April 3 was an exciting and proud day for Hope’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch 228, when the Honour House Society stopped at the Hope Legion as part of its “Tour of Honour”, a fundraising tour to raise awareness about the illnesses and injuries that those in uniform face.
As part of the fundraiser, the society is holding a raffle which will be drawn at the end of their tour, for the chance to win a Humvee or high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicle.
The three-month tour, which is the brainchild of Al De Genova, the president of the society, will be traveling through B.C. and the Yukon. It kicked off at Chilliwack Firehall #1 on April 3, and the Hope Legion was the second stop on the non-profit’s itinerary, with members from the Hope RCMP, Hope Fire Department, and Hope Legion welcoming the tour when it arrived after 5 p.m.
“It was an absolutely awesome presentation,” said Ian Williams, president of the Hope Legion. “I was impressed with the whole thing. I’m so happy they stopped and let us know.
“Right now we have enough money that we can make a donation to Honour House and start doing that again. And Honour Ranch, that’s going to be a big change in people’s lives.”
Funds raised during the tour are going towards supporting the Honour House and the Honour Ranch. Led by De Genova — who leads a group of veterans, serving military personnel, first responders, and civilians — the charity will visit many different towns and cities across the province and territory, stopping at Royal Canadian Legions, military bases, fire departments, town halls, police detachments, and paramedic stations.
“The suicide rate is extremely high right now for all our first responders, and I’m hoping to let them know they’re not left on their own, that there is help and Honour House and Honour Ranch are there for them unconditionally, at no cost, as long as they want to stay,” said De Genova, who is an honourary colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces’ 15th Field Artillery Regiment.
People can donate money directly to the Society at www.honourhouse.ca or buy raffle tickets for the Humvee (which are available on the Honour House Society website at www.honourhouse.ca). The Humvee, which bears the society logo, was wrapped in camo by the company 911 Film Cars Inc., whose film work includes Deadpool, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Power Rangers.
Honour House, which was created 13 years ago by De Genova after he was challenged do so, provides free accommodation for men and women in uniform — as well as their families and loved ones — while they are receiving medical treatment. It is located in New Westminster at 509 St. George Street, with 500 volunteers helping to operate the house. According to their site, the annual cost to run one room is $10,000.
“We’ve had members stay here for three days, and even up to 300 days, for very serious illnesses like heart transplants, liver transplants, and difficulties in childbirth,” De Genova said. “Some families are from up north, and from all over the province and even across Canada and, in some cases, from the US.”
Meanwhile the ranch, which is located near Ashcroft and opened in 2019 in honour of Canadian soldier Joseph Allina, provides programs to support the mental health and well-being of those in uniform suffering from operational stress injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Allina, who suffered with his mental health after serving in Afghanistan, took his own life.
“I worked very hard to save Joe and I just couldn’t,” De Genova said. “So, Honour Ranch is part of the legacy to see that we will be able to keep up and operate some phenomenal programs.
“We offer all the facilities at no cost. We make sure we get them there, whatever it takes. We can help them, but I believe the ranch will save hundreds and hundreds of lives and that’s what it’s all about.”
Programs offered at the ranch include group and individual sessions, as well as an upcoming equine program, counselling, art therapy, and metalwork therapy. There are also resources to help people get the aid they need.
Both the ranch and house were created, and are operated, through fundraising and volunteer work. The government did not provide funds or assistance which, according to Williams, emphasizes the lack of help those in uniform receive.
“Why is the government not helping the veterans, or those in uniform, as they should be?” Williams said. “Where is the government on the day that they’re needed the most? There was not a penny that came from the government for this. It’s all done and funded by volunteers and donations. Why?”
The tour will visit 55 locations over the next three months. It will be in Kamloops on April 18-19 and in Merritt and Lillooet on April 20 before making a tour of Vancouver Island. It then heads north on May 2 and will tour Norther B.C. before heading back down south; on May 30 it will be in Clearwater and Barriere, and on May 31 it will visit Cache Creek and Ashcroft. Details are on the society’s website, and you can also follow the tour’s progress on the society’s Twitter page @honourhouse.