I was apart of Operation Samalama, a memorial run from Houston, Texas to San Diego, California to honor the late Sam "Samalama" Leonard. Sam Leonard set out on an epic journey to raise money for veterans by walking from Largo, Florida to San Diego, California. Unfortunately Sam was forced to stop early do to health issues. He had traveled all the way to Houston, Texas when he realized he had stage 4 stomach cancer. Sam passed away a few months later.
In April of last year, Albie Masland, Nick Biase and I finished Sam's journey. We ran a total of 1500 miles and raised $27,000 for the Travis Manion Foundation. We finished our mission on the flight deck of the USS Midway on April 29th, the day 1st Lt Travis Manion gave the ultimate sacrifice for this great nation in 2007.
One year later, I am honored to say I am the program coordinator for our Veteran Youth Mentorship program that we host on the USS Midway once a month. I get to work with veterans, gold star survivors and children from all over southern California on the same ship I ran to last year.
Being a veteran of the United States Navy makes this entire experience that much more fulfilling. Stepping on board an aircraft carrier similar to the ones I served on while on active duty to inspire the nation's future leaders and to teach them about character, leadership, integrity and service is my new mission. The legacy of all the brave men and women who fought and died to keep our country free will live on through me and the rest of my team at the foundation and I am so grateful to apart of that.
Speaking to 30 high school students on a Saturday morning can be overwhelming and stressful at first. Speaking to a group of adults is hard enough, but they are nothing compared to the critical mind of a teenager who knows everything. I know what these kids are thinking and how they feel because it wasn’t that long ago I was their age, listening to some guy I didn’t know blabbing on and on about this and that. “Don’t do drugs. Don’t drink and drive. Wear your seatbelt.” All the lectures and presentations were more or less the same and they all went in one ear and right out the other. Until one stuck.
I was a senior in high school when I heard one of the best speeches in my life from my high school wrestling coach, Tim Ruschell. We had a home match against one of our cross town rivals and coach was giving us a pep talk in the locker room before we took the mat. There were a few words that stuck with me that day that I will never forget.
I was the captain on the team that year and coach told us if he ever had to go to war he would be happy to go with this team because he knew we had an awesome captain. He looked right at me and said, “Matt Peace is one of the toughest kids I have ever met in my life. He has the heart of a lion. He could be bloody and half dead and would still keep fighting. This team will win tonight because you guys will never quit.”
I don’t have to express how good that made me feel to hear those words coming from one of the best and toughest coaches I ever had in my life. As a teenager, it is difficult to realize how much the adult mentors in your life care about you at the time. You don’t understand how much they want to help you succeed. You think they are mean or they are picking on you specifically. Then you become an adult and you are given the opportunity to be a coach or a mentor and you realize what they were doing. You remember their words and how they pushed you to be a champion and it sticks with you for the rest of your life.
Since my journey with TMF began I have been given the opportunity to do some awesome things. I met a group of incredible people who truly want to help veterans and family members of the fallen transition and develop character in future generations. I became a TMF Ambassador. TMF helped me pursue a career as a working artist and to get my Associates Degree in Fine Art. I went on an incredible run from Houston, Texas to San Diego, California with two other TMF Ambassadors to raise money for veteran and families of the fallen. And now I am a mentor to high school students.
Being a Character Does Matter mentor is one of the most rewarding opportunities someone like me could ever dream of. Looking at a group of teenagers and telling them the story of Travis Manion and his motto, “If Not Me, Then Who…” is more empowering than anything I have ever done in my life. Teaching a group of young adults who have their whole lives ahead of them about character strengths such as integrity, perseverance, teamwork, and living a life of character has driven me to be a better person. Hearing the kids laugh and speak about their life experiences and watching them work together during the team building exercises is a reward in itself.
Working with the other veterans and survivors in the program makes TMF all the better. We have an incredible core of mentors who truly want to help the future generations thrive and flourish. Having such a positive and driven team creates an environment where everyone feels comfortable and engages well with the students. I am truly honored to be part of this team.
