As of late, Americans’ collective consciousness has been squarely set on first responders and police officers in particular, for better or for worse. However for one group this focus isn’t new — though an organization they’ve established to support them is.
The locally-based nonprofit called Friends of the Brave was recently created with a mission to raise awareness and funds for all first responders including police officers, firefighters and paramedics.
“I do truly believe that they protect us,” said Friends of the Brave Co-director Michelle Roddie. “These people are really truly out risking their lives everyday, and I just really appreciate what they do and I don’t think they hear it enough.”
Early next month, Friends of the Brave will partner with its sister organization, Tee It Up for the Troops, and host a two-day fundraising event in Prior Lake with proceeds going to first responders, military veterans, and their families.
More than a decade before Friends of the Brave, there was Tee It Up for the Troops, which was started out of a little office in Burnsville by Savage residents JB and Laurie Ball.
The couple created the nonprofit after their son Tyler and a few of his fellow Burnsville High School graduates left for Iraq. At that time, the Balls’ friends and family — as well as the faith community south of the river — asked what Tyler needed when he got settled in overseas.
“When he called home I told him people wanted to send him stuff and he said, ‘Pops, forget about me, why don’t you do something for the soldiers and their families back home,’” JB Ball said.
With that suggestion, the organization was formed with a mission to to honor, remember, respect and support all those who serve or have served in the armed forces. Since then, JB Ball said that Tee It Up for the Troops has raised over $8 million and contributed to over 300 different nonprofit veterans support organizations across the country. The organization is now national in scope, and has hosted over 50 events in the last year alone.
Event planner Michelle Roddie of Prior Lake had spent time volunteering for Tee It Up for the Troops events and decided that she wanted to create a sister organization aimed at raising awareness and funds for first responders and their families.
“For years I have been going to fire stations as I traveled for my work… my colleague and I would stop at different fire stations and just thank the firemen and shake their hands, and sometimes they would give us these tours of their fire station,” she said.
During the visits Roddie would take note of their lackluster accommodations and felt compelled to help out in some way.
“Every time we’d leave my colleague and I would say, ‘We’ve got to do something that’s going to help these guys so that they get sleep because they are out risking their lives for people that they don’t even know every single day,’” she said.
The creation of Friends of the Brave and its partnership with Tee It Up for the Troops made sense since a large percentage of returning veterans end up becoming first responders. With that, Roddie and Co-director Ann Grazzini-Dunne of Burnsville created the organization, which quickly and recently received its 501 (c)(3) status.
“We’ve had our arms open to the veteran community for the last 11 years, we’ve just decided to open them a little wider and welcome the first responders,” said JB Ball, who is a first responder along with his son Tyler, who has returned from Iraq.
Solidifying their partnership, Tee It Up for the Troops and Friends of the Brave organizers have collaborated to create a two-day event that will feature a variety of activities and entertainers.
Friends of the Brave will host the Thursday, Sept. 8 event at The Wilds Golf Club in Prior Lake which will include a craft beer tasting, highlighting between eight and 10 breweries such as Fulton Brewery, August Schell Brewing Company, Excelsior Brewing Company, Founding Fathers Brewery and Summit Brewing Co.
There will also be a silent auction and a ceremony honoring military, first responders, and their families. Roddie said there will be notable attendees including professional athletes from Red Bull Crashed Ice, as well as members of the New York City police and fire departments who served as first responders during 9/11. There will also be three musical performances featuring CreatiVets, Outlaw 21 and Chris Hawkey.
“The last group will be a local group with entertainer Chris Hawkey, who has a very big local following and he’s actually phenomenal,” JB Ball said. “He played last year for us and said, ‘If you continue to do this I want to be involved every year.’ He’s just got a real heart for serving the troops.”
Friends of the Brave will also be in charge of Friday’s events on Sept. 9 at The Meadows at Mystic Lake in Prior Lake, with the golf tournament benefiting Tee It Up for the Troops starting off bright and early. During the morning session, 144 veterans will be able to tee off and play a complementary round of golf, which has been tradition since the organization’s onset.
“So if you figure 144 veterans every year for 11 years have teed of in the morning, there’s actually been complimentary golf for almost 1,500 veterans,” JB Ball said. “That’s a thank you to them for their service.”
There will be a patriotic ceremony around 11:45 a.m., which is open to the public. Roddie estimates that last year the event drew as many as 700 people, and was both inspiring as well as emotional.
Rounds of golf will resume around 12:45 p.m. and the day will conclude with a casual reception in the clubhouse.
Last year’s Tee It Up for the Troops event raised $90,000, and Roddie and JB Ball are hoping to exceed that mark and raise over $100,000 this year. The funds raised for the event will go to the Fisher House, the Jared Allen Foundation, and at least 50 percent of it will be dispersed locally to support first responders and veterans organizations.
“That’s always been the mentality of Tee It Up for the Troops, to keep the people in the community involved,” JB Ball said. “We would much rather have the sponsors that support us knowing where their dollars are actually going instead of sending it off to some other location.”
Of course, for organizers and supporters of Friends of the Brave and Tee It Up for the Troops, raising funds is only part of their goal. Another major initiative is to both raise awareness of the needs of military veterans and first responders as well as bring the community together and say thanks for their contributions.
“Michelle said last year that she wants to approach Kleenex because if you don’t have a tear in your eye over the weekend then we failed somewhere along the way,” JB Ball said. “It’s an emotional weekend but it’s really a gathering of the community, it’s really about how do we say thank you to those who serve on our behalf, how can we do it in a manner that’s respectful and fun at the same time.”