Mike puts in, on average, 50 to 60 hours a week. The walls are filled with photos, accolades, certificates of appreciation, and paddles (from Navy Seals, no less), among other items, to commemorate this man’s and WHOA’s devotion to helping those who have lost a loved one, or suffered a serious injury, be it physical, psychological or both, while serving the country.
(Note to the readers: If I step out briefly from the role of communicating a story. I want to share with you that Mike Talleda has been on a mission since the Fall of 2001.
He is not slowing down. I have to focus on what he tells me and take down what I am hearing and learning, but I am getting lost in my admiration and emotion about what he is sharing. Ok, back to the column.)
The work Mike and his helpers have done evolved. It began with assisting those adversely impacted by 911. Soon the group raised funds for those who lost loved ones serving in special forces and those who lost limbs or suffered trauma, illness, or serious injury. Since 2004, Mike’s group has officially held non-profit 501 status. The focus has become assistance to conventional service members. One of the programs provides a monthly stipend, for example, to a young widow whose husband was killed in Afghanistan.
“Since we were helping surviving spouses, we wondered who was going to send these women flowers on Mother’s Day. We did that as well, and then we thought about the kids. We began sending money and gifts to them on Christmas and for their birthdays.” There is indeed a Christmas program. Through the efforts of Mike, the volunteers, and the staff, Santa delivers toys to homes in many Southern California cities and ships toys to quite a few states (including Puerto Rico and the Navajo Reservation).