In the Spotlight Windber businesswomen raising funds to provide service dogs for veterans

Jan. 22—WINDBER, Pa. — Someday in the future, a veteran dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury or physical disabilities will have a kind and loving service dog to provide companionship and assistance, thanks to the efforts of the Business and Professional Women/Pennsylvania's Windber chapter.

BPW/PA and its local groups across Pennsylvania are working to raise at least $15,000 to buy and train a dog that will be given to a veteran in need through the Tails of Valor, Paws of Honor program.

"Hopefully, statewide, we can at least get one dog," said Gigi Gromack, a Windber BPW member and chairwoman of the local chapter's fundraising effort.

"That's the goal, so if we can get even more money toward another dog, that would be something. This is what the state project is, and we've jumped in with both feet, so to speak."

The dog or dogs purchased with money raised by the BPW will be given at no cost to a veteran or veterans living somewhere in Pennsylvania.

Tails of Valor, Paws of Honor an organization based in Coopersburg, Lehigh County, provides veterans with dogs that have been trained for 18 to 24 months, learning commands and developing skills needed to detect symptoms and interact with the owner.

"We believe that valid intervention will lead to increased long-term behavioral development that is positive for the veteran and their families," Tails of Valor, Paws of Honor said on its website.

"Our dogs offer opportunities for the veterans to interact with members of the community and experience positive interactions with society.

"Training requires positive emotions for success which will help the emotionally detached improve social skills.

"Our commitment (to canine and veterans) is a lifetime."

Windber's BPW chapter has received some donations, including from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4795 and Windber American Legion Post 137.

Vanessa Gardner, president of BPW's Windber chapter, said the fundraiser is personal for her.

"For me, I have really embraced this just because of the military people in my family, from uncles to nephews to a son and daughter-in-law," Gardner said during a recent interview at Windber Area Middle/High School.

"PTSD and the traumatic brain injury, I think, are just coming to the forefront when it comes to veterans. Until you're deployed, I don't think you get it."

Windber's BPW chapter has existed for more than seven decades, carrying out the mission of assisting businesswomen.

"I just think we're a very good service organization," Gromack said.

"We are from this community. We are open to helping people. We are open to working with different groups. I think this is a nice cause that we're involved in now. Plus, the year is young. We don't know what's coming, but we will be ready."

Entrepreneurial mentorship programs are provided to help businesswomen "get stable legs under them," as Gardner explained.

"I want those ladies that come through our group to have those strong leadership skills, to be able to have that confidence," Gardner said.

"That will flow."

The organization also works to enhance the community by assisting businesses and other nonprofit agencies. It has been involved with the Windber Area Community Kitchen (WACK), Windber Public Library and Windber Police Department's Christmas activities, while also providing monetary awards to college students.

"It does help to bolster the community because it provides strength and resources," Gardner said.