Our Mission & Vision
To honor, support, and promote healing of the mind and spirit by providing a relaxed setting, special programs and to be a resource for any Military Service Member, Veteran, Fire Fighter, Law Enforcement Officer (active or retired), Blue Star, Silver Star or Gold Star Family Member whose life has been touched and forever changed due to a tragic event and/or the death of a Fallen Warrior while in service to our country.
To provide a safe refuge and bring about healing and hope to all Veterans and Military Service Members who have returned from the battlefield.
To be the most desired refuge for all Veterans, Military Service Members, Law Enforcement Officers, Fire Fighters, Blue Star, Silver Star & Gold Star Families. Additionally, in the future, to have other “My Warrior’s Place” facilities and programs throughout the United States wherever there is a Military Base and a large population of Veterans.
Board of Directors
Kelly Kowall - President & Founder CLC, GSP, CFI
Kelly is the Gold Star Mother of SPC. Corey Kowall. Her experiences as a Certified Life Coach, 10+ years as Business Owner and over 30 years in Sales & Marketing have proven to be very beneficial to this non-profit organizations and the programs it provides.
In 2012 she completed her training and became certified as a Grief Support Provider from the American Grief Academy. In 2020 she became a certified Fire-walking Instructor.
Kelly is an active member of the American Gold Star Mothers Association, VFW Ladies Aux and the American Legion Ladies Aux.
She is also a published author and an very accomplished speaker.
Her creativity and drive is priceless.
David Haggerty - Vice President
Sergeant David Haggerty USA, Retired.
As a US Army Infantryman David learned the value of teamwork and the methods and tactics to build effective teams. As an Operations Sergeant he organized and directed 700+ service members and worked with company leaders to tailor events to their needs.
With a BS in Construction Science from Texas A&M, David currently is a Construction Superintendent with JE Charlotte Construction Corp.
His experience and knowledge of OSHA along with construction and site logistics planning and the ability to build positive relationships with contractors and coworkers, as well as, being able to overcome obstacles and generate solutions will be invaluable to the future and growth of My Warrior's Place.
Shannon Mesenburg - Secretary and Treasurer
Shannon is the Gold Star mother of Sr. Airman XinHua Mesenburg.
Shannon was working as an International Bond Trader in NYC, working on the 91st Floor of WTC North Tower when it was bombed on February 26th, 1993. She was trapped with co-workers in the stairwell for over 4 1/2 hours, in the dark, not knowing if the building would collapse before being rescued by firefighters and police.
Shannon is involved in many non-profits, but her true passion lies in helping all veterans, active duty, first responders, Gold Stars and the families of all of these heroes. Shannon is the President of the American Gold Star Mothers Peace River Chapter, a Board Member of Tribute to The Troops – Florida Chapter, Board Member of Holly’s Hope of North Port and a Mission 22 Ambassador.
Shannon's experiences make her the perfect Program Director for our Operation Solid 7 program and her dedication to My Warrior's Place is greatly appreciated.
Rolando Santiago, Esq - Board Member
Rolando began his training by entering the U.S. Marines (1989-1994) earned his law degree from Gonzaga Law School in Spokane, Washington. He served as a tax attorney in Spokane City, as the chief legal officer of American Tower-Mexico and as a municipal attorney in Tampa, Florida.
In 1997 he founded the law firm RJS Law Group, is a Florida Supreme Court certified mediator and arbitrator, author, and real estate title agent with more than 20 years of experience in general civil practice and litigation.
Rolando's expertise and experience as an attorney, as well as his experience serving in the military will ensure MWP's success.
Looking for the perfect fit
My Warrior's Place is always on the lookout for people who want to get involved and have strong leadership skills as well as work experience.
If you would like to be a key piece of the board to help make a positive difference in the lives of others, please reach out to us and submit your resume.
Those who are serving or have served in the armed forces, as a first responder or if you are a Gold Star Family member we would really like to interview you.
