ECAD Polo Luncheon boosts veterans and service dogs

John Ferris Robben ECAD’s trained service dogs were a big attraction at the annual polo luncheon as Dale Picard, the group’s co-founder, holds three-month-old Champagne, who will soon be a service dog in training, for Carol James to get close to.

John Ferris Robben
ECAD’s trained service dogs were a big attraction at the annual polo luncheon as Dale Picard, the group’s co-founder, holds three-month-old Champagne, who will soon be a service dog in training, for Carol James to get close to.

Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) again recognized veterans suffering from the effects of their service as well as the people (not to mention the animals) who do all they can to support America’s servicemen.

They did this at its second Annual Polo Luncheon at the Greenwich Polo Club last weekend, an event in conjunction with the final match of the polo season, the third annual Royal Salute Jubilee Cup. But for many the focus wasn’t on the match, but rather the continued effort to have dogs assist those in need, a service that can be particularly helpful to veterans.

ECAD is a Greenwich-based nonprofit organization that trains and places service dogs wit individuals with disabilities. The organization’s Project HEAL initiative was introduced in recent years and is aimed at addressing the needs of the increasing number of veterans returning from combat. Each ECAD service dog learns 80 or more commands as a part of its education, and clients take part in a two-week “boot camp” to learn the ins and outs of operating alongside their animal partners. Since being founded in 1995, ECAD has placed more than 250 dogs in 20 states.

The Polo Luncheon served as a fund-raiser for ECAD’s capital campaign, with guests bidding on a silent auction items and puzzle pieces to help the nonprofit figuratively assemble new service dogs for Project HEAL. A group of USO singers provided music for guests and after the reception attendees were able to step out onto the field and enjoy the season’s final polo match, which included play from Facundo Pieres, currently ranked the second best player in the world.

John Ferris Robben Steven and Leora Levy, at left, received the Pay It Forward award from former Congressman Allen West as Lorraine Matovani, Carol James and Dale and Lu Picard look on.

John Ferris Robben
Steven and Leora Levy, at left, received the Pay It Forward award from former Congressman Allen West as Lorraine Matovani, Carol James and Dale and Lu Picard look on.

The ECAD Capital Campaign is seeking to raise $7,000,000 for a new education and wellness center that would also feature a veterinary clinic. Currently, the organization operates out of locations in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., and Torrington, but the large team of volunteers and 60 dogs in training are pushing the current space to the limit.

During an outdoor reception at the event, Greenwich residents Steve and Leora Levy became the first recipients of the SP5 Gordon Raymond James Pay It Forward Award for their contributions to philanthropic efforts with ECAD and related causes. Former U.S. Congressman and Army Lt. Colonel Allen West was the reception’s keynote speaker and thanked the Levys and all those who would follow their example for their continued support of veterans who chose to sacrifice their own well-being for the country.

“Sometimes, upon being sent into these combat zones, and I’ve been on the DMZ in Korea, I’ve been in Desert Shield, Desert Storm in Afghanistan, our veterans comeback scarred,” Col. West said. “With some, scars cannot be seen, other scars can be seen, and today we’re going to recognize two individuals who will receive the first-ever Gordon Raymond James Pay It Forward Award.”

The afternoon’s top award was named in honor of Specialist 5 Gordon Raymond James, who served in the U.S. Army 4th Engineers Battalion 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. Before passing away last year, Mr. James directed that his estate be used to finance projects for veterans returning from duty. His family made a contribution to ECAD’s Project HEAL Program, believing that supporting the use service dogs in veteran care was an ideal way to celebrate Mr. James’s life.

While often criticized for his controversial statements both in and out of Congress, Col. West’s focus was on veterans and the work done to help them. He served as battalion commander of the 4th Infantry Division years after Mr. James was deployed, and explained that he and Mr. James shared something “very special” by being a part of the division during their respective time in combat. He recited the division’s motto, “steadfast and loyal” for the crowd, exuding the pride of the division.

“What also keeps our soldiers, our men and women, Marines, Air Force, Navy, steadfast and loyal, is every one of you,” Col. West added. “The citizens of the United States of America, who even though you may never have put on a uniform, you continue to be steadfast and loyal to those who are willing to say ‘Here I am, send me.’”

He continued, “We recognize two of those great Americans today, Leora and Steve, who makes sure that our veterans, that our combat men and women are properly equipped and that they’re taken care of when they come back from the battlefield.”

Ms. Levy is a member of the Bruce Museum board of trustees, and works as a part of the town’s Nominations Advisory Committee. She is also the chairman of Shelter Our Strays committee, which supports the Greenwich Animal Control Center and the town’s pets. Mr. Levy is the chairman of the Middle Eastern Forum, a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia.

“My family came here from Cuba, we fled a communist dictatorship, and it’s been a haven for us, and I want America to remain a haven for everybody else,” Ms. Levy said. “It’s really important for all for us to get involved, whether it’s large or small, personal or corporate.”

That sort of split involvement aptly describes the Levys’ personal efforts, having supported private, public and nonprofit initiatives in support of American troops and other political entities.

“I think we as American citizens, as a community, need to let every serviceman know that they’re fighting for us, and that we care about them and will take care of them,” Mr. Levy said. “I’m grateful to all of you for coming here and proving that you feel the same way by being here and helping.”

The event, coordinated by Jo Rosenfield, also recognized Robert Thomas, a World War II veteran from Bridgeport, for his time in combat. Mr. Thomas was a member of the 87th Infantry, 374th Regiment and earned a number of medals during his two years of duty in Europe.

For more information on Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities, visit ecad1.org or call 914-693-0600.

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