Pictured above, left to right are P.D. Duncan, Hailey Harris, Klay Armstrong and Ken Armstrong
The non-profit organization Beards for Benefits (B4B) held its annual turkey hunt recently, pairing twenty lucky disabled children with twenty Veterans on guided hunts.
Beards for Benefits, Inc. is a non-profit organization that brings together wounded veterans and children with disabilities to celebrate life through the joys of turkey hunting and great outdoors. Through education, hunting, and fellowship, Beards for Benefits pairs disabled veterans and disabled children with skilled hunters and outdoorsmen to build hope, self-confidence, and inspiration while dealing with the everyday challenges. The goal of “Heroes helping Heroes” is to foster a sense of purpose and independence while building lifelong friendships by pairing them with people who also share a love for the outdoors and, in turn, are rewarded with lifelong memories, friendships, and connections.
The event lasts for an entire weekend, and includes prizes of donations given away at the annual supper. Located in Seminole County off Desser Landing Road southwest of Donalsonville, the event provides all in attendance with a place to hang out, plenty of live music, food, and a setting where new friendships are made by all enjoying the outdoors and hunting turkey.
Started by Klay “Pudoo” Armstrong, Beards for Benefits is both a personal endeavor, and a group effort. “I got hurt 15 years ago,” Armstrong said. “After I had my accident, I was doing hunts and I got asked to do more and more. Over time we realized we were doing something that was making handicapped kids very happy. They weren’t mad or bitter with their lives like I was, and like some of these Veterans I’ve met.”
One hunt with a handicapped child would be a wake-up call to Armstrong, and the inspiration for and the beginning of B4B. Armstrong commented, “I was at a hunt in Alabama, and this little 12-year-old kid in a wheelchair told me, ‘Mr. Pudoo, your problem is you’re trying to live like who you were, and you need to live like who you are.’ “That hit me pretty hard. He told me, ‘This is the only life I know. What’s wrong with it? You’re just living a life I’ve always known, what’s wrong with it?’ I thought that was some powerful words coming from a 12-year-old kid:’
That encounter caused Armstrong to change his outlook on his new life. “I’ve done hunts all over the country, helping out and volunteering. A common theme that I have noticed is the kids are happy and the Veterans are struggling. So I said, let’s take that concept of what that kid did for me and see if I can make it work. Put a kid and a Veteran together and let them spend all day hunting turkeys. If it works, it works, if it don’t, it don’t.”
Armstrong expressed confidence in his success saying, “It worked, because the Veterans came back, and they brought other Veterans. They come with volunteers, and when they return home, family members will call and text us saying because of their experience at B4B they got their husband back, or they got their brother back.”
One of the Veterans, Don Coker gave his thoughts on B4B. “It’s one of the best things to happen to me because you know a lot of us have those wounds you can’t see, like PTSD. It does a lot of good to get with somebody else. Not just the other veterans who are going through the same stuff, but the kids too. It’s like Mr. Klay said, they get through it and smile all the time, so why can’t we?”
As a non-profit, B4B receives funding through sponsors and donations, as well as through raffles and auctions. Aside from operating expenses, the money is spent on the kids.
At this year’s event attendee Hailey Harris was the lucky and grateful recipient of a new motorized wheelchair. Hailey, a Junior from Cottondale, has spina bifida and has limited mobility.
Armstrong said, “Hailey was so surprised and honored to receive a gift like that, she was just about speechless.”
The wheelchair was donated by P.D. Duncan and fellow Brooks County Veterans. Brooks County VFW received the chair as a donation for a needing Veteran from Dr. Walter Romine and his wife Peggy.
The wheelchair is a Quantum Q6 E3 with power tilt and recline seating, a joystick, ATX suspension, padded seats, moves up to five mph and has more features.
Duncan said, “It was a blessing and an honor to meet Hailey and her family.” Duncan wrote to Kevin and Brandy Harris expressing his joy in being able to help Hailey and her family in this small way through his VFW.
“We just find their needs and then fulfill them,” Chason Newberry, a member of the B4B board of directors said. “If a need is found we will move Heaven and Earth to work things out and make positive things happen.”’
The actual hunts are spread out over the entire southwest corner of Georgia, and even into southeast Alabama. If the hunters are able to kill one turkey in the morning, they have the option of staying out in the field and hunting all day, or going back to B4B’s headquarters on Armstrong’s property, storing the bird in a cooler, eating some lunch and then heading back out so the next member of the duo can claim a bird.
In addition to providing food, a raffle and auction prizes, live music is also provided. This year Leith Loftin performed Friday night, and Crawford and Power performed Saturday night.
Armstrong is hoping to expand the program and open up chapters in other states. “If I could I’d do more. COVID-19 kind of put me back. I had two chapters I was looking to do in two different states this year,” Armstrong said.
Still, he expressed his pleasure at the program’s current success. “Knock on wood, I’ve been lucky, and we have helped to make life a little better for a whole lot of people.”
Heroes helping Heroes, that’s what Beards for Benefits is all about.