Published July 17, 2012
Volume 20, Number 6

Sentinels of Freedom Helps Disabled Veterans Rebuild Their Lives  

Many members of the U.S. Armed Forces returning from combat require help re-integrating into civilian society. Perhaps most in need are the men and women whose service has left them permanently disabled, yet capable of leading productive, self-sufficient lives. The San Ramon-based Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation was established by Tri-Valley resident Mike Conklin to offer a continuum of assistance to severely wounded veterans with “the aptitude, attitude, and drive to become independent and successful members of society.”

The program has grown from its first Sentinel, Cpl. Jake Brown, who returned to the Bay Area in 2004, to include a roster of more than 100 across the United States. Current enrollment nationwide is 65, and an additional 41 veterans have graduated from the program. A mix of 13 participants are either still enrolled or have completed the program in the Bay Area.

According to Carla Goulart, COO of the nonprofit, the Sentinels program is based on four key tenets: mentorship, enrollment in post secondary education, employment when ready, and financial assistance.  The personalized attention each Sentinel receives is what makes the program truly effective, she points out. Mentors look at the “big picture” needs of each Sentinel and take the lead in involving others in the community to extend the network of support, in areas from investment advice to education and employment to liaison with the VA.

“This organization bands the local community together as an advocacy group for these soldiers,” comments Tom Daggett, of Hacienda’s BB&T-Tanner, who leads the Pleasanton Sentinels team.

Daggett has been mentoring Jay Wilkerson, the first traumatic brain injury patient to come into the program. After being wounded in Iraq, Wilkerson spent two years in the poly-trauma center in Palo Alto. The Sentinels arranged for him to come to Pleasanton to rebuild his life. Over the past three years, Daggett and his team of friends and associates have been supporting Wilkerson in the transition, helping him obtain an apartment, enroll in Las Positas College, and plan for the future.

The City of Pleasanton was quick to respond, first hiring Wilkerson as an unpaid intern and later awarding him a paid position in the operations group. He will be graduating from the Sentinels program in the fall, and the local team is now working on getting a second veteran.

To fund the comprehensive program, the Sentinels of Freedom will hold its 5th Annual Golf Gala on Sunday and Monday, September 16-17, at the Diablo Country Club. Sunday’s event is a dinner followed by a charity auction, highlighted by the appearance of guest speaker Col.  Danny McKnight, USA (Ret.). McKnight’s military career included combat duty tours in Panama, in1989, and in Somalia, in 1993. The latter forms the basis of the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.” McKnight’s own book, “Streets of Mogadishu,” has just been published.  

The golf tournament gets underway on Monday, with opening ceremonies at 10:45 a.m. A variety of sponsorship levels are available for supporters, who can choose to attend either or both events.

There are many other ways businesses and individuals can contribute to the Sentinels of Freedom program, including a Bike Ride fundraiser on September 22. For more information, visit www.sentinelsoffreedom.org or contact Goulart by phone at (925) 380-6342 or email: carlagoulart@sentinelsoffreedom.org.


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