Saltwater Warriors, Recipient

Michael Burns needed a new mission. Despite a career of more than 30 years—including 21 with the U.S. Army—he wanted to make more of an impact. Inspired by his military experience and time working with the Department of Defense, he co-created Saltwater Warriors, a nonprofit that connects military veterans with mental health services. “About 200,000 folks finish their military service every year, and about 40% say they’re not ready for civilian life because of a mental health issue,” Burns said. What sets Saltwater Warriors apart from other organizations that connect veterans and wellness resources is the setting in which its services take place. Later this year, groups of veterans will head out onto the organization’s maiden voyage to the Gulf of Mexico for a chartered fishing experience. Along for the day will be a counselor to facilitate conversations on the water. “There’s a psychological concept called blue space, which states that if a person is exposed to a large body of water with no horizon, their stress and anxiety are drastically lowered,” Burns said. “We thought that if we get these veterans out on a boat in a small group of six at a time, we might get the people who previously resisted counseling to get past that stigma and to have some conversations.” Promotional travel mugs help get the word outFather and son fishing in a boat. Saltwater Warriors was awarded a one by one grant and used it to purchase promotional travel mugs. The mugs will be handed out at various outreach events. Burns said he’ll also likely stuff a Saltwater Warriors T-shirt into the mug, along with a QR code that can connect vets with helpful resources. Bright future ahead Saltwater Warriors has its first two fishing trips planned for later this year. In 2025, it plans to facilitate two trips a month for 10 months (skipping the peak heat of July and August). Airfare, hotel stays and counseling will be provided. Burns said the goal is to contact at least 500 veterans for the year and get at least 100 of them to enroll in counseling services. “We will work with any veteran, but the real treasures are the people who say counseling isn’t for them,” Burns said. “If we can get those folks to get out on a boat and give it a try, we’re not only positively affecting them, we’re also potentially helping their friends and families. The impact could be generational.”

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