RANCHO SANTA FE — While the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams battled it out during Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3, a charitable twist was championed by “Holli”day…Anyday! to benefit San Diego-based charity Shelter to Soldier. Rancho Santa Fe resident and “Holli”day…Anyday! founder Holli Lienau said the idea for her annual Super Bowl parties to support Shelter to Soldier surfaced a couple of years ago.
Lienau has hosted Super Bowl parties for years but decided she wanted the day to evolve into a charity-driven event to raise awareness by asking her guests to bring donations instead of hostess gifts.
“I chose Shelter to Soldier to be that charity,” Lienau said. “I reached out to them to ask what they might need, so they sent me a wish list that I forwarded to my guests.” She said she had roughly 50 guests in attendance. “Some even brought monetary donations, and everyone learned about the great work that Shelter to Soldier does,” she added.
Including $700 raised, guests arrived to Lienau’s private home with armfuls of in-kind donations including two dozen large white towels, bags of dental chews and bully sticks, dog cots and much more.
Lienau said she hoped her Super Bowl party could inspire others to do the same.
“It’s just a no-brainer opportunity to spread awareness, raise donations and funds,” Lienau said.
The co-founder of Shelter to Soldier, Graham Bloem, was there for the day and said the aim of Shelter to Soldier is to save lives, two at a time.
“At Shelter to Soldier, we are ultimately training rescue dogs to become service dogs, and we’re placing those dogs with post 9/11 combat veterans that are suffering from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury or other surrounding diagnosis and issues,” Bloem said. “What makes our program so special is we’re taking a dog from a local rescue shelter that is lost, doesn’t have a permanent home and needs a purpose. And then we’re working with a veteran who also feels lost, who is also seeking a newfound purpose — then this magical team happens where they understand each other.”
No stranger to shelter dogs, Bloem started his career as a dog trainer 18 years ago in the San Diego area beginning at a local shelter where he worked with homeless dogs. It was his job to create comfort and prepare them for adoption.
One day, he received a call from a gentleman, who is now Bloem’s friend, who needed help rehabilitating and training a stray wild street dog from Iraq. Bloem volunteered his time to help the scared animal. At some point along the way, Bloem earned the moniker of The Iraqi Dog Trainer.
Bloem eventually trained 11 dogs brought to the states by Marines who were stationed in Iraq. During training sessions, Bloem learned what the conflict in Iraq was like to live through.
“A little while after those experiences, I lost my good friend to suicide and losing him was really tough, but what it did on a positive side is that it opened up my mind and heart to something I wasn’t aware of which was the deep mental struggles of mental illness and suicide,” he said. “While I forced myself to try and understand why, in that same process, I learned how the largest populations affected were United States veterans and active duty — we were losing 20 veterans a day and one active duty.”
Bloem was so troubled by the numbers, he knew he had to do something. So, he and his wife, Kyrié, founded Shelter to Soldier six years ago and have accomplished a lot in a relatively short amount of time.
Bloem credits his team of dedicated people which include staff, volunteers, friends, family and donors.
“It takes a village, and we’ve got an awesome village, and that is why we are here today at Holli’s home,” Bloem said.
In 2019, Bloem has plans to place 12 trained shelter dogs with veterans. Next year, he’d like to do 15.
The presence of Shelter to Soldier at the party initiated dialogue about veterans, suicide and dog rescue — which was the ultimate goal.
“It’s these topics that need to be at the forefront of our conversations and in our everyday lives because they’re that important that they deserve our time and attention,” Bloem said. “And really, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing on Super Bowl Sunday.”
For more information on Shelter to Soldier as well how to support the nonprofit, visit https://www.sheltertosoldier.org/