“Our volunteers are the life-blood of this organization. Without them, this program does not exist.” – Camille Null, HOW’s Director of Volunteer Programs
HOW is dedicated to improving the lives of veterans and first responders throughout the nation. We rely heavily on volunteers who are passionate about giving back to this community of brave men and women who serve our communities and our nation. We sat down with HOW’s Director of Volunteer Programs to learn more about her experience with HOW and how she believes the organization is changing lives.
Camille Null, a mother of two and avid kayaker, has been working with HOW in some capacity since our launch over 14 years ago. In that time, she has volunteered and provided consulting services to our founder, Jim Dolan, eventually taking on the role of Director of Volunteer Programs last year. In that time, Camille says she’s witnessed so many positive changes in both participants and volunteers.
“One of my favorite stories is about one of the first BAMC (Brook Army Medical Center) trips where Jim was still testing out the program and it was still a blossoming idea in his head. He took a group of veterans and a recreational therapist down to the coast and asked mutual friends to help. My husband, Scott, was one of the volunteers. He took a participant who recreational therapists said would only speak when spoken to. They said he was very nice, but not really conversational.” Camille says, “They got him into a kayak and on the water and you just saw him relax. As the trip went on, he got more vocal and excited. Finally, by the end of the trip he was talking to everyone freely. It was so wonderful to see it have that kind of impact – it is what solidified mine and my husband’s role in helping Jim. We told him we’d do whatever we can.”
Throughout the years, Camille and Scott spent time assisting Jim however they could. Scott, a retired Houston Police Department homicide detective, volunteered on trips, while Camille stepped in as a consultant introducing Jim to kayak vendors from across the country who might be interested in sponsoring the organization. Just like the hundreds of volunteers across the country, Camille says that her work with HOW hasn’t only impacted others, but it has impacted her as well. “Veterans and First Responders are givers by nature. It’s impossible not to learn from them and they have so many lessons to share. I’ve learned so much from the participants and volunteers I’ve worked with.”
Jim’s vision for Heroes on the Water was to provide veterans with much needed, restorative experience that provided peace and tranquility. He had witnessed the rehabilitative powers of kayak fishing and outdoor excursions and knew that this could be applied to the healing process for conditions like post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and other conditions that many of our veterans and first responders face. Jim believed that veterans deserved to have these experiences at no charge and began recruiting volunteers to help him provide kayaking trips. One thing that Camille says is that it’s not just the participants who walk away changed by these events. “Volunteers and supporters are also impacted by HOW because our organization helps them contribute to a great cause in a meaningful way.” says Camille, “it boosts people’s morale to know that even if they aren’t in a position to volunteer directly, they can share a resource that is there to support and give back to the community of veterans and first responders and their families.”
Heroes on the Water is one of the first non-profit organizations that included family members in our events. We understand that healing needs to focus on the whole unit, that family relationships are really important, and frankly that family serves as well as the hero.
Camille became a kayak enthusiast years ago when she and her husband Scott, who was an avid fisherman and hunter since childhood, decided to make career changes after Scott’s retirement from the HPD. After taking a buyer position at a tackle shop, Camille says she quickly realized how much she and her family, Scott and their two daughters Randi and Erin, benefitted from their time kayaking and being outdoors.
“Scott was a homicide detective which is a job that comes with a lot of stress, but he was relaxed on the water,” she says, “The times where he was able to connect most with our kids were when he was relaxed.”
The relaxation that being in the water provided for Camille’s husband is an effect that can be seen in HOW participants and their families. This calming effect can help build and strengthen bonds in a safe, carefree and positive environment. “One of the things that is often forgotten is the impact on families,” says Camille, “Encouraging family participation provides families with a chance to relax together. Everyone can work through their struggles while seeing the impact the wellness program has on the veteran, first responder or any family member.”
Continuing to help build a community where participants and their families can thrive and heal is Camille’s main priority. She says that even after 14 years, she believes the future of Heroes on the Water looks brighter than ever. “I always told Jim I could not afford a non-profit job because I had two young kids and my husband was a cop. My only regret is that this opportunity didn’t present itself until he was gone,” Camille says, “I know he’s watching and I know he’s pleased. My goal is to continue moving the organization in a way that would make him proud.”
Heroes on the Water is a 501(c)3 charity organization that introduces veterans, first responders and their families to a recreation that is therapeutic while providing a relaxing, fun experience. We introduce participants to the calming effects of being out on the water and provide tools through teaching that can be used to help cope with trauma, stress and other injuries. Click here to donate.