Sarasota Raises Money For Veterans

By on November 11, 2019
Don Johnson photo: Jordan Raiff Photography

The Saturday before Veterans Day May Lane in Sarasota was home to the first “Veterans Day Block Party”. Kicking off at 4PM, the smooth and calming sounds of yoga music performed by Enrique Casados and Iye Yassine flowed down the closed off street, as people from across the Tampa Bay Area joined OWR President Kendra Simpkins and Claudia Baeza as they traded off guiding people through their yoga.

The looks on the participants faces seemed to become more ‘at peace’ as their session continued. Seeing the flexibility some of these positions require to perform correctly is incredible, and as things moved along a crowd gathered. There were two young boys doing this with their parents and keeping up with them as they went.

             As this concluded 30 minutes later, Kendra took the stage to welcome guests, including a local USMC Color Guard, who rendered honors as the National Anthem was sung. OWR VP Ryan Praefke then proceeded to introduce the MC for the day; Jacqueline Matter of ABC 7. In turn Rep Tommy Gregory and Rep Margaret Good were introduced to bring on the opening band “Kaliadogroove”. Their sound was nothing short of magnificent, and the crowd was jamming right along and dancing in the street.

Kalisdogroove photo: Jordan Raiff Photography

            With the band welcoming the ever-growing crowd, people were starting to enjoy food and other refreshments from Tsunami Sushi, Cold Brew coffee from LeLu’s ‘Wandering Whale’ trailer, water and pop from a local young ladies’ soccer team, and food from Bloomin Brands. Plus, no block party would be complete without a trailer from Gold Cost Beer who kept the suds flowing till close.

Jerry Springer photo: Jordan Raiff Photography

            As the band ended their 45-minute set, Jacqueline took the stage again to remind people of the OWR ‘Text-To-Donate’ opportunity. With a $30,000 goal for the day, and already up to $18,000 at the time of the announcement, the donations started flowing in. People had been walking around the smaller block and looking at the various Veteran oriented booths, entering the raffles, and playing ‘Block Party Bingo’ for a chance to win special prizes. With all the great information and swag these booths had available, there was no excuse not to visit each booth.

Ari and the Alibais photo: Jordan Raiff Photography

            Vern Buchanan took the stage to introduce “Ari and the Alibis”. Their soulful blend of music had a little something for everyone as the sun bid the city it’s very final goodbye for the day. The sound from this band was nothing less than stellar, and more people joined in the dancing as the crowd grew even more. The passion their front woman had for her music was truly powerful, and her passion carried through the audience.

Jacqueline Matters photo: Jordan Raiff Photography

            Jacqueline took the stage again to get the ‘text-to-donate’ going more and introduce the special guest of the evening; Jerry Springer. Sharing his story of working the the law offices of the Army, Jerry brought up about 10 Veterans who have been through the OWR retreats. As someone who has been through their retreat, I was given the opportunity to speak about what they do and what it meant. While a short statement, I was proud to be asked. Introducing the headliner “Dan Johnson of Operation Hemmingway,” Jerry left the stage to a massive round of applause.

            Dan has had his own experiences with PTSD and Veteran suicide through his own father. The passion for Veterans and his outreach to the community carried through in his singing. Playing to a crowd that stayed decently packed until the closing at 9, his band was not only skilled, but also passionate about being there. Sharing his story towards the end of their set, it was incredibly touching to hear someone who offered to talk to any and all of us and to be there for us. Many seem to simply offer lip service, but his dedication was genuine as I saw him speaking to a few people at the end of the show.

Kendra and Ryan closing photo: Jordan Raiff Photography

            Taking the stage again to close out the show, Kendra and Ryan ensured to thank everyone, and let it be known that this would become an annual event. The city of Sarasota is a great place to hold this event, and in the years coming it will be terrific fundraiser.

            If you would like to learn more about OWR, their website is full of information, and they are more than happy to help Veterans find resources, and to heal.


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