Group for blind keeps local heroes in hearts

LIHU‘E n Heather Farmer was overcome with emotion yesterday when she met with some soldiers recently returned from Iraq. She started out alright, telling the soldiers “Every time I heard about a Hawai‘i soldier being injured, I …” she was able to get out, before turning her back to the Iraqi veterans to conceal her emotions.

“The president (of the Aloha Council for the Blind, Kaua‘i Chapter) was supposed to do this, but she just got out of the hospital, yesterday,” Farmer told the gathering of five Army National Guardsmen and one of their wives. “We’ve been trying to do this for over a year, but we never knew who to give it to, and there were still soldiers being deployed.”

Farmer, the vice president for the Aloha Council for the Blind, Kaua‘i Chapter, represented about two dozen members who gathered in the state building’s conference room to present a $300 check to the Family Support Group for Hawai‘i National Guard soldiers who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. This presentation was done at the group’s monthly meeting, usually the first Thursday of each month.

In lieu of lei that Farmer said everyone gave to soldiers, she said their group instead opted to give gift cards from Big Save so they could use them to help buy groceries for their families.

“Don’t worry,” Farmer said following the presentation. “We have money. We participate in walks, and other things. But we’re a non-profit so the funds are being depleted, and we needed to do this. We give contributions to children and schools, but the group selected the military for this presentation. It’s just that we didn’t know who to give it to.”

On hand for the presentation were Iraqi veterans Teofilo Serrano, Daniel Degracia, Armin Tumaneng, Rodney Sasil, and Steven Cardinez who was accompanied by his wife Ku‘ulei.

Degracia thanked the Aloha Council members on behalf of not only the soldiers present, but all of Hawai‘i’s soldiers, saying it was this kind of support that made their deployment a little easier.

“I used to be in charge of the incoming mail in Iraq, and we got a lot of rice,” Degracia said. “That made a lot of people real happy.”

The funds the soldiers received from the members of the Aloha Council for the Blind will be put in a fund that will be used for a special welcome home celebration scheduled for later this year, Degracia said.

Nani Fife, president of the National Federation for the Blind, Hawai‘i Chapter, was one of the guests in attendance at the monthly meeting.

Fife, who works for the City and County of Honolulu, said that the Kaua‘i members of the Aloha Council for the Blind were in the process of becoming part of the NFB and her visit was to help the transition.

She watched the presentation with interest, and following her personal greetings to the soldiers, said, “This is all about reaching out and giving back.”

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