One Sunday morning in February, Peters Township resident Brianne Hall woke up and told her husband, Bill, that she had a plan.
“I want to raise $500 for veterans,” she said.
Four months later, she reached her goal, times 45.
The benefit she organized at 31 Sports Bar and Grille in Collier Township netted roughly $22,500 on behalf of the Florida-based nonprofit Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc.
And June 5, when the event was held, happened to mark the sixth anniversary of Life Changing Service Dogs for Veterans, the Western Pennsylvania organization that supports Guardian Angels.
“Nobody in my family is a veteran, but I feel that I would not have the life that I have if it were not for the veterans,” Brianne Hall said. “So I’m grateful to them, and I wanted to honor them.”
Plenty of other folks did, too, as the overwhelming turnout at 31 would indicate.
Along with donating toward the cause, those in attendance had the opportunity to meet quite a few noteworthy individuals who were happy to chat and have photos taken with them, including Pittsburgh Steelers legend Rocky Bleier, Pitt Panthers basketball great Julius Page, rock ’n’ roll star Donnie Iris, National Hockey League stalwart Eddie Johnston, sportswriter and radio personality Ron Cook, and author Jim O’Brien.
Also present was former state auditor general and Sen. Jack Wagner, who assists with Pennsylvania regional development for Guardian Angels.
Plus former Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Ken Wregget and his wife, Nicole, were gracious hosts as owners of 31. The Wreggets, in fact, were presented with a certificate in appreciation of their help in providing service dogs for veterans.
Two of the veterans who have been paired with the dogs, which undergo a lengthy and comprehensive training process, spoke during the benefit about their experiences.
Connor Green was discharged from the U.S. Army in 2014.
“About three months after I got out, I started having seizures. I was having panic attacks. I would wake up in the back of an ambulance every time,” he recalled. “I wasn’t really connected or associated with anybody. I just kind of went through the day ... the best I could.”
He eventually connected with Life Changing Service Dogs for Veterans.
“I was fortunate enough to be sent down to Florida, and I was paired with Bradley,” he said about the dog accompanying him. “I can’t tell you how thankful I am and grateful I am to have him in my life. It’s not only great for myself, but I know a lot of other guys and women who are paired with these dogs and benefit greatly from having them.”
Timothy Kellermann, another Army veteran, spent 13 months in Afghanistan amid some of the heaviest combat in the early stages of the Central Asia war that will reach the 20-year mark in October.
Retired by the military at age 22, he later was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I stayed almost eight years in my home, besides basic needs going out. I’d be really quick, in and out,” he said. “I basically pushed everyone away from me in my life.”
He admitted to being skeptical about the effects of having a service dog, but bringing Pilot home quickly made him a believer.
“We’re going out to eat. We’re talking to folks. People are coming up to me,” he reported. “This dog has absolutely changed my life and totally changed how I am as a person.”
Actually, it goes beyond that.
“It’s life-saving, because, I mean, I was ready to join that ‘22’ list,” Kellermann said. “I was over life before I got this dog.”
His reference was to the alarming statistic described by William Jeffcoat, Life Changing Service Dogs for Veterans president.
“Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide,” he said. “And no one who’s ever been awarded a dog from Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs has committed suicide.”
Jeffcoat had the honor of accepting a $3,000 donation from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 764 in Peters Township, matched by Tito’s Handmade Vodka.
Money raised at the benefit is going toward Guardian Angels’ plans to build a campus in Robinson Township, Washington County, to breed, raise and train medical service dogs.