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What’s on Your Gratitude List?

Thanksgiving is often the time we pause and focus on what we have to be grateful for, but where does that leave us the rest of the year? Amber Helms, Executive Director for Heroes on the Water, knows the power of being thankful every day.

“Remember to be grateful each and every day.” – Amber Helms

“At this time last year my mom had a heart attack. She obviously missed Thanksgiving and at the time we just powered through,” says Amber. “Looking back, we realize how fortunate we are to have another Thanksgiving with her.”

Amber says her mom often discusses how she is living on borrowed time.

“When you think how fleeting our lives are, how temporary everything is, it makes you realize how grateful you are for all things, both big and small,” says Amber.

In addition to having more time with her mother, Amber has a sizeable gratitude list. She recognizes how critical it is to be focused on the positive, particularly when life can throw so many curve balls your way.

Family is on the List

“I’m always thankful for my husband, Rusty. It’s comforting to know you have someone who always has your back,” says Amber. “We have been through a lot and always supported one another.”

Amber and Rusty have been married for 29 years. Amber supported Rusty 19 of his 20-year Army career and has seen the difficulties of both active duty and retired military life.

“Rusty has been retired for 11 years now and is always one of the first people to thank someone else for their service. However, he’s speechless when someone thanks him,” says Amber. “He just looks at life now like moving forward and doesn’t expect people to recognize his commitment.”

Amber’s two adult sons are amazing young men. Craig is married to his high-school sweetheart, carrying on his parent’s tradition. They both are successful in their careers. Josh is attending college, studying to be an architect.

“It’s surreal and such a blessing to realize you have such amazing children,” says Amber. “They are a joy, and can be a challenge, but in a good way.

Family is who you can text saying I need you and know they are on their way and vice versa. They are the ones who might drive us crazy but are holding us up during the bad times. Amber recognizes how fortunate she is to have her extended family close by, and that they make a point to meet every Sunday for lunch.

“Every moment you spend with the people you love is a blessing,” says Amber. “We won’t have everyone forever, but I’ll have many memories I can treasure.”

Heroes on the Water is on the List

Amber is grateful for Heroes on the Water in general. While it is her current career, she says it is more than that to her, and her husband.

“Having the opportunity to support veterans and their families get through some of the tough times and come out better on the other side is amazing,” says Amber.  “I know for my husband kayak fishing smooths out the bumps. I feel so strongly about HOW and what it does that I just want to do everything I can to see that we can help as many people as possible.”

Amber knows getting that one person out and watching them change a little after a couple of hours on the water it makes everything else worthwhile. She also recognizes and is grateful for the large number of volunteers across the nation who are the boots on the ground supporting the mission.

“We do what we can at the support level so they can do the real work of getting the veterans out there and make a difference,” says Amber. “It’s about that little smile, that kid who catches a fish, that little connection they helped make. I hear it from everyone –at the end of the day you got so much more out of it then you put in. Gives you the energy to keep it going.”

Amber’s support team is part of her gratitude list as well.

“I’m surrounded by people who are experts at what they do. I never have to worry,” says Amber.

“Randy has the financials covered and he has good history with the organization that brings a lot to the table. Joe, Jason and Maria are the ones who are the direct support, but they provide much more. They do an amazing job listening helping and advocating for the chapter POV. They solve a lot of issues. But most importantly they understand how the chapters operate. They get the challenges and have the experience to help both new and seasoned chapters. Plus, they are very passionate about the mission.”

The communications team, Laura and Faeda, make everything sound and look beautiful. I can toss things their way and I know they are capable of ensuring our mission is reflected.”

“They are amazing co-workers, and they are my family and I appreciate them every day.”

Jim Dolan is on the List

Jim would often say “We never know how far our words and deeds will reach.” He often spoke about keeping things simple. He was more than just the HOW founder; Jim was everyone’s brother. There were many people who helped support HOW in the early days and throughout, but it was Jim’s vision to become a nationwide organization.

“He had a huge passion to help veterans and families. I remember when Rusty started the Northeast Oklahoma chapter and had a phone conversation with Jim. His advice was just take one person out and let it go from there,” says Amber. “That is the ripple effect. You try to help one and keep trying to help. It’s not about having hundreds of people. It’s about making a close connection with one or two and keeping that connection. You never know how important it will be.”

Amber’s first impression of Jim was how he was so passionate about helping other veterans in any way possible.

“HOW was just his conduit. He’d help anyone at any time to do anything, and always made you feel welcome,” says Amber. “He never micromanaged because he knew we would do it. Awesome was his favorite word and he trusted that you would take whatever he threw at you and make it amazing. It never crossed his mind that someone wasn’t going to be awesome at whatever they were doing.”

In addition to being impressed with Jim’s passion for Heroes on the Water, Amber also remembers how he and his wife Sally set such a great example.

“She was his world, and he was hers,” says Amber. “They were always a unit, and both made you feel like family. We are all blessed by their friendship.”

As you reflect on your gratitude list, please remember the brave men and women who fought valiantly for our country. They are a blessing to us in many ways. If you wish to honor them, please consider donating to Heroes on the Water during this holiday season. We ensure that our men and women have a safe, peaceful way to engage one another, their family and make new friends while reconnecting with their communities. Wishing you and yours a peaceful, blessed Thanksgiving.

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