Leo Ross is a current Project Give Back student in grade 4 at Montcrest School. For his project, he chose to feature the charity, True Patriot Love. This Canadian charity is one which offers support and assistance to returning war veterans and their families. Leo has always had a fascination with Greek Mythology, super-heroes and he has studied the history of the Great Wars. So it was a natural decision for him to choose a charity that reflected both his passion and interest, in finding a charity which dealt with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Leo planned and executed a wonderful presentation for his classmates, teaching them all an invaluable lesson on giving back through community service. He prepared a detailed and descriptive speech, along with an informative display. He devised and led an activity for the class, in which students were paired up, assisting a blindfolded partner through an obstacle course. His activity demonstrated how to be supportive of others in need, and also to replicate one of the effects of PTSD; blindness. Every part of this presentation was sensational, but the most intriguing aspect was the one part that time constraints did not allow for Leo to share. Leo sat down with David Fascinato and conducted this inspiring interview. Here is an exerpt taken from the transcript of their riveting conversation.

Leo Ross’ Interview with David Fascinato:

L: What exactly made you want to join the military?

D: That’s a good question. Like you, I was actually really interested in history growing up. As well, my father actually fought in WWII so I grew up with a father who would tell me stories about his experiences in the war.

When I was a little bit older than you, unfortunately my father passed away and I didn’t get to know him as much as I wanted to. Fast-forwarding a bit, I had always believed in volunteering and giving back to the community so when the time came after I graduated from high school and went off to university, an opportunity came up to join the Reserves. I thought to myself “what better way to give back to my community through serving our country” – but also in that more personal way it allowed me to get to know what my father went through many, many years before.

It was all at the end of the day about service and getting to know yourself better.

L: That’s very interesting…and very personal. I thought it was going to be something less personal to be honest [they both laugh]. So what was your job in the military?

D: I originally joined a unit of the Canadian Forces Army Reserves which means green uniforms…fight on land. The infantry is basically the folks who are tasked with engaging the enemy in a time of conflict or war. So I was an infanteer, a soldier. However, when I deployed to Afghanistan there was an opportunity to do something even more specialized than that job and that involved engaging with the community and building relationships with people that otherwise you wouldn’t get a chance to engage. So that job is called a “Specialist” in the role of “Psychological Operations” so my role was to oversee community relations and to help bring people together in a high-conflict environment.

In Afghanistan there were lots of people fighting for the hearts and minds of the community and at the end of the day they needed folks like myself to help build relationships and improve the ability for everyone to work together.

L: Basically, my teacher’s always told me that if you listen you’ll get your answers so just listen before you ask the questions and she proved herself right there because my next question was actually where were you deployed? So you were deployed in Afghanistan as you already said so….

D: I was deployed to Kandahar province, Afghanistan, in the south.

L: Next question is how did you get involved with True Patriot Love? Or how DO you get involved?

D: I’ll answer the second question first. There are a number of ways to volunteer at a variety of events across the country. More popularly we have our gala dinners across Canada … so you can volunteer with that. Now, I wish we had a way for younger folks to volunteer and I say that because I began volunteering at a local museum in Guelph, Ontario (where I’m from) when I was 11 years old, not too much older than you. That is one of the ways I began in community service.

How did I get involved in True Patriot Love? When I left the military you enter what is called a transition period…which is one of the things True Patriot Love works to address… transition is when military members leave the service and look to join the civilian work force. I was looking for a job that would look at my military experience and hopefully allow me to do something somewhat similar. So I ended up working on the Veteran Transition Advisory Council, which was led by True Patriot Love to bring corporate partners together to look at the issues and barriers that prevented veterans from transitioning smoothly into civilian life.

I ended up volunteering in that unique way. I was fortunate that the people at True Patriot Love saw fit to bring me onto their team, recognizing my unique skills and experience of having worked in the military. Since last summer I have been working at True Patriot Love and trying to make a difference. I know that’s a ramble…

L: It’s okay it just shows that this is really very important to you and that this pretty much started when you were about 9 years old….

D: 11….

L: Yeah 11, when you lost your Dad. It started when your dad started telling you stories. Like what I found very interesting, I’ve like talked with my friends and my Dad’s friends and stuff and everything starts from a very young age between 8 and I’d say like 13…

D: Yes

L: And it starts what you do in your future and I found that very interesting that was the same with you. And my next question is what are you most proud of about True Patriot Love?

D: I would say the impact we have. I’ve attended a number of different programmes that we fund. We are sort of an umbrella organization, meaning that we fundraise a lot of money and then we channel that support (from corporate Canada and the general public) and we bring those funds to support a number of different programmes across the country.

L: Ahhh…

D: So while we’re a small team and don’t run programmes ourselves, we fund a lot of programmes. And seeing from the perspective as a veteran from speaking to veterans and their families I can really see what it means for them to have been enabled, or able to overcome challenges, or to adapt in a more resilient manner… Through TPL’s support.

L: What I’ve noticed about True Patriot Love is that the members who work here went through the challenges like what the military goes through today and I find that very interesting because you understand what some people feel when the military doesn’t get exactly what they need, the government doesn’t pay enough, the problems if people get injured, or don’t have the money to get the equipment to mend them….and it is very difficult. And it is like most people at True Patriot Love understand this. Like you, you understand this because you were in the military.

D: Yes, there is that proximity. I am the only individual on our team with a recent military background — that’s fine because I can be an asset when we need to understand the issues behind a challenge and I can provide insight as you mentioned. Our goal is to fundraise and support other organizations and enable those organizations to better serve military families. A big part of that is working with the government as unfortunately they know they can’t do everything they need and want to do.

Sometimes the money just isn’t there and where we can, we can help fill that need

L: That’s very interesting and I really like your stories because there is a lot of background behind this and its very emotional and I’m pretty sure I said about this earlier but I just really want to say that its really nice that you want to get involved with something and the problems you’ve been right in front of. I talked about this a little earlier and I just wanted to say that I am very happy that you care so much about something — you get it. You get what the problems are.

D: Yeah, well I feel humbled. . I’m very fortunate and privileged to have a lot of experiences that humbled me to the point where I know I don’t know so much … I’m constantly learning.

Erin: can you give an example of a military family who have been helped by your organization?

D: I know a lot of stories of people who have been supported: one guy was a soldier who, on his second deployment in Afghanistan ended up in a small village on patrol; as he walked through a doorway an IED — an improvised explosive device — or bomb went off. Unfortunately for him when the bomb went off he was close enough that he lost some limbs. Now think, he had kids at home and a wife, a full life – but now it would be very difficult for him to return home and function. He would end up in a wheelchair, so daily tasks – like getting around his house or even driving his kids to school – would now be very challenging. Through the support from True Patriot Love as well as other organizations, we were able to offer house and vehicle modifications; which means making changes around his house that made it easier for him to get around, and which helped give him a bit of independence back in his life.

There are also folks I know who when they got out of the military — they didn’t know what they wanted to do. Maybe they want to start a business and do something outside the military… one of the programmes we support is the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur and that programme is a weeklong entrepreneur boot camp for soldiers to go —attending courses, business, marketing, design etc. and they graduate with the skills they need in order to successfully grow their business!

There was one guy after he went through the entrepreneur boot camp, he had a business idea and took the idea and grew it into a small company. Now he employs a number of people, he successfully sells his products in stores across the country, which is amazing in only a number of months. And now he is in a position to donate to True Patriot Love and he is supporting us after we supported him. That little investment creates a huge impact – it goes beyond our own ability to measure the good.

L: Wow. Well our thing is coming to a close and before we end this is there anything else you’d like to mention?

D: At the end of the day it is important to remember that – and I say this as a veteran as much as an employee of True Patriot Love – it is important to remember that military families and veterans are more than just the injuries they might have. They are very strong, capable citizens, members of the community who, not unlike myself, joined the military community because they wanted to give back. They wanted to serve their country, their community, and their families.

So we always have to remember they have a strong sense of purpose and identity that is the result of service. I’m always a big fan of saying that rather than focusing on the challenges and issues, remember that these people are a great asset to communities all across Canada. It is organizations like True Patriot Love, governments and other partners who work together to make sure that veterans and military families have the right tools so they can give back and continue to build a stronger country and stronger communities.

L: I’m going to cut in there…for a second. My dad sometimes says to his friends that I’m a “chop off the old block”…which you may have heard that expression it basically means you are like your father and the old block is basically your father or your mother and you’re walking in their footsteps and I think you’re really doing well walking in your father’s footsteps.

D: Well, thank you.