Rite Aid, Folds of Honor celebrate DreamShip’s inaugural launch

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — With the Statue of Liberty, One World Trade Center and Ellis Island as a backdrop, nonprofit Folds of Honor inaugurated its DreamShip — a full-size hot air balloon — at Liberty State Park Thursday, kicking off a yearlong, awareness-raising nationwide tour for the balloon, with Rite Aid executives and associates, Folds of Honor founder Maj. Dan Rooney, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, scholarship recipients and other sponsors in attendance.

Folds of Honor, which was started in 2007 by Rooney, who served three tours of duty in Iraq, provides scholarships to the children of fallen or disabled veterans. In June, the Rite Aid Foundation pledged $6 million over the next three years through its KidCents program, and in 2015 awarded more than $1.3 million to the organization. The DreamShip showcases artwork created by Folds of Honor scholarship recipients — about 130 of the balloon’s more than 400 fabric panels feature drawings of the dreams of children helped by Folds of Honor.

The event kicked off with the national anthem and a patriotic medley by students with Renaissance Youth Center’s Music With a Message program — a Bronx-based children’s organization that is among the KidCents beneficiaries. Representing Rite Aid were SVP and chief communications officer Susan Henderson, EVP marketing David Abelman, EVP store operations Byran Everett, chairman and CEO John Standley and Rite Aid CEO of stores, president of Rite Aid Corp. and president of the Rite Aid Foundation Ken Martindale.

Martindale took the stage at the event to discuss why Folds of Honor is a necessary presence in the lives of children whose parents have fallen or been injured while serving their country, and why the location was fitting. Gesturing toward the landmarks around him, Martindale said, “These iconic points in the skyline really mean something to everybody in this room. They represent one of our country’s most prized possessions: freedom.”

“I think we all agree that we're very fortunate to live in a country that allows us the freedom that we have, but I think it's critical that we remember that freedom isn't free,” Martindale said. “Since the country's earliest days, millions of our citizens have fought to protect those rights. Not only those who have served, but their families have sacrificed so that future can enjoy the freedoms we all enjoy today. In many cases, those families have endured the ultimate sacrifice, and that's really what this is all about. It’s important that these families know that we're not forgetting that and that their contributions do not go unnoticed.”

Martindale introduced Guadagno — a military mother herself — who discussed the significance of the landmarks surrounding the event, recognizing the New Jersey residents who died in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and the veterans from New Jersey who have fallen in the line of duty in the 15 years since.

After Guadagno, Rooney took the stage to discuss how he came to start Folds of Honor after flying back from Iraq to the U.S. on a commercial flight carrying the remains of Corporal Brock Bucklin and felt the need to do something to help Bucklin’s family and families in similar circumstances.

“We cannot think of a better way to showcase the stories and dreams of our scholarship recipients than to lift them up with the DreamShip for the world to see,” Rooney said. “Folds of Honor is so fortunate to partner with The Rite Aid Foundation in our mission to educate the legacy of our fallen and disabled service members. We look forward to following the DreamShip on its journey across the country and sharing the stories of our deserving scholarship recipients.”

After Rooney spoke, he and Martindale recognized several scholarship recipients in attendance, and the event closed with a toast to the DreamShip and the balloonist’s prayer.

“From here on out, with every launch, the DreamShip will lift up the dreams of children helped by Folds of Honor, both physically and metaphorically, and the Rite Aid Foundation could not envision a better way to show our support of Folds of Honor, our veterans and their children,” Martindale said.

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