To the Editor:
I have lived on Martha’s Vineyard for 20 years and could not be more proud to call this Island home. Our sense of community, willingness to lend a hand, and ability to share this magical place with our visitors has brought me great joy over the years. This past week, I have been fortunate to be involved in the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge, being held at the Beach Plum Inn.
I have volunteered at the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby for many years, and I’ve met some amazing people through this event. Four years ago, the Nixon family of Chilmark was inspired to bring a group of recovering soldiers to the Island to fish the Derby. These are young men and women who have sustained injuries while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Fort Belvoir. Many of these now veterans have been in the hospital for months and are able to come to Martha’s Vineyard as part of a recreational program managed by Walter Reed. It is done through sign-ups and open to all patients medically well enough to travel. Accompanying these vets are a parent or spouse and a medical support team. It is quite a group.
The first group to come to the Island in 2009 included six veterans and little fanfare. This year we greeted 10 veterans at MV Airport with a full hero’s welcome. The event has grown in size and scale, as have the positive benefits to these wounded warriors.
As those of us who are lured by the passion of fishing know, it can change a person in ways we never expected. A simple afternoon on East Beach searching for blues or slamming albies off Menemsha can make even the most monumental worry disappear for a few hours. Imagine what it does for these vets and their families.
Much of this event is supported by in-kind donations. The Nixon family donates their beautiful Beach Plum Inn, meals, staff, and more. Local charter captains out of Menemsha donate their time to take the vets out. The MV Surfcasters hosted an afternoon on the beach, to learn shore fishing. Many local businesses have given reduced rates on services like transportation and activities. However, there are some monetary costs that are essential to the program that must be covered through cash donations. It is estimated that even with all the donations and generosity of our Island and beyond, it costs $5,000 per veteran to make the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge a success.
I am writing this letter because I have seen our community respond when asked to support our friends, neighbors, and organizations so vital to this Island. I have seen the generosity of this Island time and time again. I am asking that if people are inspired and able to make a contribution to offset the monetary costs of the event, that they visit the website saltwaterchallenge.org and be as generous as possible. We also have donation forms available in the weigh station during weigh-in hours of 8 to 10 am and 8 to 10 pm daily, through October 13.
The veterans left Martha’s Vineyard on Friday, September 28, with great memories of our beautiful Island and with something much more important — a sense of what our community is and who we are. I am proud of my Island home and proud of our veterans.