Parchment Valley prepares for Hunting Heroes annual hunt with $4,000 donation

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
The Ripley VFW presented a check of $4,000 to Hunting Heroes President Frank Miller on Tuesday, Nov. 9.

EVANS  With only $10 and a credit card in his pocket, Frank Miller created Jackson County's Hunting Heroes in 2013. He had no idea what the nonprofit would turn into, and eight years later it's become a hub for veterans. 

The nonprofit hosts a veteran-only hunt every year at Parchment Valley a nonprofit operated by the West Virginia Baptist Convention. The long weekend getaway is a free opportunity for veterans to connect, build confidence and stock up on meat for the winter. 

The group was certified as a nonprofit just months before the first hunt. Miller, who is the president of the organization and a U.S. Air Force veteran, didn't know how they were going to pull it off. 

"We didn't have any money," Miller said. "We didn't know how we were going to do it, but the community came out."

Each veteran is accompanied by a guide. The guides are volunteers in Jackson County who have plenty of land to go hunting. 

The first hunt held in the winter of 2013 had 15 veterans, this year Miller said 25 veterans are signed up. This year's hunt is scheduled for Dec. 9 through 11. 

Miller said every December lives are changed during the hunt. Some stories are engraved in Miller's mind. One year, he recalled, there was a veteran who journaled every day. He had lost his short-term memory after serving in Iraq and the journal was a gateway to his recent thoughts and memories. 

He had a great hunt on the second day and killed a deer. Miller said his excitement was contagious  no one was expecting the disaster that ensued the next day. 

In the thrill of his accomplishment, the veteran forgot to journal what happened. He woke up the next day and couldn't remember. He knew something big happened the day before but he couldn't connect the dots. He was irate, Miller said. 

But then a miracle happened — he remembered hunting the day before. He remembered getting a deer. 

"While he was here his short-term memory came back," Miller said. "Every year we have miracles happen."

Moments like this are why Hunting Heroes was born. It stays alive solely because of the community's support. 

The hunt costs $10,000 annually, and every year organizations and businesses rally behind Hunting Heroes with fundraisers and donations to make the event possible. 

Groups like Constellium and Ripley's Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) branch are constantly throwing money at Hunting Heroes. The VFW's Auxillary President Melanie Jarrell said her group has held spaghetti dinners and helps organize a golf fundraiser every year at the Green Hills Country Club. This year, golfing brought in $4,000 for the hunt.

"Whatever they're involved in, we just pick up and go with it," Jarrell said. 

Miller wants veterans to know that people care about them. That's why the group does way more than its annual hunt to help veterans in Jackson County. 

The group holds events for veterans year-round like fishing trips, and even just checking on veterans who have stumbled into hard times. 

After the COVID pandemic hit, a mom of a Navy veteran in Jackson County reached out for help. Her son had lost everything: his job, his family and he was camping out in the woods of Jackson County. 

So a group trekked through the forest, found him and brought him to Parchment Valley. They fed him, bought $100 worth of clothes for him. That's when Miller got an idea to help other people struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. 

With the help of FEMA, Hunting Heroes helped donate and distribute 161,000 pounds of food to people in Jackson County, Miller said. 

Miller likes to incorporate Parchment Valley's vision statement of changing lives for the better into the works of Hunting Heroes. Every year for the hunt Miller said he sees lives change with small acts of kindness like Hunting Heroes providing warm socks for a veteran who showed up to the hunt with thin, holey socks. 

For Miller, he said it's simple deciding to help veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, an average of 17.6 veterans take their lives every day in 2018. 

"If we reduce that by one person," Miller said, "it's a blessing."

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.