At the 7th annual Pledges for Pups event at the Westmoor Club on Nantucket last weekend, BJ Ganem, CEO and founder of Sierra Delta, announced that Holidays for Heroes will be returning to the island next summer. Sierra Delta began under the umbrella of Holidays for Heroes in 2017 and has since continued to grow, but the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic paused Holidays for Heroes on the island.
The decision to revive Holidays for Heroes has been fueled by the remarkable achievements of Sierra Delta over the past few years. Particularly noteworthy is the success of their annual Pledges for Pups initiative, which raised almost $160,000 this year. The continued success and support have made Ganem feel that bringing back Holidays for Heroes is the next step for the nonprofit.
Holidays for Heroes offers veterans and their families a unique opportunity to visit the island, combining community engagement with a well-deserved vacation. Presenting an array of events, restaurant gift certificates, and other activities, veterans and their families can tailor their island experience to their preferences. For some, it offers a much-needed respite, while for others, it's a platform to share their stories and garner support for nonprofits like Sierra Delta.
“What we’re proposing is that Nantucket Holidays for Heroes will actually be a program within a subprogram, most likely the Life Force program of Sierra Delta,” Ganem said.
This means that veterans engaged with Sierra Delta, whether in training and certifying service dogs or contributing to community-oriented projects, will be eligible for selection to visit the island based on their accomplishments.
Lee Otto, a veteran and Sierra Delta ambassador, is a strong example of involvement in all facets of the organization. Being part of Sierra Delta has greatly impacted Otto’s life, where the access to a service dog and professional, knowledgeable training has shown him how much a dog could positively impact his and his family’s life.
“Being part of a community and an amazing team…gives me a purpose and a mission,” Otto said.
Otto’s work and commitment within the nonprofit showcases how veterans can benefit from Sierra Delta’s resources and subsequently give back to communities. As an ambassador, Otto shares his experiences, adventures, and most significantly, his service dog and “life buddy,” Sayge, with others.
“Our relationship truly shines,” Otto said. “Sayge and I help coordinate events, public speak, school visits, and educating the general public and community about how they too can give back and appreciate the love of a wonderful dog and support our military veterans.”
Amongst their commitments, the pair keeps up with training daily, spending a minimum of 30 minutes doing something together- keeping Sayge well-trained and further strengthening their relationship.
With the resurgence of Holidays for Heroes, local businesses on the island will have the opportunity to contribute and give back to veterans as the program will rely heavily on the generosity and support of the island community. Ganem hopes that by next year, Sierra Delta will be able to bring at least three veterans and their families to the island through Holidays for Heroes.
Currently working to form a committee for the return of Holidays for Heroes, Sierra Delta has been encouraged by the continued success of Pledges for Pups on Nantucket.
To them, it indicates the continuation of a promising and mutually beneficial relationship with the Nantucket community.
“The Pledges for Pups was an absolute success and truly an emotional and inspiring experience. To see the love and support; both physically and financially was truly amazing,” Otto said.
Sierra Delta's journey has been a collaborative effort, and the organization is eagerly embracing the next chapter with the revival of Holidays for Heroes. For Ganem, who originally spearheaded the founding of Sierra Delta when it was under Holidays for Heroes, it feels full circle. “There is no destination except to continue to get better,” he says. “I think the dream is a good one. But I also think it’s an achievable dream.”
For those interested in supporting Sierra Delta or getting involved, further information can be found here.