This past week, I set out to pass around some flyers, raise awareness and garner participation and support for an upcoming event. Instead, I was given an object lesson in something I've always known, but it is good to be reminded is a fact. People are basically good and kind.
On Saturday, Aug. 11, Operation Welcome You Home is hosting its second Annual Candlight Bowl fundraiser from 5 to 11 p.m. at Town & Country Lanes on Jefferson Street in Joliet.
Armed with 30 copies of their flyer, which I have linked below, I set out to invite all the local police, fire and emergency personnel to participate in this event. Flyers and word of mouth have been floating around the community, but I wanted to make sure I reached those who are always first in line in support of our troops. Over the next few days I will be hitting as many businesses in the area as I can too, because while the first responders are often the most visible in their support our troops, they have a lot of competition from all us average joes. The people standing on the side of the road waving flags, applauding and showing up at these heartwarming shows of appreciation and support for our returning troops are simply members of the community who understand the freedoms the majority enjoy are due to the sacrifices of the few.
My first stop was the Joliet Fire Department Station Number 9 on Caton Farm Road. I simply walked in, and with a “Hi, I just wanted to drop off a flyer and let you guys know about this event.” The unrehearsed spiel was one I ended up repeating, unintentionally nearly verbatim at just about every stop.
“I’m not really associated directly with this group, Operation Welcome You Home, but these are the people who organize the homecoming celebrations for our returning soldiers. They’re having a bowling fundraiser, and you can sign up as an individual, couples or even as teams to compete with others. They’re going to have food, some really nice raffle items, beverages — of course a cash bar, and just a good time. The bowling alley can handle over 350 bowlers, and they have already committed to bringing out more than 40 vets from Hines VA so they can bowl and have a night out, too. I’m just trying to help get the word out, to support them, so they can continue to do what they do.”
After the third or fourth time I got the question “Oh, are these the motorcycle people?” I smiled as each time I said “No, these are the people who organize it all, and they work with the motorcycle groups and anyone else who wants to come out and show their support.” I smiled at this repeated question because it told me that everywhere I went, people were aware of these events, even if they didn’t really understand how they were being accomplished. But their lack of understanding of the logistics of it all certainly didn’t diminish their respect and admiration for what is being done.
The captain on duty at that firehouse, while his guys were looking at the flyer and joking about how they were firemen and always up for a good time, particularly for a good cause, had gone off to scrounge a piece of paper so he could write down the chief’s name. I was handed this paper with instructions to contact the chief so he could send out a blast email to all the firehouses. I was thrilled and overwhelmed, as I had come in hoping they would allow me merely to tack up the flyer in the kitchen or crew area. This kind of response to the simple request to post the notice was something I encountered, without exception, everywhere I went.
I had blocked out most of the afternoon on Wednesday to make my rounds. Had I paid attention to the weather forecast, I probably would have picked a different day as the temperature hit 104 according to little LED readout in my car.
My next stop was at the Joliet police station on Caton Farm just west of County Line. In the parking lot, I talked to an officer, an Army vet himself, who immediately walked the flyer in to the station house to put it up where all the cops would see it.
At the Plainfield police station, they were eager to put it up where all their officers would see it, and were quite happy to help spread the word.
The Plainfield fire stop turned into an unintentional two-fer, in that I happened to talk to a firefighter and an administrative assistant, who said they would get it in front of the Chief so he could get out a blast email to all their personnel — full timers, part timers and volunteers. Each took a flyer, one to go in the administrative offices, the other to go up in the fire house common area.
District 202 is in a bit of a frenzy as school is starting soon and there is a lot to be done before the buildings are filled once again with students, but the very busy secretary left a flyer and a note for Tom Hernandez as the media person, the one who would best handle the dissemination.
Plainfield Village Hall was one of the places I stopped that was already well aware of the event, but were happy to take a flyer to put up for the staff and continue to help spread the word.
Shorewood police personnel instantly took the flyer to put it up in the back so all the cops would see it.
Troy Fire Protection District Chief Engledow graciously greeted me in his office and immediately sat down to send out a blast email to all his personnel.
On a hunch, I decided to make a stop at the National Guard on Jefferson and the Marine Station on McDonough, both of which were happy to put the word out among their guys. Both told me they were well familiar with the group, and appreciative of what OWYH does for our returning troops.
I also decided to stop at what I call "Recruiting Row" in the Crest Hill shopping center. The Army, Marines and Air Force not only took a flyer, but also gave me some stuff to put in baskets for the raffle. Sadly, the Navy office was closed before I made it that far down the line, but I’m planning on a return trip. There was some talk — yes, I instigated it — about each of the branches getting together a team of bowlers and competing for bragging rights, so I feel obligated to help the Navy guys get in on the action.
My last stop of the day was the Cantigny VFW post on Horseshoe Drive just off Black Road. By then, it was nearly five o’clock in the afternoon, and I admit I was pretty exhausted and wrung out by the heat. The ladies there were really excited to help support an organization that honors our vets, and were kind enough to offer me a cold drink and a seat for a few minutes. I will be returning there soon with my completed application to join the Ladies Auxiliary.
By the time I got home that afternoon, I had a voicemail from Joliet Fire Chief Formhals, requesting I forward him a scanned copy of the flyer so he could send out a blast email to all JFD personnel.
It may seem from the list above that police, fire, military and first responders are the only ones invited to this fundraiser, but that is only because these are simply the first places I've gotten to so far. This event is not only open to the general public, it is the rank and file members of our community who will make this fundraiser as successful as the Welcome Home events OWYH coordinates. Thankfully, there are many others out there spreading the word, gathering donations and tacking up flyers. Actually, I'm coming pretty late to the party, as they have been organizing this year's festivities almost since last year's inaugural event ended.
In the next day or so, as you travel around Plainfield, Shorewood, Naperville, Romeoville, New Lenox and Joliet, you may well see these flyers up in various businesses, as I will be heading out again as soon as I can get restocked with flyers and tape. I'm hoping the temperature will be a little less brutal.
I've only been able to hit a couple local businesses as of yet, but their response has been as postive and supportive if not more so than what I've recieved from our local first responders. At Uptown Eatery & Tap, the manager on duty was happy to find someplace prominent to display the flyer, and was going to talk to the owner about getting the word out to both their patrons as well as their staff.
At Matty’s on Route 59, before I even finished telling them about the event, they pulled out the paperwork to donate a couple gift certificates to put in the raffle, when all I was asking for was permission to tape the flyer in their window.
I’m almost as excited about running around to as many local businesses as I can as I am for the event itself. The kindness and generosity of the community has been overwhelming, but more support is both welcome and needed.
Before the event has even started, more than two weeks before it is scheduled, the response I’ve received has truly restored my faith in my community. It’s amazing how giving just a little of our time reminds us that most people are good, caring and compassionate, if only given the chance. I’m so very grateful and have been truly humbled by the whole experience.
Click on the link below for a copy of the flyer and all the pertinent details. You can sign up right there on the website, but don’t wait too long if you want to bowl. Of course, if you’re just looking for a fun night out and a way to contribute to a good cause, you can simply choose to come out and enjoy the fun and maybe score a prize or two in the raffle. Bowling and wearing the stylin’ shoes are not required.
If you have or know a business that would like to be a sponsor, there are a limited number still available. For more information on being a sponsor, which can include signage on a sponsored lane and recognition in the event program contact OWYH for further details