NFL teams up with Woodruff Foundation to help veterans
NEW YORK (AP) — When veteran Todd Desgrosseilliers was recovering from battle wounds, he went back to a boyhood love: fly fishing. The organization he now leads has 8,500 participants, one of whom was so inspired by Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing that he told Desgrosseilliers: “This program saved my life.”
Desgrosseilliers’ group for disabled veterans is one of many receiving funding though the Bob Woodruff Foundation , which this week secured an agreement with the NFL to support such initiatives.
“The Bob Woodruff Foundation provides us with a grant each year that supports one of our largest programs, rod building,” Desgrosseilliers says. “We had over 900 veterans participate in it as part of a larger core of activities we have that include fly fishing education and outings.
“When our participants are able to come to the meetings, the rod building provides them with an activity that kind of brings them together, creates camaraderie.”
Such pastimes create more than that. For Desgrosseilliers, who learned to fly fish with his great-grandfather and grandfather in Maine, it has been an effective therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and vertigo he suffered after a traumatic head injury in combat.
There are 222 programs nationwide under the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing umbrella. They stage local and regional events as well as national destination trips; 400 members will go on a variety of excursions this year, including to Alaska or the Florida Keys.
“It’s a group of disabled veterans coming together with folks who care about them, and they are involved in an activity that is fun,” Desgrosseilliers says. “We partner our programs with fly fishing organizations to provide the (3,500) volunteers who know how to do the fly fishing basics.”
The Woodruff Foundation was founded in 2006 after reporter Woodruff was hit by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq. To date, the foundation has invested more than $55 million to find, fund and shape programs that have empowered veterans, service members and their families.
Its $2 million affiliation with the NFL announced this week will bolster the grant work done by the foundation.
“The NFL is such a prominent American brand and one that has a longstanding commitment to the veteran community,” says Marshall Lauck, the foundation’s chief growth and marketing officer. “This is not something new to them; their history with supporting veterans and active military members is strong. This is a time with increased interest on their part in how they can most effectively support the veteran community (through nonprofits).
“Our expertise can be very helpful for the NFL in its goals in supporting these communities.”
One program receiving grants from the foundation is Hire Heroes USA. Hire Heroes provides individualized personal assistance to transitioning veterans and military spouses, helping them with interview coaching, resume coaching or finding the right fit for a veteran entering the workforce.
That group recently passed the 25,000 mark for veterans being hired.
Another organization, Bunker Labs, helps veterans with entrepreneurship opportunities.
There are some similarities to NFL players transitioning from the sport into the “real world” and veterans adjusting after leaving the service.
“I think the challenge we had with the NFL was in putting together what is mutually beneficial in finding that common ground,” says Anne Marie Dougherty, executive director of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. “We can meet what their organization and brand priorities are. There’s not only affirmation of the need in this space, but also an investment in the solution.
“One of the uphill battles we continue to have working in this space is we have been a nation at war for the longest time in our history. And there is a sense for something to get media coverage it can be ... not positive. This is a really important time for us. We will put this money to good use.”