When it comes to strong women making a difference, many names come to mind. Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and even Madonna have all championed causes to empower people in their local communities and around the world. While there are many women who work tirelessly on thousands of causes to make the world a better place, in honor of Mother’s Day, The Valley News decided to take a look at one local woman whose efforts make a difference in the lives of many. That woman is Judy Harter, one of the co-founders of All From The Heart, a 501(c)3 supporting disabled veterans not just in the Temecula Valley but all of Southern California.
Harter, a former ballet teacher, moved to Temecula from Seattle, Washington in 1989 to start her life over after a divorce from her husband of 20 years.
“I was an hour from San Diego, I was an hour from Disneyland, I was an hour from Palm Springs and an hour from dipping my feet in the ocean,” she said. “It’s worked out really well.”
Harter started All From The Heart along with Kelly Shirey who owns Premier Marketing and Valley Events, 11 years ago.
“We weren’t doing enough for the (military) families,” she said. “I am very patriotic and I am grateful for my freedoms. Now we have to take care of our vets, we just don’t do enough. I have known Vietnam vets since I was 20-years-old and they didn’t get welcomed home or taken care and they still don’t. It’s the same with our Korean vets. It’s the forgotten war.”
Harter, a mother of four grown children, now has three programs under the All From The Heart umbrella, Support Our Troops which helps to provide Christmas for active duty service members and their families, the Wheels for Warriors Project providing wheelchairs for disabled veterans and Divine Equine providing horse therapy for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). All four of her kids grew up taking part and volunteering with the different programs.
“They were raised in it,” she said. “They have been volunteers since the very beginning.”
Harter, who was named Riverside Woman of the Year for the Third District in 2012 and was the recipient of the Joan Sparkman Unity Award in 2013, said she believes it’s important to honor the sacrifices of the military. All From The Heart allows her to do that while providing support services to those in need.
“There is never going to be enough done for what they have done for us. I think we take things like our freedoms for granted and that’s not ok,” she said. “This is the Lord’s plan, he has his hand on this in a big way and there is no greater honor than to be used as a vessel by the Lord.”
In the current economy sometimes things can be tough for nonprofit agencies, but Harter says there is always support when she needs it, either from her 94-year-old mother Jeanne or her partner of seven years or “fella” as she likes to call him, KJ Leibee, who is a 100 percent disabled Vietnam veteran due to PTSD.
“He spent 40 years isolated at 9,000 feet in New Mexico. He came off the mountain because his mom stroked, met me, stepped in and Wheels for Warriors was born. He’s all about giving back,” Harter said. “It’s my fella, me, a pick-up truck and a side yard.”
Harter said all of the programs offered continue to grow as the need for services to the veterans continues to grow. During the first year, Support Our Troops served only eight families but in 2013, 44 families were included in the annual holiday party held at Quaid Temecula Harley-Davidson. Each member of the different families received $100 worth of gifts based on a wish list and every child in attendance received a bicycle or tricycle with their name on it.
Currently there are 17 names on the waiting list for a power wheelchair under the Wheels for Warriors Program and there is no shortage of veterans who are in need. The program just gifted its 215th wheelchair on Monday, May 5.
“We pick up used power chairs, to date recycling over $80,000 worth of medical equipment. We refurbish them and put in new batteries, shine them up and gift them,” Harter said. “All 215 of our recipients have been denied chairs by the VA.”
The need for PTSD treatment also continues to grow and Divine Equine meets that need, currently serving 25 veterans who have all been vetted for the program that uses a pair of horses, Eden and Apollo, a descendent of Secretariat, to help them cope with the issues they face. The horses are owned by Bonsall resident and therapist Michelle
“One hundred percent of our vets come from the Temecula Vets Center,” said Harter. “They are in therapy. They know they have PTSD and they want to get better so they come out and work with the horses and the therapists and KJ and their lives change.”
Working on a project of this magnitude can be tiring at times but Harter said the end result is always worth the effort.
“I love the giving back part and honestly being grateful for our freedoms kept running through my veins. I think it was just a good fit; I have to say it was a divine appointment. It’s just what I am supposed to do,” she said.
For more information on All From The Heart or to make a donation, visit www.allfromtheheart.org.