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Our Founder’s Story

Meet Our Founder, Dale A. Mullin

When Dale Mullin moved to Naples in 2002, he was looking forward to a quiet retirement, where the goals of the day were to play golf and go fishing.
As a U.S. Army Veteran, Mullin had faced many challenges throughout his life after returning from the Vietnam War in 1968. But he ultimately moved forward, went to college, built a business career, and was now happily married to his wife, Marie Elaina.
Little did he know, his quiet life in Naples would soon boomerang back to a life of service.
“It wasn’t until I had seen the damage and injuries of what was happening to the young men and women coming home from today’s wars after 9/11 that I became concerned the public wasn’t doing enough,” he says, “There wasn’t enough public awareness.”
He empathized with modern-day warriors because he, too, had experienced some of the same challenges when he returned from war so many decades earlier.
“Looking back, certainly I suffered from some level of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) but was not aware of it because I didn’t understand what PTSD was. No one talked about it during that time,” he says. “And I didn’t want to see another generation of Veterans returning home and just being forgotten—and I thought they were being forgotten.”

Then came the ‘a-ha’ moment in 2011 that spurred him to action.

“I was watching television one afternoon, witnessing the tragedy of Gabby Giffords,” Mullin recalls. The then-Arizona congresswoman was shot in the head by a gunman at a constituent event. Six people were killed, and twelve others injured. “The news media was covering that story from the time she got shot, to her recovery and hospitalization,” says Mullin, remembering the wall-to-wall news coverage.

There was so much attention on Gabby Giffords’ story that he thought: ‘Wow, why don’t our Veterans, who have experienced so many traumatic injuries serving their country, receive the same public attention?’ Gabby Gifford’s story was indeed tragic and newsworthy, but so are the stories of our Veterans who are struggling with devastating, and often invisible, wounds of war.

“No one was telling our Veterans’ stories—all the head trauma, the amputations of their arms and legs—”. “I thought something had to be done, that we must let the public know about these Veterans. I had to figure out how to help them.”

Mullin immediately organized a golf outing to serve as a Veteran fundraiser at La Playa Golf Club in Naples. He bundled the money raised and donated it to legitimate national Veterans’ organizations that were truly making a difference in the lives of post 9/11 Veterans and their families. It was supposed to be a one-and-done event.

But when offered the venue (again, free of charge) for the following year by the owner of the LaPlaya Golf Club, Steve Lockwood, it was an offer he could not refuse. Over the next few years, Mullin and a small team of volunteers continued to host fundraisers and contribute the funds to national, reputable Veterans’ organizations.

During his efforts to uplift Veterans across the country though, he discovered there was great need right at home.

“There were a lot of Veterans in Collier County who were not being served,” he says. “We contacted a number of focus groups, meeting with Veterans and family members.”

We also conducted roundtable meetings with organizations, such as the Hunger & Homeless Coalition, the David Lawrence Center, Veteran’s Treatment Court, Veteran’s Administration, Collier County Sheriff’s Office, and St. Matthews House, to understand the lack of resources and funds for Veterans in Collier County.

The desire to fill those local gaps in funding led Mullin and his team to officially establish Wounded Warriors of Collier County as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2014, with a small team of volunteers. Many of the early volunteers, Anthony Petretta, Roger Thomas, Joe Homes, and Mullin’s wife, Marie Elaina, are Veterans and now board members who have worked unselfishly to support the mission. The organization then tailored its mission to focus on addressing the most critical needs to best serve local Veterans: education and awareness, mental health, and housing.

“We knew we had Veterans in Collier County that needed housing, but we didn’t know how many because nobody had an accurate count,” he recalls.

In July 2019, Wounded Warriors of Collier County hosted its first homeless Veteran count, with volunteers scouring the county to find and assist Veterans who were living in the shadows and suffering in silence. That day, a total of sixty-eight volunteers located and counted a total of forty-seven homeless Veterans, though experts estimate the number was likely double that figure.

Mullin also discovered from the David Lawrence Center that there were no clinicians specifically trained to treat Veterans with combat-related PTSD.

To better understand the housing needs, he met with Judge Janeice Martin at Veterans Treatment Court, who explained that homeless Veterans could not be placed in the diversion program unless they had a place to live and there was no place to put them.

Mullin and his team of volunteers heard all he needed to and got to work. By 2020, Wounded Warriors of Collier County opened the Alpha House, providing transitional housing for local Veterans.

“I had the time, I had the energy, and I had an understanding of what the issues were,” he says. “All we needed to do was put together the resources to make a difference.”

As support continued to grow, Wounded Warriors of Collier County followed up in 2021 by opening the Bravo House to provide Veterans with long-term supportive housing. A year after that, the Charlie House opened to expand housing even more for local Veterans.

“We were all energized from the public support that was way beyond anything I expected. We started to see we were making a difference in people’s lives,” he says. “The bottom line is we are saving lives.”

Approximately 100,000 Veterans have committed suicide since 9/11, and an average of twenty-two Veterans a day are taking their own lives. WWCC wants to make certain no Veteran is left behind to become part of that statistic. And they are making good on that promise.

“We see Veterans being able to move to the next place in their life, particularly in transitional housing where Veterans have no job, no place to live, no vehicle, just really down at the bottom,” he says. “To see them after six or seven months, on average, get back on their feet, get a job and a car, restore relationships with their wives, families, children, when that happens, I know we’ve succeeded—and that happens on a regular basis now.

That success is due in part to its community partners, like the David Lawrence Center, Hunger and Homeless Coalition, St. Matthew’s House, and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. And, of course, it wouldn’t be possible without donor support, which is what keeps Mullin going.

“I have been in awe of the support from businesses, philanthropic donors, foundations, and small donations,” he says. “Being a Veteran myself, it restores my belief at the community level of the love that people really have for our Veterans. And they show it by donating their time, talent, and treasure. We could not do it alone. It takes the whole community.”

 

To date, Wounded Warriors of Collier County has raised nearly $4 million, with half of that donated in the past two years. But there is so much more work to do, especially in educating the public on the needs of our local Veterans. Our all-volunteer Board of Directors are committed to our mission to ensure no Veteran is left behind in our community.

“So many have a misconception that the Veterans Administration takes care of everything, and they’re surprised when I say that is not the case,” Mullin says. “The VA will even admit to you that they can’t service all the needs. It really takes the help and support of the community. They can help, but it takes a community working together.”

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