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Handmade By Heroes, has over 40 veterans in its program and works closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Pikes Peak Workforce and Rocky Mountain Human Services. Veterans make awareness bracelets and in exchange make money and have the benefit of belonging to an organization. Handmade by Heroes makes a bracelet for persons with epilepsy.  Read more about this wonderful organization and how to get one of these bracelets.

Could you tell us a bit more about Handmade by Heroes (HBH)?  What made you start this organization? When did you start it?

I was 18 when I married my high school sweetheart and just 3 months later, he left on a 4 month deployment to Iraq. I had moved away from my family and friends to live with my husband at his new duty station, but I had no idea how frightening a deployment could be for a military spouse. During his tour, our Family Readiness Group leader would call me to inform me of the casualties and fatalities in his unit; I was waiting until someone called or stopped by to tell me that he wasn’t coming home. He endured so many traumatic experiences jammed into one short deployment and it wouldn’t be long before he would return to theatre, so debriefing to come home really didn’t make sense when both of us would have to gear up for another deployment. I was really struggling emotionally to understand my role as a military spouse and be a good wife despite the challenges I really wasn’t prepared for. When my husband finally came home, I felt I didn’t know him anymore. He wasn’t interested in spending time with me, but wanted the comfort of his comrades since they knew what he was going through far more than I ever could; they had endured the terror together. 

Shortly after he returned home, he introduced me to one of his comrades who was wearing a bracelet made out of parachute cord. I asked him where he got it and he told me that he made it out of 550 cord, a cordage that is designed to carry up to 550 lbs. He told me that making a bracelet out of it allowed him to access 10 feet of cord easily. All he had to do was cut the end off the bracelet and unravel it. I had never heard of paracord before, but learned that it could be used to tie equipment onto soldiers’ rucksacks, as a clothesline, to secure a tent, fishing line, dental floss, etc… I had made friendship bracelets as a kid, so I was excited to make one of these practical bracelets. 

It took me all day to find the directions on how to make the bracelet, but my husband and I worked hard together to actually produce something that looked like what my husband’s friend wore.  It was fun and it really helped distract me from the emotional torment that military spouses suffer. I started making more of them and it wasn’t long before some of the retail stores in the area were selling them. As a full time college student and active military spouse, it was getting difficult to meet the demand of the paracord bracelet market, so I started hiring some of my friends to make them. Not long after they started making them, they would quit saying it was too monotonous and their hands hurt. 

After 2 years in the 82nd, my husband re-classed to Explosive Ordinance Disposal (E.O.D.), which forced me to drop out of college and move to Fort Walton Beach, FL., so he could attend the training and we could work on our marriage.

I had received a postcard in the mail from Walter Reed Army Medical Center that had a picture of a young amputee man who was in a wheel chair sewing a bag out of leather. Below the picture it read, “I really enjoy sewing because it helps me keep my mind off the pain.” 

I had studied Clinical Psychology at Methodist University and had learned the power of occupational therapy. My ultimate goal was to become a licensed professional counselor and counsel military families. Given my passion for helping people and making the bracelets, I decided to call Walter Reed Army Medical Center and ask if they would let me set up an employment program for the disabled vets who were stationed there. They agreed, but once I got there they told me that it wasn’t feasible and largely because of potential legality issues, they would have to retract their offer. I had traveled from Florida and designed this program and was determined to implement it. So, I asked if they would let me hire the family members of the veterans if they wouldn’t let me hire the vets. There are several family members who quit their jobs to move to or around Walter Reed to care for their soldier who may be there for a couple of weeks to a couple of years. Walter Reed gave me a classroom to teach out of. The next day I was allowed to give presentations to the morning brigade formations- hundreds of soldiers all stationed at Walter Reed in recovery. I told the wounded soldiers that their family members could get paid to make the bracelets out of paracord and they could meet some friends too. I had about 10 family members show up to the class. The experience was so rewarding- teaching them and watching them get excited about making a bracelet and forgetting about why they were there in the first place. It really wasn’t about getting bracelets made to be sold, it was about giving these moms, dads, wives and husbands something to do to keep their mind off their pain. It was therapy. 

In 2008, my husband finished E.O.D. school and was assigned to the 749th Ordnance Company in Fort Carson, CO. I then moved the program from Walter Reed to Colorado Springs and re-named it Commoneo Project, which means to diligently remember, and refocused to hire Disabled military Veterans and their caregivers. Today, our company is called Handmade By Heroes, we have over 40 veterans in our program and we work closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Pikes Peak Workforce and Rocky Mountain Human Services to hire them. Some have minor service-connected disabilities such as slight hearing loss and light sensitivity to more complex disabilities such as severe TBI, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Most of our Veterans can make a bracelet, our most popular product, in 8-10 minutes. Making money isn’t the only benefit to making our products, it’s also the psycho-social benefit of belonging to an organization that seeks to promote self-worth and confidence; feelings that Veterans struggle with after sustaining injuries that prohibit them from carrying out normal daily tasks and maintaining work.  It is because of our website and events like yours that increase awareness about our mission and improve product sales that allows us to offer more positions to military Veterans who are in critical need of employment. 

Could you tell our readers a bit more about products for epilepsy patients and for epilepsy awareness? 

We have a medical line of bracelets that includes the epilepsy bracelet. We designed the bracelet to be worn by persons with epilepsy so that if medical attention is required, others will know that the person has epilepsy. We actually received this comment from one of our customers who was wearing our epilepsy bracelet: 

Hello! I got my medical epilepsy paracord bracelet from you guys recently and all I can say is THANK YOU! If it weren't for you all and what you all do, I may not be where I am today. I had several severe seizures while wearing it and needed to go to the er and needed a suction tube to catch my tongue from choking and because I hit my head. That day, just by wearing your bracelet, you guys saved me and I thank you for that! Thank you to all the vet's for all your hard work and for serving!!! ~Brandy

Could you tell us more about the fundraising options that HBH has? 

Handmade By Heroes offers an online fundraiser and a bulk order fundraiser. Info can be found on our website: http://handmadebyheroes.com/

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