- Board Member
Mitch is our My Service Dog's Place Program Director and assists in facilitating our seminars and workshops for our Operation Solid 7 program.
Mitch became a Gold Star Family member when his brother was killed in Vietnam. And then again when his son died while serving in the Air Force.
Mitch, and his wife Shannon, are involved in many non-profits, but their true passion lies in helping all veterans, active duty, first responders, Gold Stars and the families of all of these heroes. Their vast knowledge, community involvement and experience are a great asset to My Warrior's Place and its programs.
About our board members
My Warrior’s Place has a hard-working board of directors. They are invested in providing proper financial over site and assist with acquiring adequate resources.
They are committed to ensure legal and ethical integrity maintaining accountability and effective organizational planning.
Most importantly they all believe in the mission and programs that My Warrior’s Place provides and support them both financially and with hands-on volunteer hours of service.
- Board Member
Gary is an entrepreneur and visionary leader and has a knack for turning a vision into reality.
Gary is an accomplished author. His memoir, entitled "STAND", provides a powerful message regarding education, motivation and empowerment that inspires people all over the globe.
If you were to ask Gary what has been one of the greatest keys to his success, he will say: servant leadership. Gary truly believes that having a heart for others and giving back is critical to an enriching life.
Gary serves on several boards, sharing his knowledge and lending his voice to local issues.
Program Director - Everyday Heroes
Phillip served 4 years in the US Marine Corps with a combat tour in Iraq and 4 years in the US Army with a combat tour in Afghanistan.
He is currently a deputy with the Sarasota County Sheriffs Office. After returning from Afghanistan in 2006 he found it very hard to navigate his way through the VA system so in 2007 he founded Everyday Heroes USA (a program now under MWP). His experience in leadership while serving in the military and currently in law enforcement is invaluable.
Susan is the daughter of a retired USAF Colonel and grew up being surrounded by military friends and family.
Susan comes to us with over 36 years’ experience in the corporate world holding key positions in Management and Mentoring Customer Experience /Engagement, and also Program Project Management and Strategic Partnering. Additionally, she is a mother raising two sons who are currently on active duty in the United States Marine Corps with the current ranks of Captain and Sergeant. Although Susan's main area of focus is in building community relations and support in Sarasota.
Irene Burkett LMHC
Irene facilitates our Forever A Warrior seminar. A United States Army Veteran with a combat tour in Iraq, Irene began her counseling career in Fort Benning, Georgia, working with veterans and their families and specializing in addressing trauma through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Irene embraces each individual’s unique experiences and offers a holistic and alternative approach to integrate mind, body and spirit for personal growth and healing.
Katie is a journalist and was a Cum Laude graduate of Vanderbilt University, majoring in both English & Spanish. She studied Spanish in Madrid as well, and completed a fellowship at Loyola Law School, in Los Angeles, called “Law School for Journalist.” as she is fascinated by the law. In her free time, she is very involved in several local charities and we are excited to have her on our Advisory Board.
Coralease "Cora" Ruff
Cora DNSc, RN, FNP, is a bereaved parent and an Associate Professor, Division of Nursing, at Howard University. Cora is the author of several books. She has served on the board of several other non-profit organizations including Compassionate Friends. Cora was one of the founding board members of My Warrior's Place and was also instrumental in creating our Project Corregidor Grief Program. Her knowledge has been invaluable.
Program Director of Operation Solid 7
Shannon is a former Bond Trader and Global Project Manager. She worked on the 91st floor of the WTC North Tower in NYC when it was bombed in 1993. This tragedy sparked her true love, admiration, and support for all first responders.
On January 5, 2019, Shannon and her husband Mitch lost their Sr Airman son by suicide. These two life altering events changed Shannon’s passion in life to become one of service. She is the President of the AGSM Peace River Chapter, sits on the boards of several non-profits in assisting veterans, first responders, honoring Gold Star Families, as well as working to remove the stigmatism of depression and suicide awareness.
