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Meet Jim Dolan, founder of Heroes on the Water, an organization that serves to promote healing and restore normalcy for those who have served in the armed forces using the therapeutic nature of water. Dolan, who is a retired captain with American Airlines founded the non-profit in 2007 to combine his two passions; the love of the Texas outdoors and a desire to help his fellow warriors. Dolan served with the USAF for 13 years as a pilot flying mainly C-13o's in the Phillippines and Germany. He is an avid fisherman and kayak specialist. 

We wanted to know more about Dolan and Heroes on the Water and he was kind enough to answer a few questions: 

Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Heroes on the Water.   

Jim Dolan: We help warriors unwindHeroes on the Water (HOW) has helped thousands of our warriors to overcome difficulties brought on by multiple deployments. The reconnection begins with each warrior and extends to family, friends, job and beyond. Our nation’s warriors bring the remnants of these sacrifices home to their families as they face a new battle. Warriors seek to find their place in the world and restore a sense of normalcy. We can help them win the battle. Heroes on the Water is a national 501(c)(3) organization formed in 2007, with chapters across the country delivering our unique program through a volunteer network. We partner with a community of volunteers and equip them to provide healing experiences to warriors. As of November 2013, our program is being offered in 42 chapters and 2 rehabilitation facilities in 24 states, with additional chapters working on certification. Our program is open to service men and women from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and is provided at no cost to them or their families thanks to donations and grants.

Dawn Tongish: What are your duties at Heroes on the Water? 

Jim Dolan: I am the President and Founder of Heroes on the Water. We have over 2100 passionate volunteers across the country that make my job very easy.

Dawn Tongish: How did you become involved with Heroes on The Water, and why are you so passionate about the work being done?

Jim Dolan: I have been fishing in Texas since I was two. (A long time ago!!) Father was a WWII Marine and a Texas Aggie. I flew in the Air Force as a pilot for 13 years. We are using our hobby to help warriors and their families. The therapeutic piece of HOW was a totally unintended  and amazing consequence. We serve those who served. When I see the smiles, mental healing, families bonding, and lives saved I can’t help but be extremely passionate about HOW.

Dawn Tongish: Do you believe there is science behind the work you are doing for these veterans?

Jim Dolan: Absolutely! Dr John Hart at the UTD Center for Brain Health in Dallas explains it this way. We provide these four steps:

  • Get isolated warriors out of the house.  We all need to get away occasionally.
  • Connecting warriors with a team of supportive peers who have similar experiences, having fun with fisherman/warriors like themselves--people they can trust
  • Putting the warrior on the water in their own kayak, allowing them to become the Captain of their own destiny.
  • The brain is now relaxed. Water hits all five senses very powerfully, very positively, at the same time. It “overrides the bad stuff.”  (that is a quote from Dr. Hart!!) 
Dawn Tongish: It can be difficult for any nonprofit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat? 
Jim Dolan: Mainly we rely on passionate folks raising money for the warriors. Our friends are patriots and want to help.. When the warriors come home licking their wounds, we owe them our best. Many volunteers across the country hold events – fishing tournaments, music concerts, poker nights and a lot of other events. There is a lot of money raised locally for local warriors and chapters. Plus grants and donations from individuals and foundations also helps. Texas Parks and Wildlife, Community Foundations of Texas, Dallas Foundation are big helpers. 
Dawn Tongish: How can the people of North Texas and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?0
Jim Dolan: We are growing rapidly and need a lot of help. Kayak fishing is fairly inexpensive per warrior. We are seeing a major increase in the number of warriors who need the therapy and camaraderie. The need is great. Donations are best.
Dawn Tongish: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at Heroes on the Water? 
Jim Dolan: I will never forget our AHA moment. When we discovered HOW was much more than kayak fishing.  In December 2007, one participant with Traumatic Brain Injury had a breakthrough. He stuttered and was slow to process information and speak. After four hours of kayak fishing, he started jabbering away, talking about how great it was. He and those around him were stunned that he was talking normal. He went back to speaking slow and stuttering, but said “I have been at Brooke Army Medical Center for 2 years. For two years have not been able to do what I just did. Now I have hope.”
Dawn Tongish: What is the first thing you do when you walk into work each day? 
Jim Dolan: The Corporate Headquarters look a lot like my kitchen. So I make coffee!! We feel our money is best spent on warriors, not offices. We answer questions and help new Chapters across Texas startup. Our volunteers are our most valuable part of the organization and we work daily to support them.

If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.

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