By Dave Ongie
For Ben Berry, it all started with a YouTube video of a wife thanking the Shepherd’s Men and the folks at Shepherd’s Center in Atlanta for saving her husband’s life.
As the woman spoke about the transformation of her husband from a young veteran on the verge of suicide to a fully engaged husband and father, it stirred Berry to action.
“To me, when you see those stories, you’ve got a problem if that doesn’t touch your heart,” said Berry, a vice-president at TruPoint Bank.
Berry’s response to the video was the impetus for the Shepherd’s Men scheduling one of their 22K runs in Johnson City on Memorial Day weekend. TruPoint will sponsor the event, which is designed to raise money and awareness for the SHARE Military Initiative at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. The SHARE program is a comprehensive rehabilitation program focused on assessment and treatment for servicemen and servicewomen who sustained traumatic brain injuries during their service in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder as a result.
The Shepherd’s Men run 22 kilometers while carrying 22 pounds of weight to raise awareness that, on average, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. In addition to raising awareness, the Shepherd’s Men also use the seven-day campaign – which will start in Chicago and stop in Johnson City before finishing up in Atlanta – to raise the money that allows veterans to receive top-of-the-line treatment at the Shepherd Center, treatment that has saved many lives.
“It’s an incredible program that is providing lifesaving results,” said Travis Ellis, who cofounded the Shepherd’s Men along with Master Sergeant Troy Campbell. “The 400 men and women that have received treatment from SHARE, all 400 are still with us today. The program allows these men and women to regain their lives, to go back into their homes and communities and find that sense of purpose and to live. It’s an incredible life-saving program. We’re just honored to support it.”
When Ellis and Campbell started the Shepherd’s Men in 2014, it was on a whim. The two just wanted to do something to help those who defended our country only to return home with unseen injuries to fight an unseen war that all-too-many of them were not able to win without the proper medical intervention.
There are 300,000 young veterans that have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, and it is estimated that another 700,000 cases have gone undiagnosed. Those statistics are what led Ellis and Campbell to spring into action.
“We came up with this diabolical plan, as we like to call it,” Ellis said. “We wanted to see what would happen, and see if it would catch fire, and fortunately, it did.”
The first year, a group of 10 Shepherd’s Men ran from the Shepherd Center to Arlington in six days, raising $135,000. The campaign has evolved with each passing year, and the Shepherd’s Men have raised $2.7 million with 100 percent of the money going toward treating veterans at the Shepherd Center.
On Saturday, May 26, the Shepherd’s Men will be in Johnson City to complete another 22K to raise money and awareness. The run will start at 8 a.m. at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium on the campus of ETSU and eventually end in the parking lot of TruPoint Bank around 11 a.m. Those wishing to run the entire way with the Shepherd’s Men need to be at the stadium ready to run at 8 o’clock sharp. Those wishing to run the final 3K or so need to be in the parking lot at TruPoint by 10:30 a.m. to join the group for the final loop.
For those unable to run but wishing to support the Shepherd’s Men can gather in the bank’s parking lot around 10:45 a.m. to welcome the runners to the finish line. There will be a short reception in the parking lot at TruPoint around 11.
While the Shepherd’s Center relies almost completely on donations to sustain the SHARE initiative, Ellis said the awareness raised during the event in Johnson City will be equally important. He is optimistic the message of hope that stirred Berry and TruPoint to action will reach a veteran silently struggling to make it through day-to-day life.
“I’m certain there’s somebody in a five-mile radius of TruPoint Bank in Johnson City who’s going to have a need for their services,” Ellis said. “So that’s who we want to identify. We want to get them off of their couches, out of their basements and into treatment and on a path to wellness.”