Igniting Change

PVA gala celebrates women veterans

The spark to ignite change for veterans — especially women veterans — was lit Friday, as Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) hosted its Igniting Change Gala at the MGM National Harbor hotel in Oxon Hill, Md.

About 300 attendees, including PVA leaders, partners, donors and VIPs, gathered to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women veterans, influencers and innovators who have championed inclusivity in accessibility, employment and medical care for veterans with spinal-cord injuries and diseases (SCI/D).

PVA National President Robert Thomas Jr. during the Igniting Change Gala at the MGM National Harbor hotel in Oxon Hill, Md. (Photo by Brittany Martin).


“For over 76 years, PVA has led the way in advocating for quality specialized health care for our members,” says PVA National President Robert Thomas Jr. “We have funded research and education addressing spinal-cord injury and disease, and we have assisted veterans with accessing the benefits they earned through their service. We have also been, and continue to be, the tip of the spear in the fight for disability civil rights, not just for our members, but for all people with disabilities. As we honor these extraordinary achievements and ignite the flame of progress toward a brighter future for all veterans and their families, let us renew our commitment tonight to creating a more inclusive and innovative world filled with purpose and passion.”

With sports journalist Hannah Storm as emcee, guest speakers Wendy Lawrence, a retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut, and sports industry pioneer and author Bonnie-Jill Laflin, and a musical performance by award-winning country music artist Martina McBride, the evening also included the presentation of several awards: the Veterans Career Program Award presented to Windstream, the Inclusivity Award presented to Target and the Disability Innovation Award presented to L’Oréal.

Perhaps the most significant award of the night, the Gordon H. Mansfield Congressional Leadership Award, was given prior to the main reception to former Sen. Elizabeth Dole in recognition of her work to help veterans and their caregivers throughout her career and through her namesake Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

PVA CEO Carl Blake called it a “full-circle moment,” as he helped present the first Gordon H. Mansfield award to Dole’s husband, the late Sen. Bob Dole, in 2015 in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Later in the evening, Elizabeth Dole pledged a $100,000 donation to PVA.

“Let me just say I have the greatest admiration and respect for PVA, and this means the world to me to receive this beautiful award. Thank you so very much. It’s something I’ll treasure the rest of my life,” Dole says. “And you know PVA has always been a strong voice for our wounded veterans and for their caregivers, and I’m so grateful for that, for the opportunity to work even closer with PVA now … and it does mean a lot to me for another reason because my precious husband, Bob Dole, received it in 2015. I bless you and thank you so much.”

It was also a big night for longtime PVA partner Penske Corporation, which has supported the PVA mission with more than $10 million over the last decade through Penske Automotive Group and Penske Truck Leasing.

Walt Czarnecki, executive vice president of Penske Corporation, says it was important to honor women veterans and women of the Penske team.

“These women, alongside all our veterans, both men and women, are testaments to the power of the human spirit,” says Czarnecki. “They have overcome obstacles, defied artificial boundaries, and ignite positive change for themselves and for our company. They are an inspiration to us all. As we celebrate their achievements, we know there is more to do. We must continue to advocate and support programs that allow women and veterans to reach their full potential.”

In a recorded video statement, Roger Penske, founder and chairman of Penske Corporation, said the company is proud to help provide essential resources and support to assist paralyzed veterans and their families. He also made a special announcement that Penske Foundation would be donating $500,000 to support PVA.

“By supporting PVA, we can all make a difference in the lives of those who have sacrificed so much for our country,” Penske says. “Whether it’s through a contribution, charitably or by volunteering to help the cause, we encourage everyone to give however you can.”

For more on the gala, read the June issue of PN.

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