Local baseball mom Kimberly Maloney was in the car with her 9-year-old son Nash after they met with a wounded veteran earlier this year and had a conversation that has since inspired her to create a nonprofit to help veterans and kids in north Georgia.
After meeting their meeting, Nash asked Maloney “Mom those are the real superheroes, right?”
“I was like ‘yeah, buddy. Those are the real superheroes,’” she recalled.
It sparked an idea, an idea to bring veterans and children together in the community through a baseball tournament that has now grown into a fledgling nonprofit, BRAVE Beyond the Call, that believes “you don't have to be a Superhero to give back to one."
It all started with rec league baseball. Maloney organized the inaugural Win for the Warriors baseball tournament in March as a way to support and celebrate veterans across the region as well as introduce Nash and his North Georgia Ambush 9U baseball teammates to local heroes.
Although the weather was uncooperative and caused the tournament to be rained out, the baseball players and veterans made the most of a rainy day and opted to play several rounds of whiffle ball inside the Veterans Memorial Park gymnasium.
By the end of the day, more than $11,000 was raised for the For the Warriors Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting disabled military service members as they integrate back into society.
“I kind of just thought ‘okay, that’s it.’ That’s what we did. That’s what we wanted to do,” Maloney said. “The whole purpose of doing that was to kind of teach the boys about honor and respect and sacrifice and what that really meant…as well as support these veterans and give back.”
After the baseball tournament was rescheduled for May, Maloney didn’t expect to continue with community events until she began talking with the veterans and their spouses and learned how important the event was for them.
“I had one wife actually say to me, she said ‘you have no idea the positive purpose this has now given my husband,’” Maloney recalled.
Maloney sat down with her husband and told him: “We can’t just sit on this.”
“We’ve got to keep pushing so we decided to roll with it,” she said.
BRAVE Beyond the Call is a nonprofit based in Dawson County but is open to the whole community. Any veteran or child in the north Georgia area that wants to be involved is welcome, Maloney said.
Currently, there are two main aspects of BRAVE Beyond the Call, the first being community events that bring veterans and the community together.
The organization’s first official community event is the 22 Strike Out bowling competition at Stars and Strikes in Cumming on Sept. 21. Tickets are $30 apiece and include two hours of bowling, shoe rentals and pizza and soft drinks after the competition.
From 9 a.m. until noon, the lanes will be filled with teams of seven, each led by a veteran, or warrior, as the team captain. Only spares and strikes will be counted, and the first lane to 22 will be declared the winner.
Maloney said the bowling tournament is meant to be a fun and creative way to approach a very serious topic and bring awareness to the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
As part of the competition, the veterans will be bowling twice for their teams but have an added option to “reach out for help” from a teammate or a fellow veteran to bowl on their behalf.
“They also have the option to ‘reach out for help’ to kind of signify that we want to encourage the veterans when they’re faced with that decision… of suicide that they can reach out for help,” Maloney explained.
BRAVE Beyond the Call is also initiating the Tethered Heroes Program, an idea straight from the veterans who participated in the Win for the Warriors tournament.
Maloney said one of the men told her “I don’t think these kids realize the heroes that they’ve become to us.”
“That hit me with a ton of bricks,” she said. “We had no idea when we did that, the connection that these kids would make with these guys and a couple ladies that were involved…that blew my mind.”
The Tethered Heroes Program pairs a veteran with a child, connecting them in a safe environment so that “both now have a hero they can depend on.”
“It’s really, really incredible watching the relationship and how they get bonded real quick,” Maloney said. “It’s just a cool, cool thing.”
Veterans or children who want to sign up to be part of the Tethered Heroes Program can apply on the organization’s website.
Maloney said she hopes the program continues to grow and gets more local children and veterans involved.
“I think that there’s such a need for something like this for twofold: one, to help the veterans and also two, because I feel like our youth loses the value in what these guys and these ladies do for us but also just learning about what it means to be honorable and to have sacrifice and dedication,” Maloney said.
In the future, Maloney has more ideas to bring the community together. BRAVE Beyond the Call will be at Trunk-or-Treat on Halloween at Rock Creek Park, and Maloney is working on a Secret Santa program for the Tethered Heroes as well as a potential corn hole tournament in the spring.
The second annual Win for the Warriors baseball tournament is already scheduled for Memorial Day weekend next year.
BRAVE Beyond the Call’s fundraising efforts will go towards sponsoring the organization’s upcoming events as well as used to help local veterans involved with the nonprofit with personal needs as they arise.
“It’s going to better their situation. It’s going to better their lives. It’s going to better their families,” Maloney said.
For more information about BRAVE Beyond the Call or to get involved, visit www.bravebeyondthecall.org.