Who helps the people who help you? Many police officers, firefighters, military members, paramedics and others suffer in silence, feeling isolated as they deal with physical or mental injuries. But Col. Al De Genova says they’re not alone, and he’s visiting dozens of communities across B.C. with that message.
The Tour of Honour launched Monday (April 3) with the Honour Tour’s eye-catching Humvee and trailer pulling into the parking lot of Chilliwack Fire Hall No. 1. Between now and mid-June, De Genova and eight volunteer drivers are hitting the road with a focus on raising awareness and money for two places that can be a lifeline for people who are struggling, Honour House and Honour Ranch.
“The suicide rate is extremely high right now for all our first responders, and I’m hoping to let them know they’re not left on their own, that there is help and Honour House and Honour Ranch are there for them unconditionally, at no cost, as long as they want to stay,” said De Genova, who is an honourary colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces’ 15th Field Artillery Regiment.
Honour House is 11 years old. Based in Queen’s Park in New Westminster, it offers a temporary home for serving and retired military personnel, police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other law enforcement agencies (and their immediate families) while they get medical treatment in the Metro Vancouver area. De Genova said Honour House saves visitors the expense of hotels and food and gives them a place to while away the hours between appointments.
It is a home away from home.
“There are long days and it can be a struggle,” De Genova said. “At Honour House they have their own rooms and bathrooms. They have to come down and cook their own meals and there are other families to interact with, but if they need separation they have that as well with the way the house has been designed.
“And we have hit close to 13,000 night-stays since we opened our doors.”
Honour Ranch in Ashcroft is in its first year, providing a serene retreat for those suffering from job-related trauma, including the devastating effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“One size does not fit all and that’s why Honour Ranch offers everything from equine (therapy) to foraging to one-on-one therapy to round table (sessions),” De Genova noted. “The ranch is designed to make sure that they get the treatment they deserve in the form they feel is best. We’re running some great programs and we’ll save hundreds and hundreds of lives from our first responders and Canadian Forces men and women.”
A smaller version of the Tour of Honour was held in 2016 with the same mission, to raise awareness about Honour House and Honour Ranch, but De Genova feels there’s still thousands of people who don’t know about them.
“I bet you more than half of these firefighters here in Chilliwack, the younger ones and even the more seasoned ones, wouldn’t be aware of what we really do,” he said. “Hence the Humvee and trailer. It brings people in and it’s a comfortable way to talk to them and hand them some reading materials. The more people we reach the more we’ll be able to help.”
De Genova plans to bring the message as far and wide as he can, including as far north as Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.
“It’s going to be intense, but it’s also very important,” said De Genova, who said each of the eight drivers will be behind the wheel for a week. “I think the highlight for me will be Whitehorse. When the Canadian Rangers way up north are struggling physically and mentally, it’s a long way to get down here. But I want to go all the way up to them to let them know we are here for them, because they are here every day for us.”
The charitable arm of the Chilliwack Fire Department kicked off the Tour of Honours fundraising efforts with a $500 donation.
For more information or to donate, phone 778-397-4399, email email@example.com or visit honourhouse.ca.
See the full list of Honour Tour stops below.
April 4 – Princeton-Osoyoos
April 5 – Oliver-Penticton
April 6 – Kelowna
April 7 – Vernon
April 8-9 – Revelstoke
April 10 – Golden
April 11-12 – Cranbrook/Kimberley
April 13 – Nelson
April 14 – Castlegar
April 15 – Trail
April 16 – Grand Forks-Greenwood
April 18-19 – Kamloops
April 20 – Merritt-Lillooet
April 21 – Pemberton-Whistler
April 22 – Squamish
April 24-25 – Victoria-Esquimalt
April 26 – Duncan-Nanaimo
April 27 – Comox-Courtenay
April 28 – Campbell River
April 29 – Powell River-Sechelt-Gibsons
May 2 – Williams Lake
May 3 – Quesnel
May 4 – Prince George
May 5 – Vanderhoof
May 6 – Smithers
May 7 – Hazelton
May 8 – Terrace
May 9 – Prince Rupert
May 11 – Stewart
May 13 – Dease Lake
May 16-18 – Whitehorse
May 20 – Fort Nelson
May 21-22 – Fort St. John
May 23 – Dawson Creek
May 24 – Mackenzie
May 25-27 – Prince George
May 29 – Valemount
May 30 – Clearwater-Barriere
May 31 – Cache Creek-Ashcroft
June 2-10 – Lower Mainland