Angels of America’s Fallen is a wonderful organization, and one of 17 charities who received grants from Veterans Passport To Hope last year. We are so happy and proud to help such a great organization. We had a chance to talk to Joe Lewis, the founder and president of Angels of America’s Fallen. Read further to learn more about how Angels of America’s Fallen was created, and about their mission and what they do to create positive influences on the lives of children affected by the loss of a parent as a result of their service.
In 2013, Joe Lewis founded Angels of America’s Fallen, after 25 years of service in the U.S. Military and Government. Joe’s military service includes time in the Army National Guard Field Artillery, the Marine Corps flying F/A 18 Hornets, and the U.S. Air Force as a reconnaissance pilot flying RC-26s. He also worked closely with other U.S. government agencies including in the FBI, DEA and U.S. Secret Service (you can read more about his service here).
Joe stated that the idea for Angels of America’s Fallen began with his growing concern about the children whose parents had served in the military or as a first responder, and lost their lives as a result of their service – especially in light of the fact that Joe has children himself and has spent his entire career serving his country (Joe broke his back during his time in the service). What would his children’s lives be like, and the lives of others’ children, if something were to happen to them?
Today, there are more than 16,000 children in the United States who have lost a parent who had volunteered to serve their country in the military or as a first responder. Joe had donated to scholarship funds for children of his fallen friends, but realized that wasn’t enough, particularly since most of the children were very young at the time they lost their parent; the average age being around 7 years old. Statistics show that these children have a greater likelihood for depression, anxiety, and even suicide. How can they be helped during the period of time before they turn 18?
Research studies show that providing these children with opportunities to engage in activities including sports, music, and the arts, as well as fun outings such as summer camps, will provide them with a better chance of developing into healthy individuals. Through participation in activities, the children will be able to learn who they are and what they want to be in the future. They have the chance to develop into their own identities to become viable adults as part of a community.
Angels of America’s Fallen provides a program of long-term engagement and follow-up for children through age 18. Once accepted into the Angels of America’s Fallen program, children choose the activity they wish to participate in, whether it’s dance, soccer, gymnastics, cheering, hockey, swimming, etc. Largely due to the opportunity provided by Angels of America’s Fallen, a boy who participated in the program was able to earn a soccer scholarship for college. Here are some video stories of Angels of America’s Fallen and the children they have helped.
Joe’s wife Shelli serves as the program services director – she is there to be a point of continuity for the children, so that they do not simply become another number. Angels of America’s Fallen forms a long-term relationship with the children who enter into the program – the children choose their activity, and receive follow-up to see how they are doing and to help them if they wish to choose another activity. If one doesn’t work, Angels of America’s Fallen won’t quit until the child finds the right activity for them.
Once a child selects an activity they want to participate in, Joe and his team make the arrangements with activity coaches and instructors, providing the funds, and the guidance of how to relate with the children, keeping in mind that all children are different and deal with the loss of their parent in different ways. The way a child experiences and grieves the loss of their parent at age 4, for example, is different as they get older, and as they revisit the loss of their parent at different stages of their childhood.
In this way, Angels of America’s Fallen, and their contributors and donators, are honoring the sacrifice, memory and the loss of the child’s parent, and at the same time, providing the child with a healthy outlet, and activities they can participate in as they grow into healthy adults. Government-provided services meet a wide variety of needs, but Angels of America’s Fallen can help fill in some gaps and provide further services to the children of those who have sacrificed their lives. The organization sends each child a letter from them stating how they respect the sacrifice of their parent, and the child’s sacrifice of losing their parent. The parent made the decision to serve their country, and this decision has impacted them. The parent’s death is honored, and the child’s sacrifice as well.
The program accepts children of military and first-responders who lost their lives as a result of their service, regardless if the cause of death was from a combat situation, training operation, transport accident, illness/disease, or suicide. The only limitation Angels of America’s Fallen has to admittance is the level of funds they have or anticipate receiving. Currently, there are 325 children in the program, with 43 of those located in the state of Colorado. At one point, there was a waiting period of two years because of the great interest and need. With current funding, Angels of America’s Fallen has seven Colorado children waiting for support. With more funds, they will be able to admit additional children.
Angels of America’s Fallen is located in Colorado Springs, CO, but they accept and provide services to children across the country. One of the advantages of the program is that it is scalable – should a child relocate to another city or state, they are able to contact Angels of America’s Fallen to arrange for activities in their new location. And to help stretch their funds, Angles of America’s Fallen are able to do what they can to arrange for discounts with activities providers.
They also work together with other non-profits. One child, Ethan, who is in the program, has cerebral palsy. To help him be more mobile and get to where he needs to go, Angels of America’s Fallen worked together with Second Chance Veterans Charity, who supplied him with a wheelchair ramp. Additionally through Angels of America’s Fallen, Ethan’s adaptive stroller was replaced when it was damaged in a move.
Because of their success, strong commitment, and relationships with the families in the program, Angels of America’s Fallen experiences a high participation rate of their families in the form of spreading the word about their program (the “Voices Program”), and from volunteering and participating in different events, festivals and fundraisers that they hold throughout the year. Participation is never obligatory, but more about honoring the children in the program.
Angels of America’s Fallen is one of those organizations who tightly reigns in any administration, funding and over-head costs, with about 84% of all money going towards providing funds for the children’s activities. This is the reason why Joe appreciates organizations like Veterans Passport To Hope, who provides funds to other like-minded non-profits such as them.
The mission of Veterans Passport To Hope (VP2H) is not only to raise and provide funds to vetted charities who provide a wide range of services to Veterans and their families in need, but also to raise awareness of issues that affect Veterans such as the situations of children who lose a parent as a result of their service. VP2H also encourages the collaboration of non-profits who provide various services, so that they work together under one common cause – helping Veterans and their families.
Joe says that after retiring from his military service, he was offered other positions in consulting and with the U.S. Government, but the underlying cause which Angels of America’s Fallen addresses is so important, that he wishes to dedicate all of his time to it. What keeps him so motivated is that he worked out the numbers – with more than 16,000 children having lost a parent as a result of serving in the military or as a first responder – if only one child per day were to enter a program such as Angels of America’s Fallen, it would take 43.8 years.
Angels of America’s Fallen serves a lofty purpose – helping children who have lost a parent due to their service – learn more about who they are as individuals, what they want to do to do in the future, and who they will become. To donate to Angels of America’s Fallen and for more information about them, please visit: aoafallen.org.
To help support organizations such as Angels of America’s Fallen and other non-profits who provide a wide array of services to Veterans and their families in need, please donate to Veterans Passport To Hope.