Dawn Heisler retired 10 years ago. Now she works more than ever — “24/7” as she says.
She is the founder and sole staff member of Heroes in Action, which calls itself a “military support outreach” program. It began in 2004 with sending personal items such as hand sanitizer, razors, soap, toothbrushes and, a favorite, white athletic socks to our military men and women overseas.
Lots of groups have done this over the last 10 years, but not many have done it regularly and kept it up.
And Heroes in Action has grown.
Now it takes in furniture for veterans after they come home. It gives personal support to families whose loved one is currently “over there.” It helps vets pay utilities and find sustained medical and psychological help. It makes sure vets get to doctor’s appointments, to military events, and look for work. It even helps them find auto and home repair.
Not on a large scale, but an immediate one.
She tells me of a disabled vet — a double amputee — whose house was infested with black mold. She gathered several score of volunteers to work on it, but the mold had gone too far. The home was gone. She contacted the Wounded Warrior Project, a national vets group with deeper pockets, and they rebuilt the home.
“I cannot say, ‘No,’ to a soldier or a veteran,” she says. So she doesn’t.
Her organization is into a wide variety of services and issues because it is based on the specific needs of each individual who comes to her.
And though she is only one person, Ms. Heisler has legions of volunteers, and it seems few say no to her. “Heroes” is a 501(c)3, and she tells me she raises as much money as she needs.
How? “I just ask,”she says. “When a need arises, I put out the word.” She also runs events and says, “I have a long email list.”
She works closely with other veterans groups and bureaucracies — like Yellow Ribbon, the USO, and the V.A.
But none can do what she does — working from a home office and a borrowed store room at the Genesis Village on the corner of Reynolds and Heatherdowns. Her might comes from her smallness and the fact that, for her, it’s personal.
Dawn Heisler had two gut convictions from the start: Every care package would include a personal note or card and any soldier without family would be on her list, no matter where he or she was from.
When she started the organization, it operated out of her church, with the help of church women. But she told me that what drove her was not religious faith so much as something she felt within. “They go in so young,” she says, and she has known vets who did four and five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. She fears the country will forget them because “it has gone on so long.”
But she finds the public always responds if you ask for a specific form of help. She says she has had a family member in every branch of the military service, including a grandson who was a Marine. She doubts “Heroes in Action” will ever go out of business.
Dawn Heisler gives me no patriotic speeches. There is nothing histrionic about her. She is low key and matter of fact. Her love — that is the only word — for these men who have served our country and in many cases come home damaged for life is under, understated. But it is in her eyes.
She is a small woman and, like her interviewer, no longer young. But again, the word “mighty” comes to mind. Powerful.
I am in awe of what she has been able to do alone, with no powers at all behind her but compassion and gratitude.
To donate time, money, or goods to Heroes in Action, go to heroesinaction.org or call 419-699 3439.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.