Before Thanksgiving 2018, Karalee Sievert, a Navy veteran and the Senior Personal Lines Agent at Zellner Insurance Agency, met a Combat Casualty Visiting Nurse named Ramonia Diallo, who worked at the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) in Jacksonville.
Touched by the stories of veterans in hardship, Karalee shared the information with our company staff. Shortly after, we created a small fund-raiser to which all our employees contributed. On December 3rd, my husband and CEO of Zellner Insurance, Jeff Spadafora, Karalee, and yours truly, Xiomara Spadafora, Vice President, had the privilege to meet 1st Sgt. Michael Lippencott, an active member of the Marine Corps who became the recipient of our Christmas donation.
Sgt. Lippencott is a father of four. He joined the Marine Corps in 1996 in Chantilly, VA, and since then, he had completed seven tours of duty to Iraq and Afghanistan for the operations Iraq Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and New Dawn.
Needless to say, the wounds of his sacrifice to defend our country’s freedom are not only the ones he bears on his body, but also the ones on his soul. Since then, Jeff and Michael stayed in contact and have forged a special friendship. Michael retired in June after almost 23 years of service and continues to recover physically.
Two thousand nineteen passed, and before Thanksgiving we learned about Suzie, a combat Navy veteran and single mother of a three-year-old boy, who had recently moved from New York and needed her car fixed so she could look for a job.
Jeff called his friend Donnie, the owner of an auto body shop in Jacksonville. He agreed to contribute with a discount on the labor cost to repair the car and we paid the rest. That same afternoon, Jeff called a friend at BBVA Bank and we forwarded Suzie’s resume.
Two weeks later, Suzie’s car was fixed, she had already interviewed with BBVA, and was waiting for a job offer. The day we met her, she told us fighting back her tears, “Just know that you saved a life,” She said that before she knew Jeff and I wanted to help her, she was in a dark place considering the worst. But when she saw that we cared, a tiny seed of hope sprouted from the ruins and saw the light.
While Suzie’s situation developed, we heard about a Marine vet in need. His name was James, a recently divorced father of two, who needed a fridge for his apartment. On Thanksgiving weekend, we bought him a refrigerator and delivered it to his apartment.
A week later, we learned about Brian. A Navy combat vet, who was a K-9 handler with a SEAL team. Besides losing his beloved dog, he had lost all his possessions after a difficult divorce. His most pressing need was a car.
Finding a car looked like an uphill battle. But God works in mysterious ways, and the solution was closer than anybody could have imagined. Karalee had bought a new vehicle two weeks prior, and her husband was supposed to sell their old car. According to Karalee, her husband is not a procrastinator, so having the old car still parked in her driveway seemed strange.
When she learned about Brian’s story, she knew that her car was waiting for him. So, in early December, Karalee and a teary-eyed Brian met at a DMV office to finalize the gift. The DMV agent was so moved by Karalee’s gesture that she gifted Brian a commemorative veterans car plate.
After these extraordinary events, I told my husband, “I really think God is giving us a mission.” We realized the Lord wanted us to put our will, contacts, and resources to the service of our great men and women who have given so much, expecting nothing in return.
PTSD is an invisible–but powerful–wound that many combat veterans struggle to heal from after transitioning to civilian life. Therefore, finding a fulfilling career to put their military skills to work, gets them one step closer to recovery.
This is why The Zellner Foundation for Military Vets was born: from a deep and humble desire to inspire hope among those who have lost it, and are desperately trying to find it.
If you want to join our effort, click here and find out how you can help.