'Proud to be American' 2011 Lighting the Path Gala

On Thursday, May 12, 2011, The Tower of Hope held its 5th Annual “Lighting the Path” Gala with the theme “Proud to be Americans” at BRIDGEWATERS at South Street Seaport. To mark this milestone, the night featured “LIVE” performances by the incomparable singer / song writer Lee Greenwood including his most recognizable patriotic song in America “GOD Bless the USA” and honored United Rentals. The Tower of Hope also hosted several of the teams they’ve sponsored in their first five years including: Arthur Rizer and “Danny”, Charles Hernandez and “Valor”, William White and “Rudy”, Doug Rink and “Scooter”, Joce VanHorn and “Brigham”, Grayson Galatas and “Willie” and Special Guest Melissa Stockwell and “Jake”. It was an amazing opportunity for our sponsors, donors and friends to meet our veterans and their service dogs and thank them for their service to our country. Bill Ritter – Anchor; WABC Eyewitness News returned as our Master of Ceremony and board member; David J Nastri, spoke of his personal and harrowing experiences while serving in Afghanistan.

This year’s guest speaker and 2011 “Guardian of Hope” Award recipient was Melissa Stockwell. Melissa is a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient. In 2010, she added the title World Champion at the Paralympics in Budapest, Hungary and Board Certified Prosthetist so that she can assist sizing and outfitting other amputees. Melissa lost her own left leg below the knee from an IED attack on her HumVee. She spoke of her incredible accomplishments since that day, of the benefits that her service dog “Jake” provides her and of the help and support she received from The Tower of Hope. You can learn more by clicking on her popular YouTube video. The Tower of Hope sponsored the training and pairing of Melissa and “Jake” in 2009.

The evening reached its peek when United Rentals Inc (NYSE:URI) was presented with the 2011 “Thomas E Sinton Humanitarian” Award for their exceptional and continuing support of veterans and for their partnership with The Tower of Hope in support of our mission and our veteran’s initiatives. United is rated one of America’s top 100 employers of veterans and active-duty service men and women by Gi-Jobs magazine. In January, United Rentals hosted our founders and 4 veteran / service dog teams at their national conference in St Louis where they announced their national sponsorship of The Tower of Hope and launched the campaign by presenting a $100,000.00 check to fund 4 additional service dog teams. In addition, the company announced an employee-match program, whereby, donations to TTOH are matched by the company “dollar-for-dollar” up to $100,000.00. To date, the company’s programs along with supplier support has provided enough funding for an additional 8 veteran / service dog teams! Gala chairs John Klein; President - Simon Property Group; Premium Outlets Division and wife Robin Klein; President; Fashion Retail Group-New York and TTOH Vice President presented the award to Jenne Britell, PH.D. - Chairman; United Rentals and Michael Kneeland  - President and CEO; United Rentals, who accepted on behalf of United Rentals management, employees and suppliers.

The night ended with our attendees providing a very warm welcome to Whitney and David Bloom, who received the 2011 “Beacon of Hope” Award. Whitney and David truly are a Beacon of Hope as last year they helped us successfully launch our “100 Dogs in 1,000 Days” Campaign. They provided funding for the first 10 veteran / service dog teams of our campaign.

At this year’s gala, Cathy Carilli (Founder and President) said: “As many of you know, last year we launched our “100 Dogs in 1,000 Days” campaign. I am thrilled to report that we have exceeded our goal for the first year, raising enough money to underwrite 41 new service dog teams.”

The Tower of Hope’s primary mission is to fund the expert training and pairing of service dogs with veterans who have been severely wounded.  Many of these individuals are single or double amputees, suffer from TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or have sustained multiple traumas.  The Tower of Hope empowers people who live with a chronic illness or disability to lead happier and more independent lives by providing them with a service dog for daily support, independence, protection, and companionship.

Special Thanks to our 2011 Gala Sponsors: Gala Chairs: John and Robin Klein, Cocktail Reception Sponsors: Sara Prototo and Jenne Britell, PH.D., Chairman, Michael Kneeland – President and CEO; and United Rentals, Morgan Stanley, Centerview Partners, Sullivan & Cromwell, Jeff Joseph and Pat Jones, Phyliis and Dr Michael Berger, Steve and Karen Shapiro, ShopRite Wakefern, United-ICAP and supporters and sponsors of their Texas Hold’em event.