Red, White and Blue fundraiser helps veterans

Published 7:35 am Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Most who attended the Red, White and Blue fundraiser on May 16, sponsored by the Kris Heichel team within Fairway Mortgage, were not sure what to expect.

It was a “maiden voyage,” never tried before here in Austin.

But by the end of the evening, their efforts resulted in the purchase of a service dog for one local veteran, while another veteran in attendance will be able to have his dog certified as a service dog.

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Veteran Derrick Brooks of Austin, recipient of the new dog, said after the event, “I still can’t quite believe it.”

“I was pretty shocked,” added Brooks, a veteran of the Iraq War who continues to fight issues related to his service. “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. These dogs are amazing — hopefully, I’ll be able to get out a little more” with the help of the new dog. It will take about a year to train the dog.

Brooks served with the 101st Army Airborne, 502nd Infantry, and served in Iraq.

“I really don’t have the words to say what I feel, to say it best .. I’m still overwhelmed.”

Ticket sales, as well as live and silent auctions, helped to raise funds that not only helped to purchase the dog for Brooks, but also provided enough to make some much-needed home repairs.

All told, $10,000 will go to getting a service dog — which takes about a year — and another $7,500 was given him for home repairs.

The effort comes with Fairway’s partnership with American Warrior Initiative, founded in 2012 by Sean Parnell, a veteran, and Louise Thaxton, a Fairway agent. Both attended the Austin event.

Fairway has chosen to work for veterans behind the work and encouragement of Thaxton, who first suggested the company involvement.

What impressed Heichel and her colleagues most was working for veterans —and, at the same time, raising awareness about their needs.

When it was discovered that another veteran, Mike Eggenberger of Lake City, needed his dog to be certified, he was also given a donation to complete that. When the total fell a bit short to completely certify the dog, Heichel dipped into her pocket to make up the difference. Custom Canine, headquartered in Wisconsin, will train the Brooks’ dog and certify Eggenberger’s.

In the end, almost $20,000 was given to veterans that evening, Heichel said.

Heichel added the emotionally-charged atmosphere “was inspiring.”

“Once you start giving to something like that, it makes you want to do more. You want to do it in your community. We have so many heroes here. I’m super excited to do it again next year, and see it grow more and more. Austin is so generous — everyone we asked for something, no one said no. We just pull together here.”