Step away from the traditional red, white and blue barbecue this Veterans Day with Wings for Warriors’ fifth annual gala at the Madison Center for the Arts with proceeds donated to the organization.
Wings for Warriors foundation is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization in support of veterans, first responders and their families. It regularly selects different organizations to support, but this year’s gala will raise funds to support faith-based trauma counseling, equine therapy, Gold Star family retreats, hyperbaric oxygen treatment for PTS and TBI and camaraderie and healing adventures.
The gala will have a dessert and cocktail reception, live entertainment and auctions.
“It’s very classy, very formal. It’s black tie optional, although we do encourage people to wear black ties and the women to wear cocktail attire,” said Anthony Ameen, founder of Wings for Warriors. “There’s going to be some very distinguished guests, anything from high polished officers down to the enlisted people currently serving in uniform, people that have retired and everyone in between.”
Funds will be collected through ticket sales and various auction items. Ameen said they will have everything from homemade gift baskets to Costa Rica timeshares. He added that the gala is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Ameen said they are not limited by space, so the more attendees and the more sponsors, the better.
“We’re trying to raise as much as possible because we weren’t able to have this event last year because of COVID. We took a $150,000 hit due to live, in person fundraising events that were canceled,” Ameen said. “So, we’re trying to raise as much as humanly possible for this event. I will say, in 2019, in less than three hours we raised $65,000 at the event. If we can raise a minimum of that, it would be amazing. Anything more than that would be a dream come true.”
Ameen said a crowd favorite for several years has been the speed painting done by Randall Hedden, a Vietnam combat veteran. Hedden does a piece, anywhere from 4 feet by 4 feet to 6.5 feet by 6.5 feet, in 8 to 10 minutes on a spinning canvas and choreographs his painting to music he mixes himself.
At this year’s gala, he will be doing three paintings that will all be auctioned, allowing for three attendees to take home a completely original piece that they saw painted live.
A large portion of the sale goes to Wings for Warriors and Ameen said Hedden’s paintings are a huge chunk of the profits they make. Hedden said while he does much more work than speed painting, it’s a fun and engaging way to make a positive impact.
“I’ve been in this business for almost 15 years, and it’s not always about yourself,” Hedden said. “It’s about people.”
With the same spirit of helping others, the keynote speaker will be Mesa resident Dr. Vernet A. Joseph, a 22-year army veteran, best-selling author, entrepreneur, professor, pastor and one of the world’s leading productivity coaches.
He received a national statesman degree and was appointed a World Civility Ambassador in 2018 and has spoken in more than 50 countries in the last decade.
Live music will be provided by Michael Land, a singer and songwriter from Fountain Hills.
The celebration doubles as a 10th anniversary for Wings for Warriors, which Ameen founded in 2011. He served as a Hospital Corpsman in the Navy from 2002 to 2010 and was deployed with the Second Battalion Seventh Marines as its medic in 2008.
In July 2008, while running across the battlefield to give aid to a wounded marine, he stepped on a bomb. It was during his recovery that he had the inspiration and personal cause to start an organization to help veterans and their families.
“We lost 21 men,” Ameen said. “When I came home, I had another whole battle ahead of me. I like to refer to it as the battle of recovery. I had to recover from PTSD, I had 34 surgeries, my left leg was amputated below the knee, and I was denied my benefits.”
“I wanted to start an organization to help other people, other wounded warriors, other military families to secure their healthcare, financial legal benefits and also a travel assistance program to fly military families to visit their healing heroes while they’re going through recovery.”
In 2020, the organization shifted its focus to also include first responders and their families in its scope. Ameen said it helps by “finding, funding and fueling” organizations that offer services or programs to veterans and first responders.
Every two years, it chooses four new organizations to support and has touched more than 5,000 veterans, military families and caregivers.
“I think a form of healing for my personal PTSD was helping other people and, by doing so, it helped heal me from some of the combat experience that I and others from the unit experienced,” Ameen said. “I feel like God has a purpose for all of us and I feel like I’m supposed to help people,” Ameen said about his mission with Wings for Warriors.”
Those unable to attend the gala can donate online year-round. Visit wingsforwarriors.org/donate.