We hear and see the message all over the place. Back the Blue. It means that we stand with Police, Fire and other First Responders. It should be something much more than what's yelled about when things boil over and it's also a way of thinking that should carry well past their retirement after committing their career to all of us. Back the Blue is also something that's not necessarily something to be lip service, it's a way of conducting yourself, the respect you carry for others and understanding of what might be faced in a lifetime of duty.
After a career of "living it" Joe Stapel found himself somewhere he never imagined he'd be. Joe was diagnosed with PTSD after working in 3 police agencies as well as high level corporate security jobs and in the "twilight years" of his life, it was causing a huge problem with everything in his world. All he saw, lived through and stood shocked by when working to "serve, protect and defend" was creeping up on him and with things creeping up, walls started closing in. Joe too, is from a generation where you "just don't talk about that kind of thing". There was a time when all of the trauma, especially to men, was meant to be kept under wraps with a stoic and masculine approach. As time has gone by, we've learned that is a fools task to try and hold in. Joe happened to see a need within his field too and while younger departments are addressing such issues, they are still there, they still carry a lot of weight and dealing with that kind of pressure alone, it's unbearable.
Joe found his way to counselling, however he also found that the cost for some, can be quite prohibitive. Even co-pays are out of reach for some retirees. That can be a deciding factor in an individuals follow through on getting the essential treatment they need. We've gone over this more than once, but....in Muskegon, when there's a need....we've seen time and time again, that somewhere, someone takes the time to fill it. It may be a grand event, it may be the seedlings of a beginning, but the needs are met.
Joe got to work on founding a non-profit. HelpMichiganHeroes.org is set up to raise funds to help offset the costs of first responders for the mental health treatment they might need. Think of what is seen over a 20-30 year gap in a career of a first responder? The shootings. Car accidents. Violence and more. It's against the grain of all human nature. To think that some have a magic wand within them to make it all go away, ludacris. Help Michigan Heroes is designed to be a place where those in need of help can turn in a confidential way and raise their hand. Managed by peers or retired peers, this is a grass roots effort to extend across generations the wisdom of those who have lived through it all and know what it takes to begin to heal. It's also a way for those who care to help to support the work and contribute to the fund for the care needed.
Joe invited me to his house to meet up with him and Board Member Dave Peterson (Retired Fire Chief) to talk about the experiences lived through, what it takes to break the stigma of saying "I need a hand" and how they hope they are beginning a long term project that can expand in an unbound fashion to serve thousands.
You can help. Send a tax deductable donation to - Michigan Heroes 2363 Blodgett Muskegon Mich 49441 or click on the QR code below. Tomorrow night, Oct 10th, you can learn more about the organization if you stop out to the Bear Lake Tavern for a benefit they are hosting between 5p and 9p. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Helping Michigan Heroes fund and you'll find a number of fun auction items to bid on to help foster the growth of this incredible, and thoughtful way to return the service given to all of us, by those who stepped up to serve, protect and defend.