Military Appreciation Night Kicks Off Cherry Festival

Jason Graven, an Anthony Wayne graduate and Army veteran, is the founder of Task Force 20, a nonprofit that provides gym memberships for veterans. He is teaming up with the Whitehouse American Legion Post 384 and the Anthony Wayne Purple Star Generals to host the Military Appreciation Night on the opening night of the Cherry Festival on Thursday, June 6 at 6:30 p.m. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER
Not Your Average, a Toledo-based band featuring lead singer Anthony Tunison – an Army veteran – will perform during the Military Appreciation Night on Thursday, June 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the beer and wine tent at the Cherry Festival. PHOTO COURTESY OF NOT YOUR AVERAGE

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — The rides, vendors and fair food are a big draw, but for military veterans, the opening night of the 41st annual Cherry Festival is an opportunity to socialize together and be recognized.

On Thursday, June 6 from 6:30 to 11:00 p.m., Task Force 20, the Whitehouse American Legion Post 384 and the Anthony Wayne Purple Star Generals are hosting a Military Appreciation Night in the beer and wine garden at Whitehouse Park, 6925 Providence St.

“Our goal is to have the community come together in support and celebration of veterans,” said Jason Graven, an Anthony Wayne graduate, Army veteran and founder of Task Force 20.

While located inside the beer and wine tent at the festival, the event will include a family-friendly area so that veterans can bring children to enjoy food from the Queso Kitchen food truck and music by Not Your Average. The Toledo-based band includes lead singer Anthony Tunison, an Army veteran who served as a light-wheeled mechanic at Fort Bliss. 

The evening will include raffles and prizes to raise funds for the three presenting organizations, which assist veterans in the the community.

The Anthony Wayne Purple Star Generals creates a community and support for the children of military families.

“This is a much-needed venture,” Graven said. “These children have unique experiences that many times gets over looked, so – just like veterans – having a community of individuals with similar experiences can be a factor in their emotional development and success in the classroom.”

The American Legion Post 384 has supported the Whitehouse community for decades and provides financial support to the school, veteran programs and organizations.

“This is our way of giving back to those who have done so much for us and the community,” Graven added.

After returning home in 2004 following a year in Iraq, Graven struggled. He spent years living an unhealthy lifestyle before deciding to get back into shape by going to the gym. He found that the gym did so much more than improve his physical health. He made friends, gained self-confidence and found that he no longer experienced mood swings. 

As he became more aware of the rising number of suicides by veterans, Graven decided to use his experience in nonprofits and business to create an organization to get veterans off the couch, away from drugs and alcohol, and living an active and healthy lifestyle again.

Since its founding in 2016, Task Force 20 has assisted over 200 veterans with paid one-year gym memberships, personal training, home gym equipment and camaraderie-building events like golf outings, the Military Apprec-iation Night and the Sunday, June 30 Operation: Stronger Together 5K and Gaven A. Smith Veteran Resource Fair in Whitehouse Park.

The resource fair pulls together veteran-owned businesses and organizations that aid military families and veterans in one place. This is the fourth year for the race, which draws 150 to 200 runners from throughout the area. 

The Task Force 20 board includes veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard – many of whom live in the Anthony Wayne community. For more information, visit www.tf20.org.

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