Northport group focuses on saluting veterans

Northport group focuses on saluting veterans

Rocco Donnino, founder of Cow Harbor Warriors, and Tony Donnino, board member, wait to award a service dog to a veteran at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 15. Photo from Don McKay

The Cow Harbor Warriors are committed to fighting for veterans.

The Northport nonprofit organization, established three years ago, raises money and organizes events to commemorate the sacrifices veterans have made. Since the group was founded, according to founder Rocco Donnino, it has raised $235,000 for organizations that help veterans in need, like Paws of War, which matches disable veterans with service dogs.

“It’s an opportunity for us to say thank you,” Cow Harbor Warriors President Don McKay said. “I’m a strong believer in small steps make great things. We can never do too much to help our veterans.”

The group organizes several fundraising events throughout the year to help fund their Warrior Weekend, which includes a 4-mile run, a golf tournament and a parade through Northport Village to honor and thank the veterans and their families. The event, which also has a fundraising element to it, was originally meant to specifically honor veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and was held in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

“I travel a lot for my job, and in 2011, when the Iraqi war was ending, I was seeing a lot of servicemen and women in airports coming home,” Donnino said. “I would make sure to shake their hands and say thank you to every one I saw, but after a while that didn’t feel like enough.”

Donnino wanted to do something that takes advantage of the “wonderful and unbelievable” area he lives in — thus Warrior Weekend was born.

Veterans from those two campaigns and their families are brought for an all-expenses-paid relaxation weekend in Northport, starting with a Warrior Welcome parade and ending with a gala dinner with live music. The veterans ride into Northport Village on fire engines in the parade, and then are treated to activities of their choice, including fishing and golf.

Donnino said he wanted to bring veterans to a celebration specifically in Northport because the village has a “huge history of supporting troops and veterans.”

The event is held close to the anniversary of 9/11. This year, the warriors donated the money they raised during Warrior Weekend to three organizations: Paws of War, Hoops of Northport and the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Each organization received $25,000, McKay said.

Cow Harbor Warriors bounced back from a controversy to hold its signature event last year and this year. The Northport American Legion Post 694 alleged a couple of years ago that the group had not properly disbursed funds they had raised at the first Warrior Weekend in 2012 — a claim that canceled the event in 2013.

McKay called those allegations “baseless” and said the group has been fully vetted by the Suffolk County Department of Veteran Services and is in “full compliance.”

The nonprofit’s reach goes beyond the village boundaries. Paws of War invited members of the Cow Harbor Warriors to the New York Giants game at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 15 to present a service dog to a veteran at halftime on the field.

“It’s hard to explain how incredible the experience was to watch a veteran receive a service dog,” McKay said. “It was emotional, and a proud moment.”