Organization Helps Injured Vets With Renovations
BY SUMMER HENNINGS
When Southern Pines native Tony Lennon became involved in Military Missions in Action (MMIA), he was simply looking for a community service opportunity.
What he found was much more.
At its core, MMIA focuses on renovating the homes of injured veterans so they can achieve an independent lifestyle. However, that just scratches the surface of what the organization is all about. Michael Dorman describes how MMIA's work fixes more than just homes. It heals hearts and inspires many.
"How many have been changed because of (our work)?" Dorman asks. "That's hard to say. When you start looking at the big picture, of the volunteers that are on-site, everybody leaves being helped in some way - not just the veterans, but the volunteers as well."
Dorman founded MMIA after serving in the United States Coast Guard for 20 years. Originally, he saw the need for injured soldiers returning from the current war. As his work developed, he realized many soldiers injured in previous wars had just as great a need.
"I started (Military Missions in Action) because for me it was a lot about faith and what I felt like I was called to do," Dorman says. "I felt like we needed to do more for our veterans with disabilities. What I found was that World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans needed assistance, but their injuries may not fit in parameters (in which) the VA could assist them."
Unlike many current nonprofits specializing in helping the military, MMIA assists more soldiers who served in previous wars than in the current conflict. It dedicates itself to helping any veteran back to World War II as long as they cannot physically or financially support their project. Dorman believes that we as a nation have a responsibility to take care of all those who served before us.
MMIA faces its greatest issue in finding money to fund projects. Dorman prides himself on MMIA's low administrative costs. Out of every dollar donated, 95 cents goes directly to projects.
Finding the Money
Dorman hopes to focus his efforts on fundraising by establishing project managers throughout North Carolina. Eventually he wants to expand throughout the United States, and he has a 10-year goal of having operations throughout the southeast.
Lennon acts as the southern North Carolina project manager. In Moore County alone, MMIA has completed 11 projects - the most of any county in the state.
To raise funds, Lennon coordinates an annual golf tournament at Longleaf Country Club. This year's tournament takes place on Saturday, Aug. 20. Anyone interested in participating in the tournament can get information at many local golf shops, including the Longleaf Pro Shop. The tournament offers a discount to people with a military ID, and teams can sponsor an injured veteran, allowing him or her to play for free.
Other challenges Dorman faces are educating the public about veterans, their disabilities and the benefits the VA provides.
Dorman describes how usually the only thing standing in the way of someone living independently is something small, such as wheelchair accessibility or the ability to get in and out of a bathtub. MMIA's current work varies from simple projects such as installing a wheelchair ramp, which can be finished in a day, to major renovations that take over a house for months.
Through his work, Dorman has seen happiness return to soldiers' homes and veterans gain back their pride and confidence.
"When you go into someone's house and you're there for months working and working alongside them, you become a part of that family," Dorman says. "Though the home modification is rewarding, what's really rewarding for me is seeing the change in our service member."
Lennon has worked on two major projects since joining the organization. In his first, he worked to build an addition onto a medically retired Marine Corps staff sergeant's home in Lillington.
The sergeant, Mason Poe, could not walk up the stairs of his home because of an injury to his lower extremities. All the bedrooms were on the second floor. MMIA added a downstairs suite that foresaw any medical difficulties he might undergo in the future.
Poe was hit by an IED in the Middle East, causing him to go into a monthlong coma. Doctors originally thought that he would not live. After surviving the coma, he was told he would not walk again and could not have children. The first time Lennon met Poe, he walked into the new addition without a cane and carrying his 4-month-old daughter.
"I got involved in that (project) and knew this was the organization I wanted to help," Lennon says. "It's good for the soul, to say the least. It's made me feel like I'm doing something useful and helping people who should be helped."
A project in Beulaville struck Lennon and Dorman because of the changes it instituted for a veteran suffering from a brain injury commonly known as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Prior to the renovation, the young Marine spent 80 percent of his waking moments in a shed behind his house. By the end of the project, the man had joined the church that had helped MMIA work on his home and began volunteering his time as well. Lennon believes that the project played an instrumental role in helping the veteran work through his PTSD and describes seeing his transformation as the most rewarding part of the project.
"He was a different guy," Lennon says.
Dorman says soldiers suffering from PTSD react differently to issues in their homes. When something breaks or stops working, they become frustrated because they can't fix something they used to know how to fix. For them, it becomes a daily obsession and they cannot continue healing their minds.
Also, Dorman says that domestic violence is more common in homes where someone suffers from PTSD. With the damages fixed, veterans can continue the healing process.
'Homes for Healing'
Dorman calls these projects "Homes for Healing."
"Anything we can do to reduce that anxiety they're feeling is a benefit to the soldier ... but it's also good for the family because it keeps the anger or anxiety in check," Dorman says.
Dorman contributes a lot of MMIA's success to the volunteers of every shape and kind. He believes that everyone has a gift, whether it's driving nails, collecting items for care packages, feeding workers or writing checks.
"It takes all of that to make a project happen, and it takes all of that to make us successful," Dorman says. "We can't do it without the help of everybody."
"I was expecting the satisfaction of helping some people deserving some help," Lennon says. "I got that and then some."
MMIA accepts donations and volunteers of any kind. More information can be found at www.militarymissionsinaction.org. Donations can be made online or mailed to Military Missions in Action, 411-B North Judd Parkway, Fuquay-Varina, NC 27526.
Summer Hennings is a rising sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill and is a summer intern at The Pilot.
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