By Brett Gibson
“Bringing our nation’s disabled heroes back to the outdoors” is the motto of the Hope for Heroes Foundation. Recently the foundation leased land, 1,500 acres, near the Clinton/Cumberland County line and this past weekend, the foundation held its first hunt in the area.
The foundation was the brain child of former New York Police officer Mitchell Serlin in September 2010.
“I am former military. I was in the 101st Airborne Division and I went overseas with them back in the first Gulf War. I got out, joined the police department in New York and worked there for a career,” Serlin said. “I retired from there, but my father-in-law was disabled and a veteran. He had asked me several times to take him deer hunting and he is in a wheel chair, so I didn’t know how to get him in the woods. I always wanted to be in the outdoor industry. I thought that would be a good retirement job. It started to dawn on me that there are a lot of disabled hunters out there who need assistance.”
Thursday, October 25, four “heroes” came to the lodge and prepared for their Friday morning hunt. Adam Peacock, William Winburn, Matt Moser and Patrick Howland were the first “heroes” to use the lodge and participate in the hunt.
“Some organizations specify that you have to have a purple heart medal or some other regulation to be able to participate in their events. Not here,” Peacock said. “There are a lot of big deer over here just waiting to get shot.”
Peacock said he has hunted several states with organizations such as Hope for Heroes and all “heroes” agreed this lodge has great accommodations.
Serlin said he started out donating his time though the Physically Challenged Bowhunters Association and learned what went into helping disabled people when it came to hunting.
“I was involved in 911 and that community is strong. I know what they do to keep us safe throughout the year,” Serlin said. “We sleep good at night because they are on duty. So, if they needed help, I figured it would be the best avenue.”
Not only does the Hope for Heroes accommodate disabled military, it also will accommodates injured police and fire fighters.
“Unfortunately they are the ones who are predominately injured, so they are the ones needing our help,” Serlin said. “We have had firemen and police at some of our events.”
Before the organization moved to southern Kentucky, Serlin said they used other people’s properties in order to set up events.
“Sometimes a club would donate a hunt, but we were always looking for something like this to come up,” Serlin said. “We were targeting Kentucky the whole time because of Fort Knox and Fort Campbell. The community here has really been behind us in what we are doing, plus the weather is a little more contagious because it’s a little warmer. A lot of the times, disabled people have circulation problems and they get colder faster. The climate is better for us because they can stay out longer and enjoy the outdoors.”
Serlin said he thinks they are the only foundation that has their own facility and that sets them apart from other organizations.
“We are not only going to take these guys out, we are going to try and empower them to get back into the outdoors,” Serlin said.
With most disabled hunters, specialized equipment is a huge factor in helping the hunters shoot their guns or bows.
“Not only will we be able to train them on some new equipment, but we can also train their caregiver as well,” Serlin said. “A lot of times they can’t hunt or fish because their caregiver doesn’t know how to use the equipment. We want to be able to teach them that they can accomplish that. We will have them for a couple of days and they can go home and still enjoy the outdoors. We don’t just want them to come down and enjoy a four day hunt and go home and wait two years until they get picked by another organization. It’s not about just making them feel good for the week. We want to empower them.”
Serlin said, as of now, his organization is working with the Wounded Warrior Project on getting applicants for Hope for Heroes.
Being part of a project that helps disabled military, police and firefighters, Serlin said he has sponsors who help the cause by donating hunting supplies like deer stands, ground blinds, optics, fishing poles and other items. Some of Serlin’s biggest contributors are Nikon, Ameristep, Beaverkill Rods and many others who have contributed to helping disabled hunters.
“A lot of the companies have been really good to us,” Serlin said. “They understand that we are trying to get something going here.”
“We are trying to help heal them and give them a piece of their pre-injury life back,” Serlin said. “Sometimes we take it for granted because we all hunt and fish, but to be able to do it and do it together helps a lot of that healing to happen inside the lodge. They realize that other guys are going through the same thing they are. Being a former combat soldier and police officer for 20 years, I’ve been through some of the things they’ve been through … not exactly the same, but there is that bond and they open up. It’s amazing in a way, because you don’t expect it. It’s seems to happen at every event.”
Even though the organization is not exactly a “group therapy” type organization, Serlin said it kind of happens that way.
“We are not trying to do that, but it happens. One guy usually starts and then the flood gates open and another guy starts talking about what happened to him,” Serlin said. “They feel comfortable and they say it feels good to get it off their chest. That’s what we are trying to accomplish. Empower them to get out into the outdoors and help them heal their physical or non-physical wounds.”
When the disabled hunter comes to Hope for Heroes’ lodge, everything is no cost to the hunter, including lodging and food.
“The only thing they pay for is their licenses and transportation here,” Serlin said.
As the first week of the first hunt progressed, Hope for Heroes’ Facebook page updated it’s fans that the “heroes” had seen some wildlife, but no animals were taken.
For more information on the organization, log on to www.heroeshope.org. They also have a Facebook page and can be accessed by searching for “Hope for Heroes Foundation.”
The “heroes” along with “Hope for Heroes” founder Mitch Serlin, left, and businessmen from Cumberland County, posed for a photo after donating items to the foundation.
Above, from left to right, are William Winburn, Adam Peacock, Matt Moser and Patrick Howland after Friday morning’s first hunt at the “Hope for Heroes” lodge near the Clinton County/Cumberland County line.