Veterans who transition from the military to civilian life often experience challenges and hardships as they enter a less disciplined, structured, and mission-focused world. For many warriors registered with Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP), giving back to their communities makes this transition smoother and empowers them to continue their service while also finding renewed purpose.
One such warrior is Army veteran James Fitzgerald. When he medically retired in 2014, he had no clue what the future held. In 2010, while fighting off an ambush in Afghanistan, he was shot in the thigh, causing him to fall off a mountain, which also fractured his knee and femur in his right leg.
“I just didn’t have a plan for that and was flying by the seat of my pants,” James said. “I was without the resources that made me successful in the military. I didn’t have that structure or mentorship, and I missed everything – the camaraderie, the teamwork, the purpose.”
Lupita Hernandez experienced similar obstacles in her transition to civilian life in 2004 after serving six years in multiple countries with the Marine Corps. She struggled with severe mental health challenges and fell on major financial hardships, resulting in temporary homelessness for her and her two children.
“I didn’t realize how much my depression and anxiety were affecting my life,” Lupita said. “I was dealing with a lot of anger and nerves I didn’t understand, and that’s because I never sought help. It took me 10 years to really understand what I could receive.”
In addition to finding support through WWP programs, James and Lupita ultimately connected with WWP’s enduring partner, the Travis Manion Foundation (TMF). Through its Character Does Matter Program, TMF works to honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s fallen service members. Character Does Matter connects veteran mentors like James and Lupita to youth in their local communities, providing a model of resilience, character, and leadership to the next generation.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with young people and being in a classroom,” said James. “I can stand in the intersection between two communities: veterans and a member of the community who wants to give back. This comes from a similar feeling I had as a leader in the military: training those who are younger or greener for bigger and more exciting things.”
The Character Does Matter experience instills in youth a commitment to a life of integrity, character, and service, while enabling veterans to channel their skills into their communities and embrace a new sense of purpose and volunteerism. This model of giving back embodies TMF’s and WWP’s mutually held belief in veterans’ capacities to uplift and empower others. For Lupita specifically, her work with TMF is not only helping children in the program but also her own children, too.
“I have two kids and I want them to learn and be inspired,” Lupita said. “To be out there and be a mentor for those kids, and other children, is very important and rewarding to me. If I can make a difference to one person, that’s what matters most.”
The service that these warriors provide doesn’t just change the lives of those around them – it’s made a difference in their own lives, too.
“Working with Travis Manion Foundation has been very fulfilling,” said Lupita. “I’m very grateful and blessed to be part of the work they do, and they’ve helped me immensely. Being able to do the Character Does Matter presentations has really gotten me out of my shell and allowed me to speak up and be known. At the same time, it’s kept me humble and taught me to appreciate the little things in life.”
James’ involvement with WWP and TMF has had a similarly profound impact on his life.
“When I first signed up with these organizations, I thought that I was providing something to others and giving back,” he said. “What I didn’t realize with my time with Wounded Warrior Project and Travis Manion Foundation was that I was also improving myself and doing it in a way that fit who I was. It’s a fitting full circle to see that what is changing the lives of these kids is also changing mine.”
WWP believes that no single organization can do it all alone. The veterans nonprofit proudly work with numerous national and local, best-in-class veterans and military service organizations, including Travis Manion Foundation, to build strong, resilient veteran families and communities. Learn more about WWP’s community partnerships.
Contact: Mattison Brooks — Communications Specialist, email@example.com, 202.969.1120
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.