Embarking on the Road to Recovery
Members of the Ruck 2 Remember organization get ready to hit the road at the Petawawa Legion Thursday morning as they embark on their fourth annual Road to Recovery march. The marchers will travel 150 km in four days to raise money for homeless veterans. In the photo are, from left, Nathan Desborough, Phil Owen, Wayne Bennett (Zone G-7 Commander, Royal Canadian Legion), Dave Gordon (chairman, Homeless Veterans Program, Veteran Services/Seniors, Royal Canadian Legion), Dave Merriott, Noel Gracie and Lino Di Julio, founder of Ruck 2 Remember.
PETAWAWA – It was a beautiful day for a long march.
Under sunny skies and summer-like temperatures, five men hit the road Thursday morning, heading out from the Petawawa Legion to begin four days of walking with 20 to 30 pound packs on their backs.
Over the course of four days, the group is walking approximately 150 km to Kanata, staying over at Legion branches in Cobden, Renfrew and Arnprior before wrapping everything up at the Kanata Legion Sept. 18.
This is the fourth Road to Recovery event, put on by the not-for-profit organization Ruck 2 Remember, to raise funds for Operation: Leave The Streets Behind, which helps homeless veterans.
Operation: Leave The Streets Behind is a registered charity that works to transition veterans off the streets into sustainable housing, working hand in hand with the Royal Canadian Legion to help get the veteran in need long term funding, work, housing and support as needed. To date, the program has assisted 525 veterans in more than 117 communities including 93 in the Ottawa Region.
The charity is managed by the Royal Canadian Legion and 100 per cent of the proceeds of this event go towards the veterans. It is also known as the Joe Sweeney Fund.
Dave Gordon, chairman of the Royal Canadian Legion's Homeless Veterans Program, Veteran Services/Seniors, said the Legion has been participating in three of the four Road to Recovery events, which has proved to be a fruitful partnership. He said the goal this year is to raise $35,000, which he is confident Ruck 2 Remember will accomplish.
“Our role is to set up contacts with various Legion branches along the route,” he said. Each branch involved provides a place for the marchers to sleep, plus hosts a fundraising event and sends the group off following a good breakfast.
The Legion's homeless veterans program started as a pilot project in Toronto back in 2012. Partnered with Veterans Affairs, Gordon said it was learned just how big a problem this is, so the homeless initiative became a nation-wide effort.
He said in Pembroke and Petawawa, the program received 20 applications for assistance – which are vetted to ensure the applicants are indeed former service men and women - of which 16 in total were met. Most of what is required is housing, help with rent and/or utilities, dental care, and helping getting a previously homeless vet set up in a new place, including food, supplies and furniture.
“We've invested $25,000 in this community (of Pembroke and Petawawa) so far,” Gordon said. To date, the Legion's homeless vet program, through support of the Legions and their Ladies Auxiliaries, have so far dispersed $1.55 million nation-wide.
He said the Legion is so pleased to be able to be a part of this effort and the Road to Recovery, which raises both funds and awareness of homeless veterans.
“This is a great program, and it keeps building and building,” Gordon said. “It is important to them and us to help out veterans.”
Lino Di Julio, the founder of Ruck 2 Remember, said it began in the summer of 2014, when volunteers took part in a ruck march over a distance of 303 km within a week. These volunteers rucked 158 bricks from Hamilton, Ontario, to the Legion Hall in Parry Sound, Ontario.
Each brick was engraved with the name of a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan, and the event was used to create awareness and support for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and to raise funds to build a retreat in Parry Sound for PTSD. This event was titled the Road To Recovery.
“We really didn't have a plan that first year,” Di Julio said, just a strong idea of remembering soldiers and awareness of the traumas some of them were going through.
Cutting ties with a non-profit group which assisted in the first event, the Ruck 2 Remember and its Road to Recovery hooked up with the Legion with the aim of focusing on helping to support homeless veterans. It has been a partnership which has worked really well.
“When I got the initial number of veterans they helped, it was astonishing,” Di Julio said. In Hamilton alone, the Legion's programs had assisted 42 veterans.
He said in Canada, there doesn't seem to be a strong military culture, and so this issue doesn't come up a lot. On top of that, those who serve or served in the military tend to keep to themselves and their peers, and rarely if ever discuss their problems with civilians.
“They really are two distinct entities,” Di Julio said, and pointed out how events like Road to Recovery can help bridge the gap between the civilian and military worlds. He said the Royal Canadian Legion provides an atmosphere to educate both sides on how the other works.
If anyone wants to learn more about the event and how to donate to it, go to www.ruck2remember.com/road-to-recovery.html and follow the team on Facebook (ruck.to.remember) and Instagram (ruck_to_remember) where they will be live posting over course of the event from Sept. 14 to Sept. 18.