds for the military veterans retreat, with the intention of obtaining business and corporate sponsorships and hosting a number of fundraisers in the near future.
The public is encouraged to visit their recently launched website for more information on the Algoma Veterans Association.