Rhonda Lucas knows firsthand that healing comes through helping others.
In 2005, the Virginia Beach dental assisting faculty member lost her husband, Jeff, a highly decorated Navy SEAL, when he was killed in action on June 28th during Operation Enduring Freedom. Just the year before, Jeff was named the 2004 Navy SEAL of the Year.
Through a friend, Rhonda began volunteering with the Travis Manion Foundation (TMF), a nonprofit whose mission is: “If not me, than who?” The Foundation’s mission comes from the words of Travis Manion, an experienced Marine fatally wounded while drawing fire away from his wounded teammates in Iraq, ensuring all survived.
The charity develops programs, training opportunities and events designed to empower veterans and families of the fallen. The hope is that through them, their values can be passed onto the next generation and the community at large.
Earlier this year, Rhonda traveled to Louisiana to work with TMF. She had the opportunity to spend three days on a service project in New Orleans, focusing on disaster relief from Hurricane Ida.
On the first day “we gathered at Common Ground Relief Wetlands Restoration Nursery and planted over a thousand seedlings for future use in Louisiana’s 3 million acres of wetlands,” said Rhonda. “Some researchers estimate Louisiana is losing 30 football fields a day of land mass, so these trees are vital in the preservation for the future.”
Another long day was ahead for her second day of volunteering, this time in the Louisiana wetlands where Rhonda’s team planted 150 trees.
“TMF gave each family member a tag with our deceased loved one’s name on it,” said Rhonda. “We honored and remembered our loved one with a precious tree planting that will leave its mark forever, just like our family members have.”
The experience left the group feeling both supported and accomplished.
The last day of the trip was spent at Bastion Community, which currently supports a living environment for 58 injured veterans and families. On site, the volunteers got a tour of the inner workings of this unique community and had the chance to intermingle with some of the residents. They wrapped up the day with a beautification project for the entrance sign.
Rhonda appreciates the time “being with other families who have lost loved ones. Everyone is at different timelines and come with different experiences,” she says. “It is nice to see through others how they are proceeding through the grief and everyday life challenges.”
After years of volunteering, there is “healing in helping others,” says Rhonda.
Interested in getting involved? To learn more about the Travis Manion Foundation (TMF), or to donate to its mission, visit www.travismanion.org.