Hometown Heroes: Big Island Veterans Treatment Court mentors helping fellow servicemen through hard times

  • Big Island Veterans Treatment Court graduate Rex Corpuz and Veteran Mentor Jim Traxler talk during Monday’s Big Island Veterans Treatment Court Kona Mentor Appreciation Ceremony at the Keahuolu Courthouse in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Deputy Prosecutor Mark Disher speaks during Monday’s Big Island Veterans Treatment Court Kona Mentor Appreciation Ