Villagers for Veterans held its last 2018 fundraiser on Friday night, a dinner dance with the band Hollywood and the Tropix at SeaBreeze Recreation Center.
The event was a sellout, bringing in close to $10,000, which will put the organization over two-thirds of the way toward its current project – building a “smart” house for Sgt. Pam Kelly.
Marie Bogdonoff, founder and president of Villagers for Veterans, began the organization in 2014 to help severely injured veterans. In just four years, the group has raised close to a million dollars. The have given 23 all-terrain chairs and six service dogs to wounded veterans. But building a home was the largest single project they have undertaken.
“We concentrated all our fundraising in 2018 to Pam’s project,” said Bogdonoff.
Kelly, a 17-year Army veteran, was injured while training for deployment to Iraq. Her spine was crushed when a cable snapped during a sling load operation. As a result of her injuries, the Army medic was permanently paralyzed. She has very limited use of one arm and lives alone in a small home near Tampa that is not handicap accessible.
Bogdonoff became aware of Kelly’s situation and decided to take on the project of getting her a more suitable place to live.
“We looked into expanding her house, but that wasn’t possible,” she said. “Then we took into consideration that Pam has no family and it would be good for her to be around people we know will be helpful. We decided to build a house here in The Villages that is fully handicap accessible and a smart home.”
The house will be in the Village of Orange Blossom Gardens, with plans to break ground in January.
“It was definitely a blessing that I met Marie,” Kelly said. “I can’t believe all that people are doing for me – people that don’t even know me.”
At Friday night’s event, many people spent time getting know Kelly, stopping by to chat and thanking her for her service. Retired Lt. Col. Doug Bandment was one of those people. He said that of the many requests he gets for money, he thought this was a really good cause and he was happy to support Kelly and her home project.
Dena Desena and Leslie Reed had helped with previous fundraising projects and were part of the more than 40 residents from the Sunset Ridge area in attendance. They were friends and neighbors of the band Hollywood and the Tropix.
Jill Rogers and Mike Fitzgerald, two of the three band members, are residents of Sunset Ridge. The third member, Mark Goldberg, is a resident of the Village of Pine Hills.
“We were very excited to be part of this project,” said Rogers. She is an army veteran and Goldberg’s dad was in World War II.
“We let our neighbors and our followers know and they really turned out,” Rogers added.
“They (the band) really got behind this event and said we are going to make this a super event,” said Bogdonoff. “And they did.”
Bogdonoff added that she thoroughly appreciated everyone’s generosity and willingness to help Kelly.
“The ticket price was $25, but many gave additional money,” she said. “And tonight, people were just throwing money into the 50/50.”
Kelly’s response to seeing the turnout: “I want to thank everyone. My smile just got bigger. It is a joy to be here and I can’t wait to move to The Villages.”
For more information about Villagers for Veterans, go to villagersforveterans.org.