Returning The Favor, hosted by Mike Rowe, made a surprise visit to Kelly Kowall, founder of My Warrior’s Place in Ruskin. As part of the surprise, Rowe purchased a new boat for the retreat center.

Mike Rowe made a surprise appearance at My Warrior’s Place, a special military retreat center in Ruskin, to surprise its founder, Kelly Kowall. Kowall is one of those amazing individuals that turned her personal tragedy into a lifetime commitment of helping others.

Her son, Army Spc. Corey Kowall was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. A series of signs and miracles led Kowall to find a way to honor her son’s memory and make a positive difference in the lives of others dealing with grief or other post-military issues.

Unbeknownst to Kowall, volunteer Craig Gross nominated her for Mike Rowe’s show, Returning The Favor (RTF). RTF is an American reality web television series that premiered in August 2017 on Facebook Watch. It follows Rowe as he travels across the United States in search of people who are giving back to their communities. At the end of each episode, Rowe surprises those being profiled with something to help them continue their good works.

Although Rowe is best known for hosting his wildly popular television show, Dirty Jobs, his new web-only show, RTF, has nearly one million followers.

“I was originally contacted by a production company that said that they wanted to do a small public service video featuring My Warrior’s Place,” said Kowall. “They did a very good job surprising me.”

In fact, the producers did such a good job keeping Rowe’s show a secret from Kowall, that she did not realize it was a ‘Mike Rowe show’ until filming began when he walked up to her to introduce himself. Watching the episode, the audience can clearly see the moment Kowall realized that this was no ordinary day. However, she still had no idea how extraordinary the day would become.

My Warrior’s Place is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit retreat center located directly on the Little Manatee River. The entire compound is a labor of love every day for Kowall, along with the dedicated volunteers who are needed on a daily basis.

“It’s a place of refuge and healing from the tragedies that so many military and families endure,” said Kowall.

She explained to Rowe on the show that many military families find peace and healing on the water—fishing, boating, kayaking or canoeing.

Rowe was so impressed by what he experienced at My Warrior’s Place that he was almost brought to tears several times throughout the episode. Rowe, along with his producer and his parents—who made a special guest appearance on this episode—contacted Ken Robertson at Sunray Marine and acquired a new fishing boat for My Warrior’s Place. In addition, Sunray Marine donated $5,000 to My Warrior’s Place.

The episode titled ‘Gold Star Mom’ aired on July 2 and within 24 hours it had been viewed more than 1.7 million times. Within two weeks, Kowall’s episode reached more than three million views and was among one of the top-viewed episodes to date. RTF provided nationwide exposure to My Warrior’s Place as well as awareness for the ongoing issue of military suicide. Rowe learned on the episode that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

“This is a place where people can come when they need to unplug. It’s a port in the storm,” said Kowall. “I know it’s making a difference in people’s lives.”

In addition to the boat, the show gave Kowall $10,000 which was yet another miracle in Kowall’s life.

“The air conditioner had just gone out at the retreat office and I was wondering how to raise enough money to have it replaced,” said Kowall. “It all happened at the perfect time.”

Kowall’s story of life, love, loss and miracles is also detailed in her book, My Life After… the death of my son (a story of miracles), which can be purchased through Amazon or on Kindle.

My Warrior’s Place is located at 101 22nd St. N.W. in Ruskin. For more about making donations, events or programs offered, visit, follow on Facebook by searching My Warrior’s Place or call 321-0880.

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Kelly Wise Valdes has been writing for the Osprey Observer since 2008. She graduated in 1989 from Florida Southern College with a B.S. in Communications and enjoys writing and traveling. She currently resides in northern Hillsborough County with her husband, David. When not traveling and writing, Kelly and her husband enjoy spending time with their five grown children (as well as their grandchildren) that still keep them very busy.