Good Cause: Helping veterans comes natural for some

Michelle Linn-Gust
For Sun-Times Media
Aug. 5 4:14 p.m.
Help a veteran

The following organizations offer opportunities to help veterans :

Wounded Heroes Foundation: www.woundedheroesfund.net

Operation Welcome You Home: www.welcomeyouhome.org

The Gary Sinise Foundation: www.garysinisefoundation.org

Naperville resident Greg Dellinger is just one of many local people who want to help veterans, and for a good reason.

“We (as the people of the U.S.) made a pact with them that when they returned from what we asked them to do, we owe it to them to take care of them,” Dellinger said.

Dellinger, along with resident Jim Hughes, has partnered with organizations that work to provide veterans with the support they need.

Many people have an image of veterans as serving in World War II or even Korea of Vietnam. However, more recently, service members are coming home from places like Iraq and Afghanistan with head injuries and amputated limbs.

The needs of younger veterans was a catalyst for Hughes.

He started doing motorcycle rides to raise funds for the gap in services when the veteran leaves the military but before the government benefits kick in.

“The situation is a lot different than Vietnam,” he said, referring to how many more wounded are returning. “They come home, and the bills start coming in, but they don’t have income yet.”

On the rides, volunteers often travel to military hospitals where they drop off donations and stay for a barbecue.

“We get to know them, talk to them and thank them for their service,” he said.

Recently, they also conducted a sports camp that gave veterans the opportunity to experience activities they might not have done before, giving them a chance to find new hobbies. Some of the sports included archery, scuba and other water sports.

While Hughes recently left the banking industry to start his own company, City Wide Maintenance of Illinois, which provides maintenance services to companies in the Chicago area, Dellinger has been working for AAR, an aviation company, as the director of government affairs.

He found himself bringing veterans into the company during his initial job as recruiter there. He says they possess the skill set and understand the defense business. Twenty percent of AAR’s workforce is veterans.

During that time, he was asked to help out with a Gary Sinise event. The actor’s Gary Sinise Foundation fundraises to aid veterans. With lots of personality, Dellinger quickly found himself in demand. He’s traveled to several places, including the Los Angeles area, to a star-studded party where more than $500,000 was raised to build a smart home for a veteran.

“These homes are designed using technology for the most wounded to get around and have the dignity to be in their own home,” Dellinger said.

He’s not alone in wanting to help those who are the most gravely injured while serving.

Operation Welcome You Home, which is based in Naperville, recently raised more than $40,00 in its annual 5K run in May. The funds from that run have gone to purchase two track chairs for area veterans and a John Deere riding lawn mower for another veteran.

“We try to help local vets,” founder Donna Morsovillo said. “This vet in Plainfield had just purchased a home for himself, and on his wish list was a riding lawn mower.”

Because the veteran is in a wheelchair, he could not use a push mower. In the winter, the mower will be converted to a snow blower so his wife won’t have to shovel the snow.

“These are young guys with families,” Morsovillo said. “It helps the wives as well so the husbands can be husbands.”

The track chair enables veterans to travel over terrain that their wheelchairs cannot, so they can once again go fishing or take part in other hobbies they enjoyed before their injuries.

Most people who want to help veterans don’t think twice about it.

“It’s just really an honor,” Dellinger said. “I don’t know that we can ever do enough for our veterans.”

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Help a veteran

The following organizations offer opportunities to help veterans :

Wounded Heroes Foundation: www.woundedheroesfund.net

Operation Welcome You Home: www.welcomeyouhome.org

The Gary Sinise Foundation: www.garysinisefoundation.org

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