When thinking of sending our troops overseas, we seem to forget that the burden of war is placed on both sides of the ocean; at home, and in a foreign land. When I was at CFB Petawawa, I spoke to one soldier about the burden his wife and children carried when he was doing his tours of duty: "When you're overseas," he told me, "you're going through a lot. But so is your family. Your wife suddenly takes on the role of two parents."
Military families, while never overlooked by the Canadian Forces themselves, are something that must be remembered whenever speaking of the military. How do families work without an additional parent? Worst case scenario, what happens when that parent dies while serving his country?
"They're making the ultimate sacrifice," says Tim Peters, president and co-founder of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Hero Fund. "We believe that the country, the community has to give something back to honour that. It's the bare minimum."
So for the Canadian Hero Fund, what is the bare minimum civilians can give?
"We are a grassroots outlet of support for the families of Canadian soldiers." says Michael Ball, Executive Director of the CHF, "We try to show our support for our fallen soldiers by giving out scholarships for their children and spouses." "A lot of the soldiers who fought in Afghanistan," Mr. Peters continues, "were our age [early to mid-twenties], others left behind children about to go to college; it really hit home for us."
The Canadian Hero Fund was started by current students and recent graduates from the University of Toronto two years ago. They spent their first year fulfilling the requirements to become a federally registered charity, and the same time they developed the identity of the organization and how to reach Canadians. The proceeds of the charity goes to scholarships for the children and spouses of fallen soldiers.
"A lot of the soldiers who fought in Afghanistan," Peters said, "were our age [early to mid-20s], others left behind children about to go to college; it really hit home for us."
When the grassroots group began, it was dependent upon technology and social media to get itself noticed. "We worked hard on our marketing strategy, and were fortunate enough to have the services of DraftFCB create our logo and slogan," Peters remembered. (The design has since gone on to win awards for the advertising firm.)
Since its humble beginnings, the Hero Fund has gone on to form a student chapter at the University of British Columbia where they regularly host fundraisers, as well as invite speakers to address the university community. "They serve a dual purpose," Mr. Ball explains, "of generating awareness on campus, and giving students the added perspective of what life's like for a member of the Canadian Forces." Brigadier-General Richard Giguère who's served as deputy commander of the Canadian Task Force in Afghanistan was one such speaker at a CHF event in October.
But naturally, for any charity involved with the military, one particular day of the year stands out in particular: November 11, Remembrance Day. So for the Canadian Hero Fund, what is the bare minimum civilians can give?
The Fund has its 11for11 campaign--a national fundraising drive that begins on the first of November, leading up to the 11th. The group asks for Canadians to donate $11 every day to the scholarship fund, but also to make, as Mr. Ball says, "non-financial gestures, such as tweeting stories about the military in one's community or doing random acts of kindness for military families and our soldiers alike."
"For us," Peters explained, "a community bake sale for our troops is just as important as raising money for scholarships. In general, the idea is to show support for those who make the ultimate sacrifice."
11for11 has been met with huge amounts of support; ads for the campaign run on both radio and television, narrated by acclaimed Canadian actor and director Paul Gross, with musical accompaniment by The Trews' song "Highway of Heroes," whose song is available on iTunes with the proceeds going directly to the Canadian Hero Fund. The group describes the song as a Canadian anthem, and it is now being taught in elementary schools for children to sing at Remembrance Day assemblies. "The song raises awareness for what Canadian soldiers do," Ball explains, "and what their families go through. It makes it more relevant for children.
"We noticed that while you see a lot of community support for the military in countries like the United States and the UK," he continues "you don't have that grassroots outlet as much here in Canada. We wanted to change that. For us, we just want to honor our fallen soldiers, and giving the children of fallen soldiers the opportunity to attend university is one of the ways we can help."
Since starting two years ago, the Canadian Hero Fund has given out five scholarships ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. Their 11for11 Campaign is currently underway and can be accessed at 11for11.ca.