FAVE Boating Expeditions Liaison
Tom is a 28 year veteran of The US Navy Seabees and Army Corp. of Engineers. Tom’s experience as both a military recruiter and instructor lends itself to the vital role of finding the volunteers we need to make our boating programs work. Tom is also a kayak fishing guide and business owner of Can Do Kayak Adventures.
Tom graciously donates his time and talent as a guide to any of the MWP guests that requests his services. Tom also serves as first-mate for our boating trips in the FAVE Boating program.
Is an Advanced Certified Paralegal with Maglio, Christopher & Toale, PA. Prior to that she spent eleven years working as a Supervisor, Emergency Medical Dispatch Quality Assurance Officer, and Training Officer in the Public Safety Communications Department of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. Her understanding of what it takes to develop, maintain and lead programs towards success through collective team efforts will benefit the ongoing development and success of MWP.
Courtney anchors 10News This Evening. She was born and raised in Fort Bragg, NC. Her father served as a member of our elite Special Operations Command for the Army. He died in 1994 while serving in South Korea. Courtney is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill. She uses her voice and knowledge of social media to bring awareness to My Warrior’s Place and the needs facing our active-duty military, veterans, and their families.
Louise Sutherland-Hoyt, LMHC, CCMHC, MAC
Operation Solid 7 Program Advisor
Louise is a United States Army Veteran, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Life Coach, Louise Sutherland-Hoyt provides powerful and insightful coaching strategies, workshops, and seminars for individuals and groups, Gold Star Families, Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress, and Survivors of Military Suicide. Louise is well-known for the passion and enthusiasm she brings to all endeavors. She also is a polished public speaker.
Tyson became a SCUBA instructor in college, enhanced with an EMT certification before a 30 year career in business consulting that includes clients such as Dollar General, HCA, Cracker Barrel, AIG, FMCC, Sony BMG and many others bringing vast experience from the business world. Although his current career with Heartland Payment Systems keeps him extremely busy, he still finds time to strategize with MWP on day to day operations and promote MWP with his business connections while also serving as a first-mate for our FAVE boating program.
Philip served 24 years in the Army as an IT Specialist.
He is now retired and living a retired life. In his free time, he does volunteer work particularly for any organization that supports Active Duty Service members and Veterans.
He is responsible for the My Warrior's Place volunteer database and our newest program Operation Tango Yankee. He helps out with other projects when needed.
John T Connelly
Besides currently being a brilliant professor at Lenoir Rhyne University, John was Program Director/Assistant Professor OTD Program with Gannon University. John was responsible for the start up operations of the entry level OT Doctorate program. His current experience as well as his past experience as a consultant to Bayer Material Science and Administrative Director at Heritage Valley Health System is invaluable to My Warrior’s Place.
Kevin serves as the Chaplain at MWP, providing spiritual guidance to guests requesting it. After the death of his wife in 2015, he entered the ministry full-time. His compassion sets him apart, being truly dedicated to serving those who serve our community and nation.
Nicholas is a Marine veteran and a yoga teacher. Nicholas has a background in website development and non-profit management. Nicholas assists MWP and other nonprofits with technology enhancements for websites, donation software, and security.
Whitney provides the trivia questions on our Facebook Page. She is a Marine Corps veteran’s wife & sister to a veteran lost to suicide. She works as a research scientist at the VA studying traumatic brain injury, Gulf War Illness, and other neurodegenerative diseases that impact veterans.
Sherrol is married to a Marine Vet and is a GoldStar Sister as her brother was killed in the La Drang Valley in 1965 during the Vietnam War. With over 30 yrs experience in accounts payables/receivables we are excited to have her as a volunteer to help us with our book-keeping.
