WILTON, Conn. -- Since the 1960s, Wilton's Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation has been helping veterans, first responders and others who have lost their vision to regain their independence. And it's again received a boost from the Westport-based Newman's Own Foundation.
Fidelco recently received a $100,000 grant for its 2016 Veteran Guide Dog Program. The Newman's Own Foundation recently announced a total of $1.5 million in grants to more than 20 organizations across the country that support veteran entrepreneurship and higher education.
"There is no greater sacrifice than serving in America's military and defending our great nation," Eliot Russman told Daily Voice. He's Fidelco's president and chief executive officer.
"Newman's Own Foundation's passionate support of our life-changing mission enables Fidelco to serve more of our nation's exceptional blinded heroes with our elite German shepherd guide dogs."
Russman added that 17 percent of all returning wounded soldiers have blindness of some sort, and the demand for guide-dog services has accelerated dramatically, from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does not provide service dogs to wounded veterans who need them, nor does it pay the costs of obtaining them. The VA refers veterans to organizations such as Fidelco.
At Fidelco, the recent grant will be used to breed, train and place two more guide dogs with military, veteran or first-responder personnel or family members. It will also be used for marketing, to support the Fidelco's outreach initiatives.
For each Fidelco guide dog, it takes two years, 15,000 hours and $45,000 to breed, train and place the companions. The foundation provides the dog, in-community training to the client and 24/7 support through the dog's working life -- at no cost to clients who need the expert companions.
Since 1997, Newman's Own Foundation has granted $1 million to Fidelco.
"That's 20 guide dogs and over 200 years of service to blind partners," Russman said.
"The men and women of our military have earned and deserve the respect and support of a grateful nation," said Robert Forrester, president and chief executive officer of Newman's Own Foundation. He's a Vietnam War veteran, as well.
"We are proud to continue the long tradition begun by Paul Newman, who served as a radioman and gunner aboard an Avenger Torpedo Bomber in the Pacific theater in WWII, of supporting veterans, active duty personnel and their families."
One of the dogs funded with the help of Newman's Own is Xxon, who's a companion to retired U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Malarsie, who was blinded while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.
Part of his story is told in the first video above.
Paul Newman, the late actor and philanthropist from Westport, established Newman's Own Foundation in 2005 to carry on his philanthropic legacy after he started the food company Newman's Own in 1982, which donated all its profits to charity.
Newman's Own has supported military nonprofit groups for over 20 years, and the Foundation has donated $13.5 million since 2010. In addition to the Foundation grants, Newman's Own has supported military service charities through the Newman's Own Awards for 17 years, in partnership with Fisher House Foundation and Military Times.
Since 1982, Newman and Newman's Own Foundation have donated more than $475 million to thousands of charities around the world. For more information about the NOF's support of veterans programs and a complete list of the latest veterans grantees, visit its website.
Over the years, Fidelco has also trained and placed hundreds of its dogs with law enforcement agencies, first responders, search and rescue, and missing-child recovery organizations.
People with smaller pockets than Newman's Own can also help the cause, in a wide variety of ways, including by making a donation.
Other options include sending your kid to a "Dog Days of Summer" session; buying Fidelco-related products including holiday cards, fleeces, jewelry, memorial stones and even wine; having your Amazon.com purchases benefit Fidelco, through AmazonSmile; or hosting a fundraising event of your own.
But you can also volunteer to raise a puppy that will go on to become a guide dog. Volunteers pay for food, but Fidelco pays for all vet costs and provides training and guidance to the volunteer families. To learn more about volunteering, click here.