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Peace-keepers face situations where they find themselves in the midst of conflict and strife. Yet they persist in their desire to make a difference in the world and in the lives of others. As a Peace-keeper, Donald Leonardo, a third generation member of the Canadian military, served in the former Yugoslavia in the early nineties and he frequently came face-to-face with death, destruction and despair. He was stunned by the devastation and how a once-beautiful land could become so scarred by war. He says. “It might be easy for people to think that peacekeeping is all about preserving peace and warding off war; it is much more than that.” For Don, being a Peace-keeper was more than serving his country: it was a calling. He discovered that the qualities it took to be a Peace-keeper were qualities that
he had long before he went to Yugoslavia. These qualities were a part of him - qualities like compassion and a high regard for others. Yet, despite the strengths within him, he would come to learn that his peacekeeping experiences would impact him for the rest of his life.
In the months after returning to Canada, Don began to develop a vision to make a difference in the lives of Canadian Heroes. He thought about veterans who were on fixed incomes and wondered what he could to do to stretch their pay a little further. One evening the moment of inspiration arrived. A conversation over coffee developed into a workable plan that would provide more door-opening opportunities for them. His dream was starting to take shape.
The plan? Build a website as a support system for Canadian Heroes. Not only would veterans have access to special offers from the Canadian business community… not only would veterans be able to shop on-line but they would also be able to use the website to find friends and engage in dialogue with other veterans. Within a few days VETERANS CANADA in both of Canada’s official languages was off and on its way. Today members of the site are reaping the benefits: they are able to find discounts on things like insurance or just reconnect.
Don is no longer active in the service of the military but he has chosen to continue to serve by making the world a better place for veterans. Don has spent the last twenty years finding ways to support fellow Canadian Veterans across the country from operating a kitchen set up to feed homeless veterans to the founding of an on-line veteran community seven years ago. Don devotes countless hours and money from his own pocket to support this vision. He has testified before the Parliamentary Sub-committee for Veteran’s Affairs and he has been an active voice in terms of advocacy for veterans. He has written policy in an attempt to advocate for a new adjudication system in the processing of injury claims submitted by veterans.
Don, after taking more training in web design, is in the process of remodeling the Veteran’s Community website and developing version three. This version has many new functions and more capacity to support an ever-increasing membership. What started with a membership of zero has grown to a community of over seven thousand two hundred members and most of that growth has taken place over the past three years.
Don completed high school in Quebec and soon after joined the military. During his service he became qualified as an accident investigator/re-constructionist and safety supervisor. He also took training in public speaking, instructional techniques and graphic aids. At one time he was the highest qualified driving instructor for the Alberta Motor Truck Association. After leaving the military, his desire to learn never stopped. He continued to pick up skills in fund raising, grassroots activism and political campaign management through the Canadian Leadership Institute and the Leadership Institute of Arlington, Virginia.
Don is a father of two and grandfather of two children. His son, now thirty, has undergone countless brain surgeries. In support of the work being done for his son, Don has volunteered many hours to charitable endeavours that include the Variety Club and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Trucker’s Run for Kids.
He was the Executive Chef of the Calgary Dream Centre from 2002 to 2005 and through this position he and his team prepared over 550 000 meals without a single cent of funding and only used donated food. Don has also volunteered through his church with a view to provide food, underwear, socks and clothing to Calgary’s homeless.
Don Leonardo is a soldier, a veteran, a leader and a visionary. He is now the Founder and President of VETERANS CANADA and lives in Airdrie, Alberta. He helps veterans of Canada stay connected through his Veterans Community, blog articles and bulletins. He is in the process of assisting members of his website to meet up face to face across Canada within the communities in which they reside. Don believes that there is a benefit to collaboration among those who have served. He understands full well that there is nothing like working with someone who has “been there, done that and has the t-shirt.” As a veteran he understands first hand the pain and suffering of stress injuries. He understands how Canadian Heroes could end up homeless or worse. He understands that the treatment for these stress injuries must include attention to body, soul and spirit. Don’s dream is to continue to expand these offerings of help for Canadian Heroes in spite of his own struggles.
He looks forward to the day when veterans issues are no more.
Donald J. Leonardo C.D. - Founder
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