“It had humble beginnings,” said Cheri Elliott, the founder of To the Stan and Back, referring to the $50 Superstore gift card she used towards the first ever Party Under the Stars, nine years ago.
When her son joined the military in 2007, Elliott said she was looking for a way to thank soldiers, veterans and first responders for their selfless acts of bravery, so she started To the Stan (Afghanistan) and Back. In 2009, she organized the first-ever Party Under the Stars on Parliament Hill. Over the years, the party has since moved to Ottawa’s City Hall.
For Party Under the Stars 2018, the evening featured Canadian folk singer, Valdy, members of Parliament, as well as, members of the military and first responder communities.
“It is one of my focal fundraisers for my charity, To the Stan and Back, and it is focused on raising funds for post-combat wellness programs for our soldiers and our front-line responders,” said Elliott. “In terms of fundraisers, it’s probably not the largest one, but I do this strictly on my own.”
Through the night, they were able to raise over $15,000 they can now put towards mental health and service dog programs. Elliott said with the money they’ve raised over the years, they’ve helped Jason Byrd, a former firefighter, and Rob Mitchell, a former paramedic, receive their service dogs, Blaze and Ben.
“(Mitchell’s) life has been turned around by it, so every little bit does contribute,” she added.
While this is a night to help raise money for mental health programs, Elliott said she also wants to help raise awareness about PTSI and the effects it has on veterans, soldiers, first responders and their lives.
“We don’t know anybody else who would run into a fire, whether it be gunfire or a burning fire, in order to protect us and our freedoms that we enjoy,” she added. “I just want people to remember that PTSI injuries are very real and healthy individuals make up healthy communities.”