American Legion event raising funds to end veteran suicide

A virtual option is offered for folks who want to participate but feel safer doing so from their homes.

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Organizers for this year’s annual Challenge 22 have had their share of challenges in getting prepared for this important event, which raises funds for the awareness of post-traumatic stress suicide among veterans. But they found a way to continue the event — with social-distancing measures in place and an opportunity to participate virtually.

The American Legion Hugh T. Gregory Post 63 in Winter Garden and Project: VetRelief are hosting the program Saturday, Nov. 14, at Winter Garden’s Veterans Memorial Park.

Local veterans are invited to participate in the 2.2-mile walk; golf carts will be available for those who cannot walk the entire distance.

This year seems particularly important for such an event. Lana Gies, whose husband, Kurt, is the post commander, said the isolation mandates during the coronavirus pandemic have put veterans at an even greater risk of depression and suicide.



Attendees must wear a mask and agree to have their temperature checked at the entrance point.

Folks who register for the physical walk and pay $22 receive a gold-colored Challenge 22/American Legion coin, as well as tickets for the raffle, a meal and a drink.

Those who pay $22 and choose to participate virtually will be featured on a big screen and online during the walk. A truck will follow the walk route broadcasting the participants’ photos and videos.

A #challenge22vet campaign was started, and individuals have been encouraged to do something having to do with the number 22. Gies said they can donate $22 or do something physical like clap 22 times, run 22 laps, perform 22 pushups or donate 22 hours of community service; participants are limited only by their imagination.

They can take a photo or record their challenge and upload it to social media with the hashtag.

People can download the sign for their virtual pledge at

Businesses are getting in on the challenge as well. Fat Mike’s Hot Chicken vowed to donate the proceeds from 22 chicken baskets, Gies said, and Dee’s Cupcakery donated packages of mystery cupcakes for $22.

Some big-ticket items have been given to the American Legion for the silent auction. Lowe’s has donated a gazebo with lawn furniture and grill; Whirlpool washer and dryer; and Craftsman tool storage suite.

Challenge 22 merchandise, such as T-shirts, ruck sacks, neck gaiters, koozies, dog tags and Challenge 22 coins, can be purchased on the American Legion website or at the event.

Replicas of the Vietnam War and the Global War on Terrorism memorial walls will be on display, and a mobile counseling clinic will have two rooms for anyone needing immediate help.

Many veterans benefited from last year’s event in Winter Garden. Thirteen vets were trained in administering the Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories protocol, and 580 veterans, active duty personnel, military spouses, first responders, nurses and civilians had their PTS symptoms cleared through the protocol.

In addition, Eighteen service dogs were trained and paired with a veteran with PTS, 75 families completed retreats at a veteran’s ranch to help them with side effects of PTS, and 30 families experienced the Warrior Beach Retreat.

This year’s goal is to raise $100,000.

“We want to make sure we are still coming together as a community to show support,” Lana Gies said. “We need to come together and show the veterans we are together with them.”

The American Legion is still looking for sponsorships for the Challenge 22. To donate or become a sponsor, call Kurt Gies at (407) 701-9416.



Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.

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