2011-06-23 / Front Page

Modell’s, Party City to support veteran’s trek

Customers asked to donate to Troy Yocum’s ‘A Soldier’s Hike for Heroes’ campaign
BY JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer


Left: Troy Yocum, an Iraq War veteran, is walking across the country to raise money for military families. Above: Mitchell Modell, CEO of Modell’s Sporting Goods, announced a campaign to fund-raise for Yocum’s “A Soldier’s Hike for Heroes” campaign during a press conference in Times Square, New York City, on June 15. 
PHOTOS BY JENNIFER AMATO Left: Troy Yocum, an Iraq War veteran, is walking across the country to raise money for military families. Above: Mitchell Modell, CEO of Modell’s Sporting Goods, announced a campaign to fund-raise for Yocum’s “A Soldier’s Hike for Heroes” campaign during a press conference in Times Square, New York City, on June 15. PHOTOS BY JENNIFER AMATO One small step from Kentucky has led to tens of millions of steps to help military families.

Troy Yocum, an Iraq War veteran from Louisville, decided about two years ago to walk 7,000 miles from his home state to the West Coast, across the country to the East Coast and back to Kentucky to raise money for veterans suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, homelessness and unemployment.

On June 15 those steps led him to New York City, where Mitchell Modell, the CEO of Modell’s Sporting Goods, announced that Modell’s, Party City, Mandee, Annie Sez, U.S. Polo Association, Danice and 10SpotPlus will ask customers making purchases to donate money to Yocum’s “A Soldier’s Hike for Heroes” campaign.


Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com. Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com. “I’m so happy to have arrived here in New York,” Yocum said. “It’s been a dream come true.”

Modell learned of Yocum’s mission through Darren Carroll, a volunteer fireman in North Brunswick. Carroll’s uncle is Jerry Rittenberg, the CEO of Party City, and while attending a Yankees game about a month ago, Rittenberg introduced Carroll to Modell.

Initially, Carroll wanted to thank Modell for supplying gift cards and supplies to a friend serving overseas. In appreciation, the troop had put up a Modell’s banner for four months.

Then during their discussion, Carroll mentioned that he had been following Yocum’s trek on Facebook for about eight months, and Modell showed a genuine interest.

By the next night, Modell reached out to Yocum and promised to help him raise money for his cause. Within just a few weeks, Modell helped to raise over $260,000 from family and friends, compared to the $200,000 Yocum raised himself over the prior 14 months, in hopes of raising $5 million in total.

“It was a real honor to spend so much time with Troy and his wife, Mareike,” Carroll said. “They truly are great people. Everyone’s saying I did such a great thing — all I did was mention Troy’s story to the right person. This is something anyone can do.”

Last week at the Times Square flagship store on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, Modell and fellow business executives pledged to help Yocum raise even more money, at least $1 million.

“I was on the phone with Troy for two hours, and he’s telling us these heartbreaking stories … so that night I called Jerry and Gregg [Melnick, senior vice president] and had a three-way call … and without hesitance, Jerry said, ‘We’re in,’ ” Modell said. “Mareike and Troy, thank you for what you do for this country.”

In addition, during a press conference at the store, members of three different Fire Department of New York firehouses presented Yocum with T-shirts, and Dave Lorenzo, senior vice president of J.P. Morgan Chase, presented Yocum with a $10,000 gift card to help bring down his costs.

“That makes my tired feet feel just a little bit better,” Yocum smiled.

Starting inApril 2010 with Mareike and dogs Emmie and Harley, Yocum had drawn out a map while serving in Iraq in 2009. The National Guardsman said he figured that “maybe they’ll take me serious if I walk town to town.” Since most walkers go 3,500 miles from ocean to ocean, he figured he could gain more attention if he walked there and back.

Along the way over the past year, though, the Yocums dealt with 125-degree weather, flooding, sleeping in tents, three hospital visits, a car burglary, an RV fire, and weeks of delays. Yet they continued on because he wanted to help soldiers, such as a friend who had become suicidal after losing his job and possibly his home.

He eventually came to North Brunswick on June 11 to thank Carroll for his efforts. He walked with Christine and Bill Koch, the parents of U.S. Army Cpl. Steven R. Koch, who was killed in Afghanistan in March 2008. Koch left behind a wife, Amy, and a daughter, Zoe.

Yocum then entered New York via the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee around 11:05 a.m. last Wednesday.

During the press conference they welcomed 11-year-old Stephen Downing, of Indiana, who wanted to go to space camp to be closer to his father in heaven; his father was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Yocum had teamed up with David Girgenti, founder of Wish Upon a Hero, which grants wishes to military personnel and their families.

“Thanks, Troy, because it’s something I thought I’d never be able to do, and Troy helped me to go to space camp,” Downing said during the conference.

“I realized my dream of helping hundreds if not thousands of military families was possible,” Yocum said of the impact he has had in helping to grant wishes. “It’s the reason I get up at 6 a.m., 7 a.m. every day, I get sweaty all day, and I try to make it as far as I can go.”

With 1,400 miles to go, Yocum plans to reach the Louisville Slugger Museum on Sept. 3.

“Mitchell [Modell] told me I can get down off the mountain and to keep on walking, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Yocum said.

For more information or to make a donation, visit the websites www.wishuponahero.com or www.drumhike.com

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