A voice from the past inspired Abington Heights High School junior Carolyn Hickman to take action.
When her grandfather, Chester Owens, died in 2012, Hickman’s family began to talk about his experiences in World War II. It was through those experiences — and the experiences of other veterans that she heard about — that Hickman was inspired to create a fundraiser that seeks to give a combat-wounded soldier a new lease on life.
Hickman’s project, “Helping Our Heroes,” aims to raise $15,000 for a “track chair” to be purchased through the Independence Fund, a national non-profit organization run entirely by volunteers that provides services to veterans. To date, the Independence Fund has provided more than 700 track chairs to veterans.
Hickman explained how a track chair differs from a standard wheelchair.
“A track chair is basically a high-tech wheelchair,” she said. “It is an all-terrain chair that can help a disabled vet without a limb do things, like enjoy the beach or go golfing or enter a building — things they could no longer do or that they have trouble with. Everywhere a regular wheelchair can’t go, a track chair can and that’s why they are so expensive.”
Along with several other “Helping Our Heroes” committee members, Hickman has spent her summer vacation trying to raise the $15,000 needed for the track chair, including visits to the monthly Clarks Summit Downtown Go Around and coin drops at the intersection of State and Grove streets. She mentioned how her purpose in pursuing this project was confirmed on the Fourth of July when she had a chance encounter during a coin drop.
“A truck pulled over and we were expecting someone to get out and tell us to leave,” she said. “Instead, this man got out and he thanked us. It turned out he just got back from Afghanistan and he told us that his buddy lost both of his legs. It was eye-opening.”
“He thanked us when he was the one who served,” she continued. “It made me want to stay outside and keep collecting and it gave me hope. I know that this goal will be hard to achieve, but this one experience made me want to do it even more. It gave me a push forward.”
Hickman’s initiative has also garnered the attention of Independence Fund founder and president Steve Danyluk.
“We are extremely grateful for the efforts of the American people, who together, have raised more than twenty million dollars to ensure our catastrophically wounded heroes receive the help and support they deserve,” he said. “I am especially impressed by a young person like Carolyn Hickman. Her patriotic sense of duty will ensure that our wounded veterans stay on the minds of the American people for generations to come.”
Hickman hopes that “Helping Our Heroes” raises awareness of veterans’ issues.
“One in 100 families have someone who is serving in the military; a lot of people aren’t aware of what’s going on,” she said. “More vets than ever before have more amputations because we have better technology. Instead of vets dying, they are coming back, but with no limbs. I think it is important that we help veterans who don’t have the capability to do what we do.”
Donations for “Helping Our Heroes” are accepted via Facebook at facebook.com/pages/Helping-Our-Heroes/507572252708174. All money raised will go directly to the Independence Fund. For more information, email Barbara Hickman at firstname.lastname@example.org.