By Colm Ashe
There are more convenient ways to travel from Connecticut to Port Jefferson than across the Long Island Sound on a kayak, but taking the easy way is not an option for two Army veterans.
Chris Levi and Frank Lombardi kayaked from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Port Jefferson Aug. 27 in an effort to raise money and awareness for veterans suffering from mental health issues.
The 22-mile trip took more than six hours to complete. “It was a long day,” Lombardi said with a laugh.
The distance between Bridgeport and Port Jefferson is less than 22 miles, but the pair traveled the extra mileage because of the number’s significance. According to 22Kill, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about veteran suicide and post traumatic stress disorder, 22 veterans commit suicide every day on average. Many of these suicides are directly related to PTSD-induced stress and depression, according to the organization’s website.
Lombardi said he was horrified by the statistic and is motivated to change it. “If we can give hope to just one veteran and prevent them from taking their own lives, we will consider the trip a huge success,” he said.
22Kill, along with four other regional and national nonprofit organizations collaborated to make the event happen.
Among the team of organizations was the War Writers Campaign, a publishing company on a mission to get veteran stories published. Levi and Lombardi raised $5,000 for their campaign by enlisting the help of local businesses like Southampton-based pool and environmental company the Tortorella Group.
“We called John [Tortorella, owner of the Tortorella Group] asking for a $500 donation,” Lombardi said. “He heard what we were doing and gave us $1,000.”
“They are true American heroes whose strength and perseverance can provide hope for the many veterans who need support to pick themselves up and show the world that they can do amazing things.”
— Alex Rohman
Time Capital donated another $1,000 and sponsored a kayak for the event. Alex Rohman, a partner of Time Capital, is an active supporter of the War Writers Campaign. He also recruited Levi and Lombardi for the kayak trip.
“I called Chris and Frank to see if they would be interested in supporting the trip and they immediately agreed,” Rohman said. “Within one day, they wanted to do more to not only support the War Writers Campaign, but wanted to expand the level of awareness to other organizations as well.”
Levi and Lombardi then reached out to other local businesses and organizations to further the cause. Angela’s House, W.B. Mason, Terranova Landscaping, the IGHL Foundation and the Ann Liguori Foundation contributed the remaining donations to the War Writers Campaign.
“Both Chris and Frank represent unconditional support for all veterans and have dedicated their lives to help those who are less fortunate,” Rohman said. “They are true American heroes whose strength and perseverance can provide hope for the many veterans who need support to pick themselves up and show the world that they can do amazing things.”
Beyond the War Writers Campaign and the event, Levi and Lombardi are both deeply involved in their own philanthropic pursuits.
Lombardi is an executive for Independent Group Home Living Program, a group that provides alternatives for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. He also serves on the National Advisory Board of World T.E.A.M Sports, an organization striving to bring together disabled and able-bodied citizens to participate in sports like mountain climbing, white-water rafting, bicycling and kayaking.
Levi is a frequent participant in World T.E.A.M. events. As a disabled veteran himself, Levi has overcome adversity in a big way.
In 2008, he was leading a convoy in Iraq when his Humvee was hit with rockets and IEDs. Levi lost both legs and took significant damage to his right hand and arm. He spent many years in numerous hospitals, but after countless surgeries and a difficult rehabilitation process, his spirit prevailed.
Since then, Levi has strived to become an inspiration in the lives of those who are suffering as an activist and an example. Levi’s goal during the 22-mile paddle across the Long Island Sound, was clear. He said he wanted to “show our fellow veterans that there is hope out there and with the right support, they can truly ‘Climb to Glory.’” This is also the motto of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in which both Levi and Lombardi served.
Lombardi believes the 10th Mountain Division’s motto represents “hope for all veterans who are suffering that they can climb out of the darkness and rise to achieve great things.”