While spreading the, “If Not Me, Then Who…” message to the students something very inspiring dawned on me. If we don’t reach out to the future generations, who will? If we are not speaking to these groups of students on Saturday morning, who will? If we don’t tell these kids Travis’ story, who will? If Not Us, Then Who…
My mother used to always say it takes a village to raise a child, and she was right. Children need positive adult mentors in their lives. People need other people in this world. Being a part of a team, a community, or any type of social gathering is important for the development of any young adult. People don’t necessarily always remember what you say but they always remember how you made them feel. TMF does a tremendous job of inspiring young adults to be good people and live a life of character and I am so happy to have this opportunity to help.
After my husband was killed on deployment, I found TMF. It was the first organization that helped to reshape my identity and give me a purpose. I can't thank the staff enough for all they have done to help me - especially in my darkest times!
I love the mission of the foundation, and I will always continue to spread the "If Not Me, Then Who..." movement!
I have had the privilege to witness firsthand the positive impact this incredible organization is making in our communities through the Character Does Matter Program, youth leadership/mentorship programs, and Veterans' Transition Programs. I could not be more impressed with the level of dedication and professionalism shown by everyone, staff and volunteers alike, who strive to assist veterans with their post-military lives, as well as helping the families of our fallen service members. I especially love the foundation's simple and effective message of "If Not Me, Then Who...," and the proactive nature of continuing to instill the vital lessons of character and leadership in young people. As a veteran myself, I find this foundation to be the perfect fit for me to continue my service out of uniform. (Dan M.)
As a Survivor family, we feel blessed to be a part of the TMF family. We continue to be actively involved in local TMF events and will continue to support this foundation and all that it is doing for the families of our fallen heroes and the youth of today.
In my four years being associated with TMC both as a volunteer and community partner, I have been fortunate enough to get to know a lot of the staff personally, and have witnessed their impact first-hand. Their Veteran's Transition Workshop is the most genuine and real transition workshop I have ever been a part of, seeking to use a combination of theory and real world perspectives from the community to give the veterans a realistic view point of what it means to be empowered. The Character Does Matter Program is a veteran's program unique unto itself, challenge the veteran to live up to the values and ethos, but empowering the veterans to become teachers to youth to carry the mantle of community services and positive leadership skills.
Last, every single employee of TMF is passionate, the not only believe in the organization, they are committed to their work, and are passionate to make a positive change. When you attend a TMF event or visit their office, you are met with a wave of positivity that leaves you motivated to go out and make you're own impact.
I consider myself fortunate to be considered a community partner of TMF, as they are a top notch organization that I am proud to be apart of.
I'm a new volunteer with TMF and it all started when I attended a veteran transition workshop. Right away I was moved to a new level of hope when I heard more about Travis Manion, his family and the foundation. I learned TMF is not just for veterans but is more about remembering the legacy of a man like Travis who sacrificed not just in the military but left an impression with classmates , friends, family and his community. He left a strong legacy, summarized in a powerful statement to his brother in law "if not me, than who" when it was his time to deploy again. I think of his story and instead of focusing on all that I don't have in life I wonder if I'm truly living to my full potential and giving back, as much as Travis and others like him. It is because of that I decided to volunteer with TMF and am blessed to have the opportunity to share why character does matter to teens, andto be part of something much bigger than myself. One person can make a difference and the Travis Manion Foundation is proof of that.
I had the privilege of being the race director for Lehigh Valley, PA where we'd raised over $8K in our first year race. We had over 450 people participating and it was amazing and resulted in overwhelming success. My son has a rich history with connections with not only the foundation but those that lead this amazing group. And my daughter was able to convince her school that Travis Manion was not only a hero but his foundation continues to support thousands of families annually - and she designed her National History Day project around the foundation. So our family has been involved in many ways with this organization for many years now. The people are amazing and the mission truly is to honor those who serve. They are amazing and my family and I are looking forward to supporting the Travis Manion Foundation for years to come. Our 9/11 Heroes Race was one of the most moving and rewarding experiences I've been involved in. So, if you're in the Lehigh Valley next September, look us up on facebook and come join the cause to honor our heroes!