Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians
Special to Valley News
At the end of May, 10 nonprofit organizations will benefit from the ninth annual Soboba Foundation Charity Golf Tournament, which will be held at Soboba Springs Golf Course in San Jacinto. After an extensive selection process by Soboba Foundation board members, the following nonprofits will each receive a $10,000 grant: Care-A-Van Transit System, Friends of Valley-Wide Foundation, Hemet Hospice Volunteers, LIFEWORKS Adult Life Skills ATP, My City Youth Center, Ramona Humane Society, Semper Fi Sports, T.H.E. Center, Valley Community Pantry and Veterans Paying It Forward.
Each year, nonprofits are asked to submit an application that outlines how they intend to spend a $10,000 grant if they are chosen as a recipient. The variety of requests were as diverse as the organizations and their missions.
John Lucero Jr. founded Semper Fi Sports in 2016 to help fellow veterans find a meaningful purpose by mentoring and coaching student athletes. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 22 years, retiring in 2006. Coaching youth sports gave him a purpose he needed, and he realized it could do the same for other veterans.
More than 60 student athletes that were members of the travel sports teams sponsored through Semper Fi Sports have received sports scholarships to some of the country’s most prestigious universities such as West Point Military Academy, Harvard University, Columbia University and University of California Berkeley.
“However, it’s the recognition to our veterans that I feel has made the biggest impact – from a simple handshake and thank you for their service to providing comfort items and meals to them,” Lucero said. “We have a saying in our organization, ‘We play for those who gave their all for us,’ and that applies the other way around as well because we as veterans gave our all so you could play and live a life full of opportunities.”
Care-A-Van Transit has been offering vital, specialized transportation services to those in need since 1994. It was founded for the specific purpose of addressing the unmet needs of seniors, veterans and disabled and low-income individuals who reside in the San Jacinto Valley.
“We provide much needed transportation for doctors’ appointments, grocery shopping and most recently we have begun taking our seniors to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” program coordinator Paula Adey said. “Transportation is the most overlooked asset out there. Not everyone has the luxury of having a car or even a driver’s license. Some people can’t afford taxis, Uber or even the bus. And some people are unable to get into cars or walk to bus stops. That’s where Care-A-Van steps in. We thank the Soboba Foundation for giving us this amazing support to help us with our mission of ‘Transportation with a Heart.’ We couldn’t do it without them.”
Ronnie Imel has been assisting fellow veterans for the past 25 years. In 2015, he and his wife Sally founded a nonprofit to continue his advocacy work and named it Veterans Paying It Forward. Ronnie Imel served in the Vietnam War and was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 2017. He knew firsthand that veterans often return home with injuries sustained in service to their country but don’t know how to navigate the maze of paperwork required to file claims with Veterans Affairs.
“VPIF is an advocacy group that specializes in helping veterans file claims relating to service-connected disabilities. We have been able to get claims through successfully that had previously been denied by the VA. We’ve been able to successfully move a claim through to completion that has been stalled in the process for years,” Sally Imel said. “We provide access for veterans to other veterans’ resources and agencies such as VA medical care, state veterans agencies and mental health care. We are also connected with nonprofit food banks and we help distribute food to needy veterans and their families.”
Sally Imel said the grant received from the Soboba Foundation’s charity golf tournament will go toward the construction of a new veterans’ outreach facility that will help serve the community in many ways.
“This project will make our offices accessible to veterans with disabilities as our offices will be on the ground floor, with wheelchair and handicap access,” Sally Imel said. “We also host veterans’ meetings and dinners. With the increase in the number of veterans that we are serving, we need to increase accessibility and size. Our project will help us expand our ability to serve the veterans and to train more people that will assist us in implementing our mission.”