The 9th annual Soboba Foundation Charity Golf Tournament is being planned for May, but the first step has already taken place as 10 nonprofits have been chosen to benefit from the event. After an extensive selection process by Soboba Foundation board members, the following organizations were selected: Care-A-Van Transit System, Friends of Valley-Wide Foundation, Hemet Hospice Volunteers, LIFEWORKS Adult Life Skills ATP, My City Youth Center, Ramona Humane Society, Semper Fi Sports, T.H.E. Center, Valley Community Pantry and Veterans Paying It Forward.
Each year, nonprofits are asked to submit an application that outlines how they intend to spend a $10,000 grant if they are one of the deserving recipients. There were a variety of requests as diverse as the organizations and their missions.
John Lucero Jr. founded Semper Fi Sports in 2016 to help fellow veterans find a meaningful purpose by mentoring and coaching student athletes. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 22 years, retiring in 2006. Coaching youth sports gave him a purpose he needed and he realized it could do the same for other veterans.
“I have always tried to do everything myself and I finally realized I need help. We are grateful to the Soboba Foundation for helping us help veterans and student athletes,” Lucero said. “We have many projects we would like to accomplish. First, we are going to provide hygiene and comfort items to veterans in VA hospitals in the surrounding areas where our members are located. Next, we plan on donating food and other essentials to homeless veterans in our areas. We are going to purchase equipment and uniforms for student athletes who cannot afford what they need to play in front of college coaches.”
More than 60 student athletes that were members of the travel sports teams sponsored through Semper Fi Sports have received sports scholarships to some of the country’s most prestigious universities such as West Point Military Academy, Harvard, Columbia and Berkeley.
“However, it’s the recognition to our veterans that I feel has made the biggest impact – from a simple handshake and thank you for their service to providing comfort items and meals to them,” Lucero said. “I started this organization because I as a veteran struggled and went to a dark place of suicide ideations, gestures and homelessness. We have a saying in our organization, ‘We play for those who gave their all for us,’ and that applies the other way around as well because we as veterans gave our all so you could play and live a life full of opportunities.”
COVID-19 paused the nonprofit’s efforts but Lucero is hoping the student athletes and veterans will be able to interact again by summer.
Care-A-Van Transit has been offering vital, specialized transportation services to those in need since 1994. It was founded for the specific purpose of addressing the unmet needs of seniors, veterans and disabled and low-income individuals who reside in the San Jacinto Valley.
“We provide much needed transportation for doctors’ appointments, grocery shopping and most recently we have begun taking our seniors to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Program Coordinator Paula Adey said. “Due to COVID, more vulnerable individuals need access to basic needs such as food banks, testing and vaccines and Care-A-Van provides access for those services as well as delivering food to homebound seniors during the pandemic.”
The organization can get funding for handicap-accessible vehicles through CalTrans 5310 and Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) Measure A funding if it has community support for operations.
“The Soboba Foundation’s support helps meet this requirement for matching funds to continue operations to provide this free service. Transportation is the most overlooked asset out there. Not everyone has the luxury of having a car or even a driver’s license. Some people can’t afford taxis, UBER or even the bus. And some people are unable to get into cars or walk to bus stops. That’s where Care-A-Van steps in,” Adey said. “We are looking forward to having another 27 years so we can continue to meet the needs of our community. We thank the Soboba Foundation for giving us this amazing support to help us with our mission of ‘Transportation with a Heart.’ We couldn’t do it without them.”
Ronnie Imel has been assisting fellow veterans for the past 25 years. In 2015, he and his wife Sally founded a nonprofit to continue his advocacy work and named it Veterans Paying It Forward (VPIF). Ronnie Imel served in the Vietnam War and was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 2017. He knew firsthand that veterans often return home with injuries sustained in service to their country but don’t know how to navigate the maze of paperwork required to file claims with the Veterans Administration.
“VPIF is an advocacy group that specializes in helping veterans file claims relating to service-connected disabilities. We have been able to get claims through successfully that had previously been denied by the VA. We’ve been able to successfully move a claim through to completion that has been stalled in the process for years,” Sally Imel said. “We provide access for veterans to other veterans’ resources and agencies such as VA medical care, state veterans agencies and mental health care. We are also connected with nonprofit food banks and we help distribute food to needy veterans and their families.”
Ronnie Imel often traveled to local American Legion and VFW posts to meet with veterans and help them submit completed applications for their deserved compensation. Due to restrictions put in place by the pandemic, these public facilities have been closed but the number of veterans who need assistance has not waned. The Imels have been working from their Mountain Center home while maintaining effective protocols but it has been difficult. That is one of the main reasons VPIF has broken ground on its Veterans Center.
Sally Imel said the grant received from the Soboba Foundation’s charity golf tournament will go toward the construction of a new veterans’ outreach facility that will help serve the community in many ways.
“This project will make our offices accessible to veterans with disabilities as our offices will be on the ground floor, with wheelchair and handicap access,” Sally Imel said. “We also host Veterans’ meetings and dinners. With the increase in the number of veterans that we are serving, we need to increase accessibility and size. Our project will help us expand our ability to serve the veterans and to train more people that will assist us in implementing our mission, and we look forward to more community outreach.”
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians