Connecticut Fallen Heroes Foundation brings to the public’s attention the service and sacrifice of brave men and women who have fallen in the line of duty. Big Y has supported this nonprofit organization through its Community Bag Program.
Tell us about Connecticut Fallen Heroes Foundation.
The Connecticut Fallen Heroes Foundation is a 100% volunteer organization. Our mission is to “always remember” our brave fallen heroes killed in action or on duty.
We were established in 2006. I always say we started from humble beginnings. And although he does not like to take any real credit or spotlight, Mr. Mike Mastroni, who is our founder, had the impetus to be able to put Fallen Heroes together. In 2006, Private First Class Cheyenne Seymour was killed in the line of duty at the age of 18. It hit home with Mike as a dad with a daughter very similar to that age. He started the organization by asking, “What can I do to support your family?” There were simple meetings, bringing flowers and allowing the family to tell the story of their daughter. It grew from there, and everything came together as the Connecticut Fallen Heroes Foundation.
What services do you provide to the community?
The biggest thing we provide, and something that we are most proud of, is our annual event. We have honored over 77 heroes, and that number, unfortunately, continues to rise. There is no other organization that services Gold Star families, the families of the brave individuals who lost their lives serving our country. We are very proud of honoring these fallen heroes the way we do.
This annual event happens on the last Saturday in September, which happens to be the day before Gold Star Mother’s and Family Day. This is a beautiful opportunity to be able to honor loved ones. It’s a chance to come together and remember those loved ones that have given the ultimate sacrifice. The event is free and open to the public every single year.
There is no other organization that services Gold Star families, the families of the brave individuals who lost their lives serving our country.
Connecticut Fallen Heroes also honors each of our heroes every year with a special quilt specifically for them as well as different artworks that celebrate their memories and the time they each served.
Additionally, we also love to support young people. We have given away thousands of dollars over the past decade to help support the next generation in their educational endeavors. The Connecticut Fallen Heroes Foundation provides scholarships to young people who show not necessarily an interest in military service but an interest in servicing the community. We also work with inner-city schools, providing funds for programs and supplies.
I love that we always have this big overarching event, but we do many little things throughout the year to keep our presence known and make small impacts that are huge for the families we’re serving.
What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?
We, as an organization, really honor the fallen. There are lots of influential organizations that honor wounded veterans, which is, of course, fantastic. The Connecticut Fallen Heroes is one of the few that honors the fallen. Sometimes it is too easy to forget those who are gone and have given the ultimate sacrifice. We focus on keeping these memories and spirits alive by telling their stories.
It is beautiful to see; these families come to our event yearly to reconnect. They find support and can tap into the spirit of their loved ones. The stories and conversations are not always about their death or sacrifice. It’s about their lives and stories about who they were.
The annual memorial tribute sets us apart and makes what we do so special. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve attended this event; it is profoundly impactful every single time. The impact shows you that we need to continue to remember those souls.
Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.
There are so many! One of the most beautiful things is that we can serve many families and fallen heroes annually. I remember a couple of years ago; it was the first time a family had come back together at our event. Seeing this large gathering and hearing the stories they shared about their loved ones, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
I encourage people to just come to our event; you have no idea what you are in for. I don’t come from a military family, and it is mind-blowing to glimpse someone’s day-to-day life when they serve. It is humbling, inspiring and very emotional.
I can share a personal story. For the past two years, my six-year-old son has had the honor and privilege of standing on stage and ringing a bell in honor of each of our fallen heroes. There are 77 dings to represent the 77 names, and he understands what that means. Now, when we’re in public, and he sees someone in uniform, without prompting, he will come up to them and say, “Thank you so much for your service.” In my opinion, that is a way to pass on the respect and honor of heroes and people who serve us to the younger generation. I can’t tell the stories the way they can, but I certainly feel the impact and can show how it transcends to younger generations.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
Honoring the fallen heroes is, of course, something that is so important to our small but mighty team. And it goes without saying that we’re very proud of what we do yearly. We’ve had impactful demonstrations of Black Hawk helicopters flying. The sheer magnitude of a landing is incredible; it gives you a perspective and a little insight into what life is like when you choose a career in service.
We pride ourselves on education and promoting the respect that’s deserved for those serving and fighting for our freedoms.
We pride ourselves on education and promoting the respect that’s deserved for those serving and fighting for our freedoms. We’re passionate about instilling that in the next generation.
What do you want people to know about Connecticut Fallen Heroes Foundation?
I want people to know that we exist. We are a small organization, and many people have said, “I wish it didn’t take me so long to find you,” or “I’m happy you found us.” We provide so much more than a single day of honoring loved ones. The Connecticut Fallen Heroes Foundation creates a community of support. It is a network of people who genuinely do care.
Making sure that we are not grouped with every other veteran organization is essential because what we do is a little special. We are here to support those Gold Star families. It breaks my heart to know that some people suffer alone and feel like their loved one’s memory has diminished. Everyone’s story deserves to live on.
How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Big Y Community Bag Program?
I want to say thank you to the Big Y Community Bag Program so much for the support and the opportunity to get the word out. Word of mouth through this partnership is so important.
Donations, no matter how big or small, are how we survive and provide all our services and events. The funds raised in the Community Bag program go towards helping us offer big and small events each year. We scrape every penny out of every single dollar raised to make as significant an impact as possible.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I welcome everyone to come and check out what we do. Our next annual event is on September 30th of this year. You will not be disappointed. The stories that you hear are truly impactful. And I’m proud of our small team. We do a great job of making those families feel incredibly special, whether it’s year one that you’ve attended or you’ve been with us from the beginning.
We’re so appreciative of partnerships like this with Big Y, which allows us to do a little bit more for our families. The Connecticut Fallen Heroes Foundation can care for our Gold Star families all year round.
Marla Prete Roscoe is a volunteer advisor to Connecticut Fallen Heroes Foundation.
Published March 6, 2023.