By Paula MacDonald
As the soft breeze glides from the river onto shore, the gentle, melodic sound can be heard of tiny bits of aluminum brushing softly against one another as they dangle from the rafters, creating a poignant wind chime. It’s just what Kelly Kowall imagined the Respect and Remember Tribute at My Warrior’s Place to be. More than bits of metal; these are the dog tags of fallen soldiers that have been brought by family members from all over the state.
Nearly five years ago Kowall’s 20-year-old son U.S. Army Specialist Corey Kowall was killed in combat serving in Afghanistan. Searching for answers of how to deal with Corey’s death, Kelly soon realized that there was an unmet need to offer grief mentoring in the military community, not only for families who had lost a loved one, but for the military men and women had endured the loss of their brothers and sisters in arms. Kelly quickly became determined to make a difference for others and, as a result, found her own path to healing.
The idea for My Warrior’s Place was born on the banks of the Little Manatee River in Ruskin in May 2012 when Kelly and a small team of volunteers began cleanup of a property that had been suffering from years of abuse and neglect. Once known by local authorities as a hangout for drug abuse and vandalism, it was Kelly’s vision to transform the dilapidated waterfront property into a place of healing and hope for military members and families who have experienced the loss of a loved one while serving. Through Kelly’s commitment and the generosity and dedication of volunteers, the dream of My Warrior’s Place became a reality on Sunday, June 22 when a dedication ceremony was held with nearly 200 people in attendance.
Retired Air Force Major General David Scott, keynote speaker at the dedication said, “It’s pretty dramatic to see the changes out here, and it’s a great tribute to Kelly and a lot of volunteers.”
The 1.7-acre property currently consists of five trailers, two houses, four RV pads and a laundromat facility. Buildings have been renovated and are available by application for short-term use for military veterans and families of wounded and fallen service members to provide a safe haven where healing can begin. Plans are underway to construct a three-bedroom, two-bath, wheelchair accessible house on the property. It is also home to a unique peer-mentoring program, Project Corregidor, and FAVE Boating Expeditions, offering boating experiences to help heal military veterans and surviving families.For more information, contact Kelly at 321-0880 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.