Good Cause: Operation Welcome You Home

Several local veterans gather at the 2013 Wounded Warrior 5K that benefits Operation Welcome You Home. This year's event takes place on May 24 in Plainfield.  |  Submitted
Several local veterans gather at the 2013 Wounded Warrior 5K that benefits Operation Welcome You Home. This year's event takes place on May 24 in Plainfield. | Submitted

Colleen Pertile wanted to help Operation Welcome You Home after the organization did just that for her son Ryan Pertile.

Ryan, a 2011 Neuqua Valley High School graduate, and his father had signed up for the first Wounded Warrior 5K run while Ryan was home from Army boot camp and preparing for deployment to Afghanistan.

“I asked them to do a little send off for him,” she said of her request to founder Donna Morsovillo.

The organization recognized Ryan during the awards ceremony but that wasn’t the end.

While Ryan was away, someone periodically checked on Colleen, and when Ryan returned home, Colleen couldn’t believe the support her son received for his homecoming in spring 2012.

“It’s such an unselfish act (what they do),” Colleen said of OWYH, “and so wonderfully orchestrated.”

The celebration began when Ryan stepped off the plane and USO greeted him at O’Hare before he was escorted back to Naperville. Closer to home, a neighbor had put ribbons on the trees leading to their south Naperville home and people lined the street.

“Ryan probably didn’t think he deserved it,” Colleen said, “but we were so proud of him.”

The combat engineer’s job was to locate and diffuse IEDs and his family was grateful to have him home.

“I felt really indebted,” Pertile said of the homecoming. “It was a huge undertaking, and I wanted to help in any way I could.”

While Ryan, who will end his military duty in less than a year so he can go to college, is now at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Colleen is doing anything she can for this year’s 5K.

“I’m a jack of all trades,” she said. “I do whatever they call and ask me to do.”

Before the race, she is helping to secure donations for the goody bags as well as monetary donations.

While the organization is devoted to helping veterans of any conflict. The website notes that since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 32,000 service members have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

OWYH is based in Naperville, and Morsovillo got involved because of her family connections to the military. Her father served in World War II, and her husband and brother were both Marines. She started out working with the Ladies Auxiliary at the VFW, but when a mom called and asked for a welcome home for her child, Morsovillo got to work.

And then another mom called.

Soon they began to do sendoffs.

“We become quite close,” Morsovillo said. “We keep in contact with the families, and they come to our events. It gives them a connection.”

The 5K is one of the OWYH’s major fundraisers of the year. The homecomings and sendoffs are just part of what it does, though. They will do escorts for military funerals, wanting to honor all veterans. And they visit Hines Veterans Administration Hospital in Chicago particularly at Christmas time to deliver new pajamas and Santa hats.

“We have fun with them,” said Morsovillo of the veterans.

A Candlelight Bowl is the nonprofit’s other major fundraiser. Some of the veterans from Hines are eager to attend this one.

“They call in January asking for the date for this year so they can put it on their calendar,” Morsovillo said.

For Morsovillo, it’s about honoring the requests they receive and making sure they have the funding to fulfill them. Memorial Day is always the time to remember our service members, and for Colleen Pertile, she couldn’t say enough for what the organization did for her son — and her family.

“It was the coolest thing,” she said. “It took a lot of time and effort to plan it,” she said of her son’s homecoming.”

And for that reason she wants to make sure she does as much as she can so other service members and their families have the same.