June 06, 2019

Nejmanowski paddling the Mississippi to raise funds for SIU’s Veteran Adventures

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Greg Nejmanowski is a man on a mission. He’s a recreation professions graduate student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the coordinator of SIU Touch of Nature Environmental Center’s Veteran Adventures program.

Since the program’s inception just a couple of years ago, more than 120 people have enjoyed the camaraderie and fun offered by the program, which provides free recreational activities to veterans, active duty military personnel and members of the reserves.

The goal is to help veterans adjust to life at home through meaningful outdoor experiences such as whitewater rafting, hunting expeditions, camping, backpacking and family events. Current and former military personnel can participate at no cost, since all food, shelter, transportation, gear and any needed professional instruction and leadership are provided.

Grant funding eliminated

However, the $25,000 in Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs grant funding that launched the program is gone and Nejmanowski is undertaking a unique fundraising adventure on behalf of Veteran Adventures.

“Since the loss of the grant, the program is now supported solely through fundraising and donations,” he said.

He wants to raise enough money to replace the grant funds so Veteran Adventures can continue to “offer life-changing and transformational expeditions and events free of charge to veterans.”

Paddling thousands of miles

Nejmanowski is now on a 2,300-plus mile voyage, paddling the entire length of the Mississippi River. Paddle for Patriots is all about raising awareness of the tragedy of veteran suicide, which claims about 22 lives each day, and letting people know about Veteran Adventures and enlisting financial support for the organization.

He boarded his orange and yellow kayak at the source of the mighty Mississippi in Minnesota’s Itasca State Park on May 25. Each day, he paddles down the river, usually by himself. But along the way, he is joined at times by other individuals and organizations who have a similar passion and mission to help veterans overcome obstacles they face transitioning from military to civilian life.

Nejmanowski plans to follow the Atchafalaya River distributary toward the mouth of the Mississippi and on to the Gulf of Mexico, wrapping up his trip in August.

Getting Involved

There are several ways people can help Nejmanowski’s Paddle for Patriots benefit for Veteran Adventures. They can participate in special events along the river, give to a crowdfunding promotion or become an ambassador fundraiser. There are even opportunities to win prizes while contributing to the worthwhile cause.

Join celebration events

During Nejmanowski’s trip, a series of celebratory fundraising support events will be held along the river.

The first begins at 2 p.m. and continues until after the fireworks, which are set for dusk, on July 6 at The Loading Dock, 401 Front Street in Grafton, Illinois. Those attending can enjoy live music, food and beautiful river views. Grafton Mayor Rick Eberlin will host a flag-raising ceremony in conjunction with the event.

Another event is set for noon to 3 p.m. on July 13 at the Devil’s Backbone Park, along Bunkhorst Avenue in Grand Tower, Illinois.

All who attend either event will be entered in a drawing to win a free “Discovery Flight,” a special airplane ride offering a scenic aerial view of the region. Participants can also purchase chances to win a 2019 Wilderness Systems Pungo kayak paddling package.

The Discovery Flight winner will be drawn at the Grand Tower event. Special guests that day will include U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, who will present a commemorative flag that has flown at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and Illinois state Rep. Terry Bryant, R-Murphysboro. Free hamburgers and hot dogs will be served.

Give to SalukiFunder to win a paddling package

In addition, donations are being accepted at the SalukiFunder crowd funding account found online at salukifunder.siu.edu/paddleforpatriots

Anyone who donates $20 or more earns a chance to win a Wilderness Systems paddling package, complete with a 2019 Pungo kayak, paddle and personal flotation device. The prize is valued at more than $1,300.

A $20 donation earns one chance at the prize or donors earn six chances for every $100 donation. The kayak prize package winner will be announced at the conclusion of Paddle for Patriots later this summer.

Corporate sponsors are also welcomed.

Become an ambassador, win a prize

Supporters can also become ambassadors for the fundraiser by sending their first and last name and email address to Paddle4Patriots@gmail.com and collecting donations for the cause. The ambassador who raises the most money through a custom referral link wins a special outdoor challenge package. 

That package, facilitated by Touch of Nature’s Underway Adventures Program, allows the winner to bring up to 15 people to Touch of Nature Environmental Center for a facilitated team challenge featuring a low ropes course experience, a guided canoe/kayak tour of Little Grassy Lake, a guided rock climb at Giant City State Park or a guided high ropes challenge on the center’s high ropes course.

Follow Nejmanowski’s venture live

You can follow Nejmanowski’s progress as he travels down the big river on behalf of Paddle for Patriots on Instagram at @paddle_for_patriots or on Facebook at @paddle4patriots. He will also have a SPOT personal tracker so you can keep tabs on his voyage.

Throughout the summer, additional fundraising events, guests and other activities may be added to the itinerary. Updates will be shared via social media and on the Paddle for Patriots webpage.

Support from many

Several people and organizations are contributing to the fundraising mission to allow proceeds to go to Veteran Adventures. Those supporters include Wilderness Systems, Judge Services of Carbondale, The Loading Dock in Grafton, Bost, Eberlin, the city of Grand Tower, Dunn One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning in St. Louis and Midwest Aviation of Paducah, Kentucky.

Funds will enable Veteran Adventures to continue

The $25,000 fundraising goal would enable Veteran Adventures to continue serving veterans for another year.

Last year’s events included paddling the Cache River, a multi-sport backpacking adventure on the River-to-River Trail, an Independence Day celebration at Touch of Nature, a sporting clays shoot at the Rend Lake Shooting Complex, a controlled pheasant hunt at Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park and a deer camp at Touch of Nature.

The wilderness expedition programs mesh the healing benefits of adventure with outdoor challenges and camaraderie and fellowship. Organizers say this helps participants better handle anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms and enables them to socialize with one another in a stress-free environment.

Editor's note: Due to high water conditions, the July 13 event, originally set for the Devil’s Backbone Park along Bunkhorst Avenue in Grand Tower, is being moved to the St. Nicholas Landmark, 111 Ferry St. in Chester. The event is still from noon to 3 p.m.

Greg Nejmanowski

Paddle poster

paddle poster grand tower