Helping our nation’s veterans means much more than remembering them on Memorial Day and honoring them on Veteran’s Day.

Jack Elia, assistant general manager of Blue Chip Casino, Hotel, & Spa, realized that assisting the men and women who have served our country is really a 365-day a year mission.

That’s why he put together “Breaking Down the Barriers: Salute to Our Veterans”, the second annual edition of which will be held on Saturday, June 17, at the Michigan City, Indiana property.

“Giving back to the community is something we here at Blue Chip have always prioritized,” Elia said. “The needs of veteran’s groups in Northwest Indiana came to our attention, and since I had always wanted to build something around helping them, ‘Breaking Down the Barriers’ was born.”

After giving it considerable thought, Elia decided to organize something through the motorcycle rider component because veterans comprise a significant percentage of their ranks.

He went to the VFW organization in LaPorte to meet with The Guardian Riders motorcycle club, and after about six months of planning, the inaugural benefit was held last year.

“We had 75 riders and 220 people attend the dinner in 2016,” Elia said. “We all thought it was a very good showing for the first time. Now that the event is established we look forward to another successful day of raising much needed funds.”

As was the case last year, registration will take place from 1 to 1:30 p.m. on the day of the event in the Blue Chip Casino pavilion, followed by a motorcycle ride under escort from the Michigan City police department.

“We’ll meet in the parking lot and proceed through the streets of  Michigan City, including a stop at the Danny Bruce Memorial in Washington Park,” Elia revealed. “Then we’ll head back to the Blue Chip to begin the on-property festivities.”

A veteran’s vendor fair will take place from noon to 4 p.m. adjacent to the Orleans Ballroom. This event will feature approximately 30 vendors, veteran’s organizations, and service providers.

The dinner will begin between 3 and 4 p.m. in the Orleans Ballroom and will include keynote speaker Bryan Adams, a nationally-recognized inspirational speaker, Purple Heart recipient, and himself a PTSD survivor.

“Breaking Down the Barriers was originally intended to address veteran’s suicide,” Elia said. “I was alarmed to learn that 22 veterans across the nation commit suicide every day. “Then we started talking to agencies that deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and realized that this was a disease about which we needed to create awareness.”

Elia wanted the scope of the fundraiser to go beyond the boundaries of Porter County, which paved the way for a number of organizations in the Northwest Indiana region to benefit, including:

Porter-Starke Services, a program that was begun to alert families to recognize the symptoms of PTSD; Combat Bikesaver, where veteran’s build motorcycles which are, in turn, given to veterans; Empowering Patriots, which trains veterans using shelter dogs; LaPorte County Veterans Treatment Court, which assist veterans who need help; and Housing Opportunities, which assists veterans with housing needs.

“This is not your typical fundraiser that includes raffles and silent auctions,” Elia noted. “This is about camaraderie and empowering people who suffer from PTSD along with their families, friends, and loved ones.

“The vendor’s fair is not about selling but about helping veterans. The purpose is to provide information about PTSD. We give all the participating agencies the opportunity to present.”

Tickets for Breaking Down the Barriers: Salute to Our Veterans, are $15 for the dinner and an additional $5 for the police-escorted motorcycle ride. A $30 ticket covers a double ride and dinner.

Purchase by credit/debit card through ticketmaster.com, in person at The Gift Box in the Blue Chip Casino pavilion, or at participating VFW’s in LaPorte, Lake, and Porter Counties.

BONUS ROUND-UP:

BLUE CHIP: Make a day of it on Saturday, June 17, by staying for the 8 p.m. performance by “The Juke Box Hero”, Lou Gramm, original lead singer of the rock band Foreigner, in the Stardust Event Center. Gramm, one of Billboard’s top artists of all time and a multiple Grammy Award winner, is a rock n roll icon. Tickets starting at $35 are available through ticketmaster.com or the Blue Chip Gift Box in the casino pavilion.

Opinions are solely those of the writer. Reach John G. Brokopp at jgbrokopp1@gmail.com.

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