Heart Rocks to Welcome Wheelchair Veterans

Duane "Red" Jensen, a Recreation Therapy Assistant at Haley VA and a disabled veteran, receives more than three dozen heart rocks from 8-year-olds Olivia Stano and James Chong.

Duane “Red” Jensen, a Recreation Therapy Assistant at Haley VA and a disabled veteran, receives more than three dozen heart rocks from 8-year-olds Olivia Stano and James Chong.

During the week of July 13th — Tampa will show some love to a group of amateur athletes — who will arrive from around the nation for the 33rd Annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

More than 600 veterans, all using wheelchairs, will compete in different events from basketball to bowling to quad rugby to table tennis according to Cathy Williams, head of recreational therapy at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital, host for the national competition. A calendar of events is available HERE.

A close up of one of the veterans' heart rocks.

A close up of one of the veterans’ heart rocks.

“It’s 19 events during the week of July 13 -18th in downtown Tampa,” Williams said. “There will be several different venues from Raymond James Stadium to the convention center to the Tampa Bay Times Forum.”

And at each of those venues,  when the athletes get on and off the buses, they’ll receive a “heart-felt” welcome prepared by children.

More than three dozen hand-painted “heart rocks” with messages for the veterans will be placed at the various stops.

Children show off some of the heart rocks they painted for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Children show off some of the heart rocks they painted for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

“God made these rocks shaped like a heart because he cares about us,” said James Chong, 8, who helped with the project. “So, we made these rocks for the veterans because we love them and care about them.”

Another 8-year-old, Olivia Stano had her own reasons to paint her heart out for the veterans’ wheelchair games.

“I wanted to make sure that the veterans knew that we liked how they helped our country,” said Stano whose cousin and great-grandfather served in the military. And her great-grandfather is in a wheelchair.

Some of the one-word messages for the veterans: honor, brave, USA.

Some of the one-word messages for the veterans: honor, brave, USA.

That’s the beauty of the heart rocks which are part of the landscaping. People in wheelchairs tend to see them first said Terri Thompson – who came up with the project idea.

Thompson, a kindergarten teaching assistant, said the rocks come from a Vietnam veteran who owns a rock and gravel company. He donates heart-shaped rocks that are then decorated for wounded veterans.

“That’s what it’s about. The kids showing their love and the kids understanding the love the vets have for us,” Thompson said.

A few of the children’s heart rocks can already be found on the grounds of the Fisher House near the waterfall at the Haley VA Hospital.

A heart-felt message to the veterans in wheelchairs.

A heart-felt message to the veterans in wheelchairs.

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One Response

  1. Well this generosity and attention by childs to veterans, well for love is a gift we receive and done. Veterans need it on more quantity for they, who have will, courage and have made sacrifices, are men who now need our love for understand they are, as are, loved, accepted and honored by us all. We love their capacity to be rock also when not ever considered, we love those they have done use and example are. claudio alpaca

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