'Kernan's Heroes' organizers and participants remember Joe Kernan
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Joe Kernan was passionate about many things: helping his friends, helping his community, helping veterans. That last passion is what led him to help get "Kernan's Heroes" off the ground. It's a project run through the Life Treatment Center in South Bend that aims to help homeless veterans find permanent housing, find a stable job an ultimately, get their lives back on track. It's named after Joe Kernan because of his enthusiasm and passion for the program.
"Joe came to us in about 2013," said Life Treatment Center Boar President TJ Jorgensen. "We had reached out to him because we had started this program that, at the time, didn't really have a name. It was just 'The Homeless Veterans' Program,' and we kept trying to reach out to him, but every time we'd send a letter, it kept getting kicked back. One day he showed up and just wanted to get involved. So, he got involved. He dove in feet first. He was so excited to get involved. He had such a passion for the homeless veterans."
Jorgensen credits Kernan as being the X-factor in the program's success.
"Out of the 300 or so veterans that we've served, Joe has probably shaken hands or met with over 200 of them over that period, and out of those 300, at least half of them, we were able to put back in apartments and get their lives started again," Jorgensen said. "It's incredible the amount of impact Joe has made on this community especially with the Homeless Veterans' Program."
Jorgensen said without Kernan, the program may have helped 50 or 60 homeless veterans as opposed to the 300 it has served with Kernan's involvement.
Timothy Cheaton is one of the homeless veterans the program has served. He said Kernan brought him from a dark place in his life.
"I had arrived at homelessness," Cheaton said. "There's a term used in recovery called 'bottoms.' I had found mine, and without the program, who knows? It might have been over the edge. Who knows where it might have led to?"
Jorgensen said Kernan was passionate about helping veterans but also having fun while doing so. Kernan out together the Joe vs. Joe basketball game along with former US Senator Joe Donnelly. The two of them got teams together and played a game of basketball against each other as a fundraising event. Jorgensen said Kernan was there to help fundraise but also to win.
"It wasn't like Donnelly and Kernan were the coaches," Jorgensen said. "They were the players. They were the stars of the team. I told Joe (Kernan). I remember the last couple years I was filming it, and I was talking to him. I said 'Now Joe, don't get knocked around. Don't feel like you have to go in there and set a pick. Don't get hurt,' and he said 'TJ, I'm going to kick his butt.'"
Cheaton said Kernan was someone from whom the world could learn.
"His program is called Kernan's Heroes, but in actuality he's the hero. What he put forth and gave of himself to assist others made him, in my book, a great man. The world needs quite a few thousand Joe Kernans."
Cheaton now lives in the Life Treatment Center's Permanent Housing site and has a stable job. Jorgensen said Kernan's Heroes will continue in Kernan's name, but someone in the organization will have to step up to fill Kernan's role now that he has passed.