Ensuring veteran sacrifices are never forgotten

Ashli Stempel-Rae

By Ashli Stempel-Rae
Ashli Stempel-Rae is a communications consultant for MassMutual.
Posted on Nov 11, 2021

Deanna Filosa, a financial professional with Charter Oak Financial, vividly remembers when she started her journey with the veterans support organization, Cost of Freedom Inc.

It was seven years ago when she attended the annual Cost of Freedom Weekend honoring disabled veterans at the Army-Navy football game.

“After that weekend I was never the same,” said Filosa. “I left with a deeper love for our country and an overwhelming appreciation for the men and women who serve in our military.”

Every year since, Filosa has deepened her commitment to Cost of Freedom, and in December 2020 she became the first female civilian to serve on its board of directors. Her continued service to Cost of Freedom earned the organization a $25,000 grant from the MassMutual Foundation as part of its 2021 Community Service Awards (CSA) program.

Ensuring no veteran is forgotten

All too often, veterans returning from combat face yet another battle as they reenter civilian life. Of the 19.5 million United States veterans, approximately 4.7 million, or 26 percent, report suffering from service-related mental and physical disabilities. Learning to navigate life off the battlefield can feel for them like an impossible mountain to climb.

Founded in 2004, Cost of Freedom is an Ohio-based nonprofit organization with a mission to appreciate and encourage servicemen and women returning home from combat. Through community events and programs, Cost of Freedom works to meet the needs of military and veteran families, sharing the meaning of values like honor, commitment, respect, and valor so that their sacrifices are never forgotten.

“From our perspective, the greatest need of our veterans is to feel hopeful about their future,” said Filosa. “Cost of Freedom strives to show appreciation and encouragement to these heroes, so they know they are not alone. They are part of the Cost of Freedom family and they know we care.”

Serving those who served

Due to COVID-19 stadium attendance limits in 2020, Cost of Freedom was unable to hold its traditional Army-Navy weekend, but that didn’t stop Filosa and the organization from making an impact. Instead, they coordinated with the Veteran Affairs medical centers and offices of Post-9/11 Caregiver Support and Voluntary Services in Northport, New York; Atlanta, Georgia; Asheville, North Carolina; and Cincinnati, Ohio, to deliver Thanksgiving dinners and holiday gifts to 18 military families.

In addition to introducing these community-based programs, Filosa has worked passionately to expand Cost of Freedom’s services to include programs for female veterans.

Next year, Cost of Freedom will honor female veterans with a luncheon, picking back up a tradition that began under Filosa’s watch in 2019. More than 200 women attended that first gathering, where the theme was, “Empowered Women, Empower Women.”

Filosa also received support in her mission from her general agent, Brad Somma, at Charter Oak Financial. Together they held a fundraiser to purchase feminine care supplies for the Veteran Affairs medical center in Northport, New York. Now, each female veteran staying overnight at the medical center receives a “welcome kit” with necessary personal items that otherwise would not be available.

“There is a feeling that overwhelms me when I stand at an event with my hand over my heart for the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem,” said Filosa. “There’s a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes because my heart is so full of love for our country. That’s exactly how I feel when I serve our nation’s veterans through Cost of Freedom.”

Grant will fund program’s expansion

The $25,000 grant from the MassMutual Foundation represents one-third of Cost of Freedom’s entire annual budget and will make a significant impact on the number of veterans the organization is able to serve. The grant will allow Cost of Freedom to expand its programs beyond the East Coast, broadening a mission of appreciating and encouraging veterans.

Each year, the MassMutual Foundation awards grants — ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 — to help nonprofit organizations with which MassMutual financial professionals are involved. You can read more about the program here.

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