Faces in the Crowd: Jerry Derr
Jerry Derr is the founder of the local nonprofit organization in his son's name that helps veterans put their lives back together after serving in war
RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Sgt. Colton Levi Derr Foundation is in its sixth year of operation and recently held their annual fundraiser, Gallantly Forward Gala. Founder, Jerry Derr, along with his family and volunteers, helps advocate for veterans all over the U.S. through the nonprofit. Jerry is this week’s Face in the Crowd.
Jerry’s son Colton was the epitome of what an American soldier should be: courageous, honorable and dedicated. Colton suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following his combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The invisible wounds that tortured him were more than he could conquer, and in April of 2012, Colton took his own life.
Jerry says, “[Colton] looked at everything in life as a challenge, and he was somewhat of a perfectionist. And that was one of the things that bothered him, when he could not figure out why [his mind] wasn’t working right … and he became angry and irritated, all the side effects of PTSD … your perception about things become skewed. That’s a battle of demons – it’s a hard fight.”
Within four months of Colton’s death, Jerry and his family sprang into action, forming the nonprofit foundation in his name and honoring Colton by helping other veterans and soldiers who battle PTSD. Their mission to support veterans with advocacy, assistance and public awareness of the battle our heroes face when they come home. They help veterans learn how to fit back into society.
Jerry says the best thing you can do is simply listen. “Saying, ‘Thank you for your service,’ and, ‘So glad you’re back,’ but the tough thing to do is actually sit down with someone and … have a conversation and say, ‘How are you doing?’ And to some degree be relentless on that – let them have their space, but don’t give up on the conversation.”
The organization hosts the Gallantly Forward Gala every year that raises funds for their efforts. For Jerry and family, the loss of Colton will forever be heavy on their hearts, but the work they do moving “gallantly forward” helps to heal the wounds of missing their loved one.
“Really, one of my favorite pictures of Colton is him walking through one of the Afghan remote villages … there were two children that saw Colton and the lead on foot and waded across the canal because they wanted to make a connection to him. There’s a picture of a little boy that Colton is holding his hand, and that picture in itself says everything about my son … he was just fearless, but he took care of his people and he had the respect.”
The future goal of the foundation is to open a location where veterans can get job training and skills for future employment, along with camaraderie and team building.
For more information on the Sgt. Colton Levi Derr Foundation, click here.
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