Honoring our Program Founders
Darcie Sims, Ph.D., CHT, CT, GMS
Darcie was a grief management specialist, a nationally certified thanatologist, a certified pastoral bereavement specialist, and a licensed psychotherapist and hypnotherapist. She was an author and an internationally recognized speaker. Darcie received The Compassionate Friends Professional Award in 1999. She co-chaired the 1991, 1996 and 2005 World Gathering on Bereavement, and delivered the keynote address at all 4 World Gatherings. Darcie was instrumental in creating our Project Corregidor Grief & Peer Mentoring Program prior to her death in February 2014.
Tony Sims, Ph.D.
Robert A. (Tony) Sims, served honorable in three branches of the US Military (Army, Navy & Air Force) for over 30 years in both combat and peacetime operations. Tony served in a variety of leadership roles for both public and private corporations, including VA hospitals. As a co-founder of Big A and Company Publishing, Tony helped produce books, tapes and other grief programs to help the corporate world accommodate the needs of grieving employees. He also helped to create our Project Corregidor Grief Program prior to his death in 2017.
Known as Marty to her family and friends she is also the Grandmother of SPC. Corey Kowall. Marty was instrumental in the founding and start up phases of both FAVE Boating Expeditions and Project Corregidor Grief & Peer Mentoring Program. Her experiences as a Stephens Minister Leader, 10+ years as Business Owner and 33+ years teaching in the Education Field were a huge asset to the organization when we were first getting started. Her education includes a BA in English and a MA in Physical Education from IU. She still volunteers when she can.
SPC. Corey Kowall and SPC. Damon Winkleman (a US Army Medic) were killed on September 20, 2009, in the Zabul province of Afghanistan. The incident occurred while they were driving to assist a convoy that encountered an improvised explosive device (IED) not too far from their Forward Operating Base (FOB).
Corey was only 20 years old when he died, but he made a lasting impression on all those who knew him. As a child, Corey always wanted to be an Army Paratrooper. Corey was a World War II and Vietnam history buff so his grandfather nicknamed him “Corregidor”. Corey was always bringing home war memorabilia to showcase in his room. When asked where he got the items, he would usually say, “I found it”. When he started bringing home large items such as a helicopter door we often joked that we wouldn’t be surprised to one day find a whole tank or plane parked in the yard with Corey giving us his pat answer of, “I found it”.
Corey always felt that he was suppose to serve his country; it was what he was born to do, and he lived his dream from an early age. Corey joined the TN Wing of the Civil Air Patrol when he was 10 years of age and rose quickly through the ranks to Cadet Commander during his 7 years in CAPS. He was also in JROTC and active in the Raiders Program in High School. Corey was so committed to enlisting in the military that he went to summer school so he could graduate a year early. His father and I had to sign his enlistment papers because Corey was only 17 when he joined the Army.
Corey served with the Alpha Company, Second Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army, based at Fort Bragg, NC. His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Army Achievement Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Afghan Campaign Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Expert Infantry Badge and the Parachutists Badge. A Combat Outpost in Afghanistan has been named COP KOWALL in his honor.
Corey carried himself with a deep love for God, country and family, as well as, a sense of honor and humor. Corey understood what being an American was truly all about. Corey’s Commanding Officer, Captain Paul W. Pena, stated “Specialist Kowall was an extremely competent soldier and an extraordinary individual. His death leaves a tear in our formation and in our hearts. Though sorely missed, Corey will continue to be a source of inspiration and strength throughout Alpha Company.” (Captain Pena was KIA in 2010.)
So, to honor my son and the Army values that he stood for, Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage, I was compelled to find a way to assist those who were mentally and emotionally affected by some of the complex grief issues that arise when the one who died served in the military. Thus My Warrior’s Place, Inc. (a 501 (c) (3)) was founded in his memory.
Although Corey is no longer here on earth, he continues to be a source of inspiration and strength to many more than just those who served with him in Alpha Company.
Written by: Kelly Kowall (Proud Gold Star Mother of Spc. Corey Kowall)
President and Founder of My Warrior’s Place