Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) began hosting Wounded Warrior events with three participating veterans in 2007, recalled Executive Director Kathy Copeland at Wednesday night’s Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting; “last year, we had 35,” she said. “We know for a fact we changed those guys’ lives. We see it, they tell us, and their families tell us.”
The DSES Wounded Warrior program brings wounded warriors from all U.S. wars, injured while serving or after, to Mammoth Lakes for several programs throughout the year. Veterans and those currently serving in the military have opportunities to go hiking, fishing, kayaking, rock climbing, cycling, skiing, and snowboarding, allowing them to engage with others and focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities.
Knowing the positive impact the program has had on wounded warriors, Copeland is spearheading an even more ambitious project: the creation of a $23 million National Wounded Warrior Center to be built next to the Cerro Coso College campus in Mammoth Lakes.
Copeland said the Center will house 38 men and women looking to “reboot” their lives: they will gain a vocation through education and job training at Cerro Coso, “and the self-confidence to go out in the world and be productive individuals.” The Center will offer other valuable services, such as recreational therapy, physical therapy, mental and emotional counseling, and life skills guidance.
DSES plans to recruit wounded warriors nationally, housing them anywhere from two months to two years.
What would make the National Wounded Warrior Center unique is its educational component, Copeland said. She praised the partnership between DSES and Cerro Coso, which already offers educational opportunities for veterans.
“We hope others will look at this as a prototype,” she said.
Copeland said DSES has already secured land near Cerro Coso, valued at $1 million, to build the Center. All donations will go toward the Center’s construction and operating costs, valued at $23 million. That total includes 20 years of sustainability, Copeland said.
Donations range from building naming rights ($10 million) to individual bedrooms ($250,000 each), to parking spaces ($35,000 each).
Copeland also said that smaller donations, donations of services, and in-kind donations, are welcome.
“I’m proud of everything we’ve done so far,” concluded Copeland. “We’re looking forward to putting the shovel in the ground.”