Watching your child go off to war is no easy task, but instead of letting that worry consume her, military mom, Cheri Elliott, set her mind to establishing an organization that would help soldiers returning home from war. Today, her organization, To the Stan and Back, has raised $200,000 in discounted gift certificates for soldiers returning from Afghanistan, $87,000 towards improvements on CAF bases and thousands more to charities like Soldier On and Wounded Warriors. The charity has rapidly grown over the years but started out with a mother’s wish to give back.
Elliott still remembers when her son, Troy Elliott serving with the First Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, first approached her about joining the military. She recalls standing in a Safeway parking lot with other parents as she watched her son get onto a bus for basic training.
“I was standing there with all these other parents, and we were sending our children off to boot camp, and we were all thinking the same thing, it was a silent thought, it was like ‘oh my god what if.’ But you don’t let yourself think that you just try to be positive and support your child’s effort because it’s a valiant effort, isn’t it, to serve ones country,” recalled Elliott.
Only two years after watching her son go off to boot camp, Elliott was forced to endure another, much larger, trial. Elliott’s son was sent to Afghanistan to serve in the conflict as an artillery gunner.
In between the few chances she got to speak to her son and sending care packages to him and his friends, Elliott put her mind to creating the charitable organization To the Stan and Back.
“After 9/11, like many people around the world and Canadians, I was really struck by the tragic events of that time and I wanted to something tangible for our soldiers. So, it took few years of thinking and praying about what the heck I could possibly do,” stated Elliott.
And so Elliott started To the Stan and Back, an organization that focuses on raising awareness and funds for PTSD and post-combat wellness for CAF members and veterans.
The military mom started out by collecting gift certificates she would then donate to the CAF and soldiers. For several months, she would also go to the Ottawa military airport to welcome soldiers returning home from the war, handing out gift certificates.
“It was very gratifying. These hardened soldiers who have witnessed all these atrocities, most of them were choked up to the point of tears just for receiving these certificates. That was, other than having my children, the biggest honours of my life,” said Elliott.
During this time, her son also returned home safely after his ten-month deployment.
In 2009, Elliott also started working as a legislative assistant on Parliament Hill, opening new doors for her organization. In 2010, she started an annual fundraising event Party Under the Stars, which brings together politicians and other influential members of the community to raise awareness and funds.
This year’s event, held on Feb.3, focused on raising funds for service dogs known to help soldiers battling PTSD, but she says the work doesn’t just stop with the event. To the Stan and Back recently launched a national campaign that encourages every Canadian to donate a Toonie to the Troops. This campaign will help to raise funds for vehicles to transport veterans with Operational Stress Injuries and their service dogs.
“If we did that, we could accomplish so very much for post-combat wellness…we will take it one step at a time, but I’m really hoping we can get that message out,” noted Elliott.
To the Stan and Back has grown leaps and bounds since Elliott first founded it. Her work has been recognized, and she was recently awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for her service to the CAF.
She’s gone from a one-woman show running the organization on her own time to having committee members involved for the first time with To the Stan and Back, helping her to plan the next Party Under the Stars.
“I believe each of us is given a call in our life to do certain things. If you answer the call, it will evolve into whatever that particular thing is and that has been the case with To the Stand and Back and Party Under the Stars. It builds on itself. When I first started I didn’t think I would throw an event like Party Under the Stars,” said Elliott.
Visit tothestanandback.com for more information.
**Photo by Anne Girard**