“Sometimes you don’t realize when you volunteer at a local level that you are part of a national impact. You are helping across the U.S. to take care of those who protect and serve here and abroad.” – Kelli Walleck 

When Jim Dolan took his first group on a kayak fishing trip outing, he realized just how fulfilling it was to contribute to the tranquility that veterans experienced on the water. The ability to be a conduit for healing by simply offering a few hours of time and resources to people who had given so much for our country became a source of joy for Jim and eventually for the many people who volunteered to assist in these outings. From the very beginning, volunteers have been the heart of Heroes On the Water – devoting time and resources to build chapters across the nation. We sat down with Kelli Walleck and George Chrisman, two dedicated HOW volunteers who have witnessed the impact of volunteering on participants as well as in their own lives. 

A Passion for Giving  

HOW is dedicated to improving the lives of veterans and first responders throughout the nation. We rely heavily on volunteers who are enthusiastic about giving back to this community of brave men and women who serve our communities and our nation. Kelli Walleck volunteers with the Matagorda, TX Chapter and has experienced the benefits of volunteering with many organizations including HOW. 

Throughout her life, Kelli has always been passionate about giving back to others. Her drive to give back to first responders and veterans is rooted in her experience with her uncle who served as a firefighter and seeing how much sacrifice he made in service of his community.  

“My uncle was a firefighter for 36 years. I have so many great memories of being at the firehouse and seeing how much these people did for the community,” says Kelli, “I’ve always had a great appreciation for first responders and for people who serve in the military for everything they do and sacrifice to maintain freedom and keep us safe and maintain our ability to live in a free country.” 

George Chrisman, a volunteer who has been with the Dallas Fort Worth Chapter since the very beginning of HOW, also had a family history of service to our nation and a great understanding of the sacrifices made to protect us all. His son was enlisted in the Marine Corps for 5 years and his grandfather served in WWI. His father, also enlisted in the Marine Corps, served in WWII, but never deployed due to a severe injury he experienced in a tank during training. George takes pride in his ability to take part in the impact of an organization like HOW.  

“Veterans and first responders have protected us in so many different ways,” George says, “Veterans serve us out in the world protecting our freedom. Our first responders are our local people that are taking care of us and protecting us here. I think it’s important we recognize and support them.” 

The Deciding Factor 

Seeing the impacts that veterans and first responders make on our society is a common thread in our volunteers’ decisions to serve with HOW. Giving back to the people who have sacrificed so much for our ability to live and thrive in our country creates a passion that drives HOW volunteers to create peaceful, enjoyable kayak fishing events where participants and their families get to relax and unwind. These kayak fishing experiences allow them much needed respite from the stresses that can come with the service and sacrifice of protecting our communities both at home and abroad. Many volunteers admit that while their goal is to give back to others, they often end up experiencing joy, peace and fulfilment from connecting and interacting with participants in such a wonderful way. 

George, a lifelong fisherman, finds joy in teaching our participants how to fish and says that he is especially happy to pass down techniques and skills he’s learned over the years to them and their families.  

“I get the joy and the pleasure of seeing participants come out and catch their first fish. To see them so happy –  it makes you realize what these folks have done for you and what they struggle with,” George says, “It’s made me much more aware. One of the things that most people don’t get to see is how much these people go through. But they tell us their stories and we get to see it.”  

Volunteers create events that allow participants and their families to bond with each other as well as with a community of people who share similar experiences. Our volunteers care deeply about supporting service members and first responders.  

“I don’t think any of us realize the impact we can have. We don’t think thoroughly about how much it means to everyone involved – both volunteers and participants,” Kelli says, “Selfishly, I really enjoy connecting with and listening to participant stories. I’ve had a couple of the guys who thank us for taking them out.”  

“Some people don’t even fish when they go out, they just go out and sit on the water. When we really start listening to the participants we learn how much these events can impact. I wish more people would get involved.” 

HOW’s mission is to provide wellness and community to our heroes through kayak fishing and the outdoors. Keeping our programs afloat is only possible through the selflessness of our volunteers. A typical volunteer chapter holds a monthly event, minimum of three per year, that occurs on a Saturday. The event will run from early morning to afternoon, giving our participants and families time to kayak fish, enjoy some amazing camaraderie, tell stories over lunch, and make connections with people who really understand. All events are at no charge to the participants and we provide all the equipment and lunch. If you or someone you know would has a heart for our heroes, click here to learn more about volunteering. 

Heroes on the Water is a 501(c)3 that is dedicated to serving our U.S. military veterans, active-duty, law enforcement, first responders and their families. Our mission is to provide wellness and community to our heroes and their families through kayak fishing and the outdoors. We provide our kayak fishing experiences at no-charge to our participants, and are only able to do this through your generous donations. Please consider a gift to our heroes to support their bravery and sacrifice. 
This story is part of our Heroes, Heart and Hope series.

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