By Sara Schabe
The Student Veteran’s Association from the Eastern Campus hosted a screening of the documentary Welcome to Soldier Ride on Thursday, April 7 . The event was held at the Suffolk Theater located in Riverhead where speakers included the producers of the film, Matthew Hindra and Nicholas Kraus, along with local veterans and families of lost veterans.
This event was the brainchild of SVA president, Matthew Robar. In 2014, Robar’s wife brought him to see this film at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. The film was about a bartender at The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, Chris Carney who decided he wanted to do something to help wounded warriors. Without any real cycling experience, Carney came up with an idea to ride a bike across country to raise money and awareness for war veterans. He brought the idea to the Wounded Warrior Project and they thought he was nuts. Here was a man who had never ridden a bike for an extensive distance that wanted to ride almost 4000 miles. As outlandish as the idea was, Carney made it happen. For months he raised money at the bar with donation jars, benefit concerts and more. In 2004, Carney embarked on his first soldier ride. The following year he was joined by veterans Ryan Kelly, single leg amputee and Heath Calhoun, double leg amputee. The ride went all the way from Montauk to Los Angeles.
Being a veteran, Robar was inspired and thought what an excellent thing this would be to show to the veterans and community of Suffolk County. Before pitching the idea, he went to an Angel Bikes event where they were giving a bike that allowed physically injured veterans to cycle without the use of all their limbs. Angel Bikes is an organization that provides alternative bicycles to veterans. Qualifiers for these bikes are referred to as “Angels.” Robar said he thought, “It’d be a great idea to hold an event where we showed the film and gave away one of these bikes.”
It was then that he took this idea back to the SVA. Everyone seemed to be on board so they began planning and fundraising. “Our fundraising included two 5K runs on campus,” Robar explained, “We went to American Legions, I went door to door with Abigail (Vice president of the SVA) to get donations from business owners in Riverhead and Sag Harbor.” Other members of the SVA also did their own fundraisers with everyone promoting it on their social media. “We did quite a lot to fundraise,” Robar said.
With all of their fundraising, they were able to raise enough money to purchase an Angel Bike and cover miscellaneous expenses but they couldn’t collect enough money to pay for the venue. Shannon O’Neill was hired by the College to be the head of Veterans’ Affairs on all three campuses and she was able to convince the Wounded Warrior Project to sponsor the venue.
Along with the film screening, the SVA presented money to the Wounded Warrior Project and an Angel Bike to Fabrizio Bustos, a disabled veteran and peer to the late veteran and Angel, Bobby Hommel.
The event had a few missions. The main point of the event was to raise veteran awareness. “We wanted to show that even though there are things that disabled veterans can still do, they still need help and resources. There are so many ways out there that we can help them,” Robar explained, “We wanted to get the community involved and just spread total awareness of the issue.”
Also, the event was a way to raise money. “All of [the event’s] proceeds will be going towards two memorial scholarships and to emergency funding for all student veterans on all Suffolk Campuses,” said Shannon O’neill, head of veterans’ affairs.
Matthew Robar will be graduating in May but he hopes the SVA will continue to host events like this and he is more than willing to help.
“Without members of the association, none of this would have been possible,” Robar said.