Last week, we took you to New York City on a journey with Nellie’s Youth Village from Florida. This week, we’re taking you under the sea where you’ll learn how an Illinois-based organization used 40 roundtrip tickets on Southwest for a unique scuba diving experience:
Jim Elliott, President and Founder of Diveheart
We were recently given the amazing opportunity of providing two groups of people who have made extreme sacrifices to our country, a chance to bond and share and heal a bit. My name is Jim Elliott and I am the President/Founder of Diveheart. We are located in Downers Grove, Illinois, and we offer scuba diving opportunities and adventures to children, adults and veterans with disabilities. We have, over our eleven year history, found that the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of scuba are beyond measure.
Last year, we started working with Gold Star families who have lost a loved one in the military. These are parents, spouses, children and siblings of our service men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice and whose lives have consequently been forever changed. We hoped that our work with them would help them believe in a life of hope and happiness and adventure. We have for many years, worked with military wounded, and we decided to design a trip to Florida, specifically for Gold Star families to dive alongside veterans with disabilities. Our wounded veterans are facing what may be their new normal which might include missing arms, missing legs, dealing with traumatic brain injuries or loss of vision. The Gold Star families are dealing with what is their own new normal, which certainly also includes a painful loss. It’s obviously not the same, but the Gold Star families and wounded veterans have in common, the fact that they’re all facing difficult transition resulting from immeasurable loss. As we planned this trip, we learned something else...that oftentimes; families of fallen troops lose their treasured connection to the military at the death of their loved ones. This trip was a great way for them to regain their ties. The trip was made possible due to the generosity of Southwest Airlines which provided roundtrip airline tickets to us as part of its 40th anniversary celebration “Showing LUV to our Communities for 40 Years”.
Participants on the trip spent six months together training and learning together prior to the trip. While they were spending time together, they were learning to depend on each other while they grew and healed together. We have four Gold Star families from Illinois, a group of Diveheart volunteers including an active Navy corpsman, and three veterans with disabilities: two who are blind and one who is a paraplegic and in a wheelchair.
Rick Olson, a veteran who is blind, wrote his reflections on the trip when we returned.
“What drew us together for the trip aside from our deep connection to the military is the fact that we have all endured a loss. All of our lives have changed dramatically and irreversibly and we are all seeking to live with what we call our new normal. All of us have a burden to carry but you would not notice any challenge or disability after spending the week seeing, talking and listening to each other. Yes the scuba diving was some of the best that I have done, but what was really special was the camaraderie between everyone including the children. We all laughed, cried, and most of all, we listened to each others’ stories.”
I feel so blessed to have been able to bring these wonderful, brave, selfless people together for this experience that changed their lives, and my life as well!
Be sure to tune in to NUTS About Southwest for one final story about our winners! To learn more about all that Southwest Airlines is doing in the community, please visit www.southwest.com/citizenship.