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Founder may shut down Operation Open Arms in 2010

Nonprofit offers soldiers on leave goods, services

June 25, 2009
By DREW WINCHESTER, dwinchester@breezenewspapers.com
Operation Open Arms has been so successful over the last four years that its success threatens its future existence. OOA founder and Pine Island fishing guide Capt. John “Giddy Up” Bunch said he plans on shutting down the nonprofit organization by April 19, 2010, if the financial outlook does not improve. “I have come to one astounding conclusion: If I can’t get enough donations that will allow me to at least compensate our fishing guides and key benefactors by April 19, 2010 ... financially, I am going to have to shut it down,” he said. Bunch recently had to return nearly $24,000 in donations because his bank would not cash the checks. He said the bank refused to cash the checks after he received his nonprofit 5013c status. With only $1,900 left in the bank account, Bunch had to turn down a prestigious invitation from Maj. Gen. Mark A. Graham to attend a conference in Colorado focusing on soldier mental and physical health. Bunch said, as honored as he was to be invited, he did not feel right about draining the OOA bank account in order attend. He ranks it as his “biggest disappointment” thus far with OOA. “I spend this money like I’ve got a leash around the eagle’s neck,” Bunch said. “Nothing is spent unless it’s necessary.” Started as an organization that focused on Pine Island soldiers returning from active duty, OOA quickly grew to focus on soldiers from all over Southwest Florida. Now troops from 49 of the 50 states make their way to the area to take part in services offered by OOA. More recently OOA has taken on more responsibility by offering psychiatric services to soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Though OOA has received national acclaim for its efforts, its media profile has been upped recently with an appearance on the “Today Show,” which focused on the PTSD network. “I didn’t even know what PTSD was. I thought it was something you caught if you went to Tiajuana,” Bunch joked, adding, “but this is a potential lifesaver ... we’re trying to address the incredible and negative implications of multiple deployments and the pressures put on our troops.” Though disappointed he had to turn down to the invitation to meet a commanding general of the First Army, Burch is no stranger to turning down invitations from state dignitaries to put OOA first. He opted out of a meeting with then President George W. Bush to keep his promise of taking soldiers home on leave on a fishing trip. In February, Bunch gave the chance to meet President Barack Obama to a soldier who was home on leave and dealing with the death of his mother. These selfless acts by Bunch and those who have donated their time and services have propelled OOA into the national spotlight. Now OOA is at a critical stage in its growth, experiencing the kind of success that could signal the “demise of the whole business model,” Bunch said. “I had no idea what kind of monster I was creating. I got into this to make sure Pine Island’s own were taken care,” he said. For more information on Operation Open Arms, visit its Web site at: operationopenarms.org.
 
 

 

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