RUSKIN – For the past five years, Kelly Kowall has dedicated her life – and her grief healing – to an acre-and-a-half property along the Little Manatee River in Ruskin.
She founded My Warrior’s Place there within months of the death of her only child, Army Spc. Corey Kowall, 20, who was killed in combat while serving in Afghanistan.
The respite for warriors and their families, which exists on donations, grants and volunteer help, recently was aided when the 2014 class of Leadership Hillsborough – a 10-month program for professionals to develop leadership skills and knowledge of their community – selected My Warrior’s Place for its service project.
The team of 25 was successful in obtaining a $11,400 grant to support its efforts, which included constructing a putting green and a 12-foot-by-24-foot deck along the front of the property.
“I think it’s an excellent opportunity to help,” said Jessica Holmes, internal audit manager at Citigroup and part of the Leadership Hillsborough class. “In understanding what Kelly is trying to achieve, our group wanted to make an impact.”
Team members will soon get their hands dirty by helping with landscaping projects along the riverfront. Several local electrical and plumbing businesses are donating their time and materials when more skilled help is needed.
My Warrior’s Place provides grief mentoring for current and past military service members and their families. Several furnished mobile homes and RV pads have been renovated and are located on-site. In addition to enjoying the quiet area for relaxing and reflecting, guests have access to the Little Manatee River to canoe, kayak or just sit on the patio and watch the river run.
“Nothing else is out there for veterans and their families dealing with past grief,” said Kowall. “We’re here to provide a safe haven and someone to listen. Sometimes that’s all they need.”
Kowall is clear that My Warrior’s Place does not provide formal counseling or therapy. Instead it offers grief and peer mentoring.
Over the next couple of weeks, volunteers from Leadership Hillsborough and the community will landscape a shelled walkway along the waterfront and build a 20-foot-by-20-foot covered patio as a Respect and Remember Tribute Memorial. People will be invited to hang veterans’ dog tags, making a musical wind-chime in the gentle river breezes.
Garrett Sizemore, 31, a Marine veteran, is temporarily staying at My Warrior’s Place with his wife and 6-year-old daughter until they get on their feet again. They moved to Florida from South Carolina last month. Sizemore, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, finds peace at the place on the river.
“I literally stumbled on this place,” said Sizemore, who beamed after returning from a job interview – that he got. “Otherwise, we would have been on the street.”
Kowall is always glad to welcome new volunteers. If you have skills or interest in construction, gardening, landscaping, building maintenance, plumbing or electrical work, visit www.mywarriorsplace.org to complete a volunteer application.
A dedication ceremony is scheduled at My Warrior’s Place at 1 p.m. on June 22 at 101 22nd Street NW, Ruskin. Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. David J. Scott, former deputy director of Special Operations Command, will provide the keynote. All are invited to attend. Light refreshment will follow the ceremony.
Elaine Speer is a freelance writer who can reached at [email protected]