Couple helping wounded soldiers with pictures, vans
RALEIGH (WTVD) -- The road to recovery is very long for many disabled veterans. One of the twists along that road is being able to drive places on your own.
When a disabled veteran needs a special van to get around, the Veteran's Administration will pay for a vehicle to be retro-fitted, but the VA won't actually buy a van.
To bridge that gap, a Raleigh couple came up with an annual fundraiser to help buy those vans.
The annual Army-Navy football game is a tradition that goes back 120 years.
Before the game starts, West Point's Corps of Cadets and the Naval Academy's Brigade of Midshipmen march on to the field.
In 2005, Breck Barker's oldest son was a cadet at West Point. So he took a picture of the cadets' march and other parents were interested in getting a copy.
"So in 2006, I tried to shoot a better quality picture and people said, 'I'd be glad to donate to the troops if you would like to sell the picture to us,'" he said.
So, Breck and Cheri Barker started a non-profit and the first year raised $15,000.
"This has been a very unusual project for us, we never dreamed we'd be at this point," Breck Barker said.
Every year Barker takes a series of pictures of both the cadets and midshipmen.
He uses photo editing software to put the photographs together and removes extraneous people on the field and sidelines and creates a poster and smaller print for each service branch.
The Barkers then turn their house into a distribution center to mail out the hundreds of posters and prints. And Ben Franklin scholars from NC State help out with the packing and shipping.
"It's quite an affair where we'll be rolling all day long, eating pizza and having a good time, but it's all a part of the service," Breck Barker said.
And that service has raised more than $160,000 since 2006.
"The money that we raise, we turn over to a non-profit that we call 'Help Our Military Heroes,' who buys vans for handicapped soldiers -- those that are severely wounded when they return from the front go to medical recovery and they need to have some time of transportation," Breck Barker said.
In December, the Bakers were there when "Helping Our Military Heroes" presented Marine Corps Sergeant Carlos Evans with a van. He lost both legs and his left hand when a roadside bomb went off in Afghanistan.
While the Barkers are proud of what they've been able to accomplish, they say it's all done for the troops.
"And it's not about how we feel, it's about how these men and women have done so much for us, how can we help them," Cheri Barker said. "What can we do to make their life better? What can we do while they're in another country, what can we do once they return home. That's what it's about, is helping them."
For general information on the project visit the couple's website at www.west-point.org/family/mem2009/2010ANprint/anproject10.html.
armed forces salute, local/state
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