Bedford High students work with local companies to support vets' housing programBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Sunday News Correspondent
April 15. 2017 6:19PM
BEDFORD - Young investors are on a mission to raise money for struggling veterans, and are working with local businesses to promote their cause.
Helping Heroes is an initiative launched by Bedford Junior Investors (BJI), a group of about a dozen students eager to learn more about the financial world while also assisting Liberty House, a Manchester nonprofit.
"This is an opportunity for us to use our skills to give back to the community," said Yianni Dimos, the 17-year-old CEO of BJI.
Although BJI is made up of students from Bedford High School, it is not a school-affiliated group, said Dimos, in part because its primary goal is to raise funds for an outside organization - Liberty House, an organization that provides transitional housing to veterans in need.
Last August, BJI began approaching local businesses and groups, telling them about their organization and seeking pledges for Helping Heroes.
Since then, BJI has obtained pledges from seven agencies, raising a total of $3,500. They will continue collecting pledges until May 25, at which time the money will be given to Liberty House.
"My grandfather was a veteran in the Vietnam War, and a lot of those guys that we personally visited at the Liberty House I knew would have been fighting at the same time," said Ethan John, 17, co-president of BJI. "My grandfather has inspired me so much with his courage and his life, and I couldn't let the very people who sacrificed their security for the freedoms I enjoy live the poor lives we know they do."
Since Liberty House no longer receives government funding, it relies solely on donations, according to John, stressing the importance of the Helping Heroes campaign.
Keith Howard, executive director of Liberty House, described the Manchester nonprofit as a brotherhood.
"Recognizing the service of all veterans, we provide housing for 10 formerly homeless veterans at a time. More than just housing, though, Liberty House offers a supportive passageway back into the mainstream of life," Howard said in a statement.
Being able to help Liberty House - even if it is just a few thousand dollars - is a positive way to give back, according to BJI members.
The group has learned many lessons throughout the project, and praised the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce for guiding it throughout the fundraising process.
While some businesses never responded to inquiries, Dimos said it was rewarding when other businesses were interested in the endeavor and took the time to listen to their pitch and eventually make a pledge.
"The fact that some veterans are on the streets is unacceptable. This money will help them, just as it has helped us learn critical financing skills," said Dimos, a senior at Bedford High School who is likely attending New York University in the fall to study business and finance.
Beyond the canvassing, BJI members have another role in the fundraising project. The group is managing a virtual portfolio, and at the end of the Helping Heroes initiative, all of the sponsors - including St. Mary's Bank and Catholic Medical Center - will apply the portfolio's percentage gain or loss to their pledges.
"Together we have learned so much about more than just finance, but how to interact professionally and present our ideas to people who we literally meet on the spot," said John, who will attend the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham University this fall for finance and business administration.
"It has been exciting, nerve-wracking and all the same one of my greatest experiences to meet all the people in the field. This, in part, will help set me up for the rest of my life."