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Naples teen expands veteran outreach efforts to honor late grandfather and namesake, a WW II fighter pilot

Bar mitzvah project grows into gift-card drive at Community School of Naples

After donating nearly $11,000 of his bar mitzvah money in 2022 to help end veterans’ homelessness, local teen Herman Kaufman recently returned to Warrior Homes of Collier with an additional donation in honor of his late grandfather, a World War II fighter pilot.

Joined by several classmates, the Community School of Naples sophomore on May 10 delivered $1,600 worth of grocery store gift cards for the residents of Warrior Homes of Collier, a nonprofit organization that operates four residences for local veterans, with a focus on housing, mental health and education.

The gift cards were collected during a two-week “Fueling Our Heroes” campaign at the Naples independent school and presented at a 90th birthday celebration for veteran Ron Fournier, a resident of Delta House, the newest Warrior Homes’ site in East Naples.

“Youth today need to understand that veterans matter,” the 10th-grader said. “They are the backbone of our country. In today’s society, they are completely undervalued and not necessarily accounted for.”

Kaufman recounted how his Jewish grandfather, at risk of being shot down while on a mission, tossed the dog tags that identified him by name and religion from his plane – an act of defiance joined by the entire crew as a show of solidarity.

The pilot Herman Kaufman survived that mission – and now, more than 80 years later and a world away, his grandson and namesake proudly wears those dog tags around his neck as a tribute to a man he never met (the elder Kaufman died before his grandson was born).

“He’s just an amazing young man, with a passion to give back,” said Dale Mullin, a Vietnam veteran, founder and president of Warrior Homes of Collier. “It’s an inspiration for future generations.”

Beyond providing a roof over their heads, Warrior Homes of Collier also connects veterans with support services such as mental health counseling and peer support through the David Lawrence Centers, as well as educational opportunities, including college scholarships.

The first of its facilities, Alpha House, is a short-term, transitional residence for those in recovery from substance abuse, with sliding-scale rent based on income. The Bravo and Charlie Houses are set aside for seniors on fixed incomes who are no longer in the workforce and receive rent subsidies to defray their expenses, which is known as supportive housing. Delta House is a 20-bed, 10-unit apartment complex that serves male and female veterans.

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