HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Leyla Lorick went to work on a plate full of pancakes and eggs Saturday morning at Applebee’s in Mays Landing.
The 4-year-old Northfield resident did not know why she was able to be in the restaurant before its regular business hours to partake in the scrumptious breakfast, other than to practice a lesson her parents, Kerry and Nayi Lorick, routinely preach.
“To say thank you to the troops,” she said.
The flapjack breakfast was one of a series of fundraisers leading up to a large-scale charity golf tournament scheduled for Oct. 5 at McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links in Egg Harbor Township, the proceeds of which benefit two national veterans’ organizations, the Wounded Warrior Project and Warfighter Sports.
“We are trying to raise $100,000 to split between the two, and that’s hard to do with one day of golf. So these local fundraisers are helping us to raise awareness and gain momentum heading into the tournament,” said Donna Clementoni, a member of the local Wounded Warrior Project committee, which organized the event.
The Wounded Warrior Project provides programs and services to help meet the needs of injured service members. Warfighter Sports helps provide sporting opportunities and rehabilitation programs to severely wounded members of the military.
“Whatever we are able to raise will be split down the middle and given to these nonprofit organizations,” Clementoni said.
The local committee was started last year by a group of veterans’ advocates, Clementoni said, including Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough and the late April Kauffman.
Since then, South Jersey’s veterans and civilian volunteers have helped to maintain and expand the effort.
“This community wanted to get involved with helping veterans, but there was nothing really organized until the Wounded Warrior Project came along. Now it’s really starting to pick up some steam,” said Ed Afanador, chairman of the golf tournament fundraiser.
Afanador credited a lot of the momentum to Kauffman, who was shot to death in the bedroom of her Linwood home in May. No arrest has been made in her killing.
“April did a lot to put veterans’ issues in the forefront, and she is going to be missed,” Afanador said through tears. “We are trying to build on her legacy to help as many people as we can.”
Afanador spent time in the Marines, the Air Force and the Army National Guard. He was active in martial arts and would run five miles every other day. When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2011, Afanador and his National Guard unit were called in for the recovery.
Now, Afanador — as a result of exposure to the toxic fumes and other related injuries — relies on the help of a support dog named Arnie to get around. And a couple of years ago, post-traumatic stress disorder almost claimed his life, he said.
But through the Wounded Warrior Project and Warfighter Sports, Afanador realized how lucky he was.
“I have bad legs, bad lungs and a bad back, but when you see a soldier with no arms and no legs swinging a golf club, it puts things into perspective,” he said. “A lot of these guys have been shot, have seen a lot of death or have been through very traumatic events. They have a hard time adjusting to their new life. These organizations give them a sense of normalcy again.”
Clementoni’s father, Mario, a World War II veteran, attended the fundraiser to show his support.
“You didn’t see these kinds of things back when I came home. The guys who were injured had to figure a lot of this stuff out on their own,” said Mario Clementoni, 86, of Egg Harbor Township. “I think it’s great that they’re doing something good for the boys to let them know they are appreciated.”
The target attendance for Friday’s fundraiser was 100 people, which would have netted about $300 for the group. Admission was $8 per person, with Applebee’s claiming a portion of the proceeds.
“That’s not a lot of money, but it’s more than we had before, and it all adds up,” Afanador said. “This is really about getting the word out, and, in that respect, it is working.”
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For more information about the Wounded Warrior Project and its upcoming fundraisers, contact Donna Clementoni at 410-812-6677 or email@example.com.