This is the first in an occasional series to highlight the people and work of those who have devoted themselves to helping and honoring our service members and their families.
By Jeremy Borden
In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, many in disparate places around the country wanted to do something to help the families of the fallen.
Mike Talleda thought he could help.
As the son of Cuban immigrants, he said it was instilled in him from an early age to honor the flag and his adopted country. When he heard that many of the families of those in the towers were going to be hurting, he wanted to do his part, however small it might be. So he started making phone calls and came up with 911HelpAmerica, an organization that continues to help wounded warriors today.
As a real estate broker, Talleda had the business acumen and contacts around Hawthorne, California, to start his organization, confident that when residents heard about his cause, they would embrace it. So he sponsored a golf tournament in November, 2001. He raised $10,000.
Texas Hold ‘Em poker events and golf tournaments have continued to be the lifeblood of his organization, allowing locals an outlet to give back.
But in those early days after 9/11, he had one singular goal and one question he knew the American people would answer: Could one person do something to help one family that suffered when the towers fell?
“All we wanted to do was see if we could make a difference and try to help one family,” Talleda said. “I wanted to show people if they got motivated enough they could make it happen. The question really was, ‘How difficult is it to put money in the hands of one of these families?’”
As it turns out, it was more difficult than Talleda first thought. Luckily, his sister, living in Manhattan, was able to connect him to a family that needed help. The family gratefully accepted the $7,500 donation.
The remainder of the $10,000 raised through the golf tournament went toward Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund, an organization that helped the families of restaurant workers who perished at the famous Windows on the World restaurant.
Talleda’s mission was accomplished. But the money kept coming in and he knew he could do more in the years that followed.
He began identifying families affected by the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Each family received $200 a month for a period of 18 months.
Talleda knows it’s not a lot, but hoped to make connections with families of fallen heroes so that they knew that he and other Americans cared.
Now, his organization focuses almost solely on local wounded warriors; guys who need help financially, someone to talk to or anything else Talleda can help provide.
For example, he recently teamed up with the Bob Hope USO at LAX to take several wounded warriors to enjoy an L.A. Lakers game on New Year's Day. It’s just fun to take them out and give them a sense of normalcy, he said.
And so while his original goal was to help the victims of 9/11, he said he’s found something of a niche helping wounded warriors from in-and-around Southern California; becoming a part of their lives and helping them when he can.
While Talleda insists “there’s nothing original in what we’re doing,” he hopes he can make a difference.
“Listen, these guys, they’re special,” Talleda said. “If you get to know them, then they become a part of your family.”
Talleda laughs when asked whether he ever thought he would still be running 911HelpAmerica nearly a decade later.
“Once you start you can’t quit anyway,” he said. “All of a sudden, you’ve got some people depending on you every month. They have challenges, and we’ll try to take care of them, whatever they are.”