By Marcia Dowd
My desire to bring to light “Hidden Heroes” among us has turned into a journey with one encounter leading to another. Last month’s hero’s life was changed when she was inspired by a speaker from the Renewal Coalition which led me to fi out about the organization and the many volunteers behind it.
The story begins in 2003: Sara and Sandy Lankler, the Founders of Renewal Coalition, met in Dr. Maureen Sullivan’s chiropractic office in Tequesta. As Sara and Sandy have said: “They were both out of balance.” Maureen was a friend to both Sara and Sandy. Knowing that Sandy’s previous wife had died six months earlier and Sara’s previous husband had died three years earlier, Maureen decided that they should meet! 18 days later they married!
2008: Although the Lanklers had plans to donate some of their property in Buckeystown, Md. to a charity, they had not decided on which organization until they read about the number of wounded warriors and family members at Walter Reed Military Hospital. The more they studied the wounded warrior situation the more they became committed to offering assistance to the service members and their families. The focus of their mission focused on the family – quality time to reconnect and bond. There are over 500,000 wounded warrior charities; however, the Lanklers observed that many of these charities offered experiences and events for just the wounded warrior. The Lanklers believed the whole family needed time together, time to bond, time to adjust, time to get away, and time to be acknowledged by a community that respects them.
Their restaurant, motel and conference space served as a perfect location away from the hospital. The time allotted with the families was short and intense because – the service members were only allowed the weekend away from the hospital grounds. These visits were emotional as they were the first time the families had been together. All aspects of the weekend were free. The Wounded Warriors had one “job” – begin the process of reconnecting!
In 2008 Sara and Sandy and an old friend began spending more time in Florida and decided to shift the organization to there. In 2009, they contacted Mary Hinton, a past Jupiter mayor and friend, to serve as director of the Florida organization. The distance to Florida permitted offering weeklong retreats and there were better facilities, warmer yearlong weather, more family bonding activities, larger and more private homes, and a community that was incredibly available to participate in welcoming and catering to our military families.
The families stay in private homes along the Loxahatchee River and in private condos on the ocean (all owned by the Lanklers). All meals are prepared for them, and all activities are sponsored by our local community. The family’s expectation is to spend quality time reconnecting and bonding with other similar families. In June of 2009, five families, who were referred from the amputee clinic, arrived from Walter Reed Military Hospital and the process began.
In 2010 the Lanklers changed the name of the organization rom A Wounded Warriors Second Chance to Renewal Coalition. They observed that too much emphasis was placed on being “wounded.” The point of their organization is to offer a partnership (a coalition) that will assist, in the renewal process. In 2010 the organization became a 501(c)(3) organization with Mary Hinton as the director. The organization continues to grow in number of retreats per year (from four to now eight) and in selection of family activities and in the partnering with sister organizations that support our service members. One such organization is CAMO. CAMO trains service dogs. CAMO has trained six dogs which we have been given to six service members. These dogs have changed the young men’s lives.
In 2014 to more fully utilize the properties for charitable purposes, the Renewal Coalition hosted two luncheons for WW2, Korean and Vietnam veterans who are living in a VA nursing facility. The goal for this 2015 year is to add more luncheons and to host 10 retreats – two retreats will be added that focus on women veterans.
The vision for the Renewal Coalition may have been sparked by the Lanklers but it is the director and the 100 community volunteers and local charities that have nurtured, cared for and supported the mission to give attention and respect to our military families and local charities who have given so much. Renewal Coalition salutes our service members and we salute the coalition and its many volunteers! If you wish to be involved, go to www.renewalcoalition.org or call (561) 746- 0190.
If you know of a “Hidden Hero,” please e-mail me at [email protected] or (561) 743-0520.