South Miami businessman Alex Rodriguez and his wife, Karen, spent years thinking about what they could do to show their gratitude for living in the United States.
In 2017, their idea crystallized and they formed Host A Hero, a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of active duty U.S. Special Operations warriors by providing them and their immediate families with all-expense-paid vacations. Active duty Army Green Berets, Rangers, Delta Force, Navy SEALs, Marine Raiders and Air Force Special Operations personnel are eligible.
The program provides weeklong vacations in donated homes located in destinations such as Colorado, the Bahamas, Vero Beach and the Florida Keys. All associated vacation expenses such as airfare, rental car, food and area activities are provided for, so the warrior and family do not pay a penny.
“Regardless of our beliefs, political affiliations or cultural backgrounds, we are all Americans and are united by an inherent love of country and appreciation for those who sacrifice of themselves and their families to protect the freedoms we enjoy,” Alex said.
“Host A Hero shows our gratitude by offering these warriors a chance to reconnect with their families in a stress-free vacation environment,” he added.
“We wanted to do something for military families of Special Operations troops, who have the most dangerous job in the military and are deployed up to two-thirds of the year,” Karen said. “It occurred to us that there must be many people who have second homes that could be given up for one week for a good cause, so we began to build a list of friends willing to donate their homes.”
In 2018, eight Special Operations families enjoyed weeklong vacations; Karen and Alex are hopeful to double that number in 2019. They have had to tread lightly in sharing the news of Host A Hero because the Special Operations community understandably and scrupulously protects the identities of its warriors.
“One of the toughest things has been reaching out to the actual Special Operations personnel,” saidKaren, who handles the day-to-day operations of Host A Hero. “They are very guarded. Bridging that gap with the Spec Op community and building the trust is a work in progress.”
Word of mouth from those returning from vacations has been the best advertising. Participating families have shown their gratitude to Host a Hero in comments such as this one: “Nothing makes my heart melt more than watching my two kids spend one-on-one time with their dad. He travels and works so hard on his long trips that when he’s home every moment counts.”
Alex and Karen realized early on that they needed advice and guidance from military members who had served in Special Operations. They have two retired Special Operations veterans on the board of directors of Host A Hero.
“They have been instrumental in getting Host A Hero off the ground and with its continued growth. They can pick up the phone and call people that Karen and I could never reach,” Alex said.
Alex and Karen have launched a fundraising campaign to raise $100,000 to accomplish their goal of sending 16-18 families on vacation in 2019. At the moment, Host a Hero has no overhead costs; Alex’s construction company absorbs all administrative costs. Their first fundraising event held on Apr. 4 raised just over $50,000 and 1.1 million airline miles.
“We’re not from a military family, we’re just patriotic and feel very blessed for the life we have and the freedoms we enjoy in the United States,” Karen said. “These troops are so giving of themselves that they should be rewarded.”
And the warriors appreciate it, writing notes like “Thanks for doing this for families like ours. The memories made during our trip will be always saved in a special part of our heart.”
For more information about Host A Hero or to make a donation, visit www.hostahero.org.