This grass roots movement began with a simple idea: To give back and support those who have given whatever it took. In 2013, a group of local firefighters engaged in a grueling kayaking trip, paddling the Neuse River, starting in North Raleigh at Falls Lake, to New Bern, a total of 193 miles. They asked for a minimum sponsorship of just a penny a mile, totaling $1.93.
Allen Williford (co-founder of Love is Bald) felt the need to support our military and first responder families. Using his non-profit experience from Love is Bald, he decided to organize an “adventure” to challenge himself physically to honor those who gave it all. He was joined by Paul Zais (both firemen) and they designed/sold t-shirts and raised funds for FFAAFF & NCFFF. They set out at 12pm on a Monday in 35 degree weather in kayaks that weren’t ideal and not knowing half of the river/what faced them with the elements (raised approx $3500).
In addition to supporting the above organizations, some of the funds raised went to support Veteran families.
The following year, the group supported Ian S. McClanahan who was wounded in a training incident in Nevada. He was also a Volunteer Firefighter in the small town of Fremont, NC. He was treated at Walter Reed and endured over 140 surgeries, and is expected to have hundreds more. In addition, the money assisted injured US Marine Ryan Wightman and his wife Melissa.
In 2016, they again supported those two organizations, and they additionally chose Kimberly Fix, a combat veteran who suffered a severe Traumatic Brain Injury after being rear ended on the Italian highway in Vicenza, Italy while serving.
In 2017, the firefighters sponsored the family of Dane Waggett, a firefighter, in his honor. Dane who suffered a brain aneurysm and passed away on the operating table in January 2017.
In 2018, we paddled for the legacy and family of Will Willis. Will was an engineer with the Asheville fire department. He lost his battle with Kidney cancer on his 34th birthday in February. He leaves behind his wife and his four young kids.
Past recipients of Paddling for Pennies, who have become part of our family, are:
Firefighters Assisting Armed Forces Families (FFAAFF)
My US VeteranCorp (MYUSVC)
Volunteer Firefighter Ian S. McClanahan
US Marine Ryan Wightman
Combat Vet Kimberly Fix
Firefighter Dan Waggett
Engineer Asheville Fire Department Will Willis
We need your help in lessening the burden of these bills for our firefighters plus educating the public and legislators.
In addition to supporting our heroes, we also paddle to bring recognition to the growing problem cancer is having on the fire service. Cancer is the number one killer of firefighters now. Until March of 2017 cancer did not apply for any line of duty benefits from the state of North Carolina. With the attention that Allen and the Paddling team have been able to bring to this, we now have 4 cancers that are covered by insurance and benefits... but many more are needed.