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Healy's Heroes a positive program for youngsters

EXETER - Natalie Healy was heartbroken when a porcelain picture of her son, fallen Navy SEAL Dan Healy, was vandalized by two young boys last year at a granite war memorial outside the Exeter Recreation Center.

The picture was quickly replaced, but it wasn't long before other vandals came along and smashed it again.

Determined to keep her son's memory alive after he was killed in Afghanistan, Healy decided that despite the vandalism, the picture should be replaced again, but this time in a more durable stainless steel.

As word of the vandalism spread, donations began pouring in.

A new picture of her son in his chief's uniform was installed just before Christmas, but with so many donated funds left over, Healy said, it became clear that more needed to be done.

"We realized that we needed to take those funds and channel them into something that would be long term," she said.

Healy, of Exeter, is launching Healy's Heroes, a program designed to teach elementary school-age children about courage and kindness. She's now trying to get the word out to schools, clubs and other organizations.

"Those traits of kindness and courage are what our fallen heroes exemplify. As it turns out, (the vandalism) was a blessing in disguise because we can now have a program that will inspire children. Even if we can prevent it from happening one or two times, it'll be worth it," she said.

Healy's son was a 36-year-old senior chief petty officer who died on June 28, 2005, when his helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. The father of four was born and raised in Exeter and was among eight SEALs and eight Army Night Stalkers aboard a helicopter that rushed to rescue four other SEALs who had come under attack during a mission known as Operation Red Wings. All were killed, along with three of the four SEALs they tried to rescue. It was the largest single-day loss of life in Navy SEAL history.

The new program, which Healy said will need more monetary donations to expand, will target children in first through fourth grade.

Healy said children who participate in the program must learn about a fallen hero or wounded warrior of their choice, then answer a questionnaire focused on kindness and courage with help from their parents and teachers. The children must also perform two acts of kindness a week for three weeks, which must be documented, for their family, friends, neighbors, teachers or classmates.

After proof of their work is provided to Healy's Heroes, each child will be rewarded with a certificate, medal, T-shirt and a chance to win a bike.

Healy named the program after a special award that honors chiefs aboard the USS Michael Murphy, a new guided missile destroyer named after a Navy SEAL Healy was trying to rescue when he was killed.

Areas of the ship are dedicated to those killed in Operation Red Wings. The chiefs' mess is dedicated to Healy, and each month a Healy's Hero award is given to someone who exemplifies the best qualities of a chief.

"I had the pleasure of presenting the first Healy's Hero award to Chief Jake Dort, who had worked with Dan at SDVT, Pearl Harbor. We liked the name and the sentiment behind it so much, we used it for our own program," Healy said.

Healy said children will be allowed to participate every six months. "The idea is to start off with the younger ones," she said.

Healy's Heroes will also focus on fitness. Healy plans to donate some jump ropes to schools that participate in the program to encourage kids to stay active by starting jump roping clubs.

Another component of the program is a Please and Thank You Club, which Healy hopes will help kids learn better manners. Parents will be given a notebook to keep track of the number of times their child said "please" and "thank you" over a three-week period, and they will be rewarded.

"When children are required to say 'please' before getting whatever their little heart desires, it sends a message that they have to pay a small price for what they want, even if it's a little word like 'please.' I used to tell Danny, 'With good manners and good grammar, you can go anywhere and talk to anybody,'" Healy said.

For more information, email info@healysheroes.com or go to healysheroes.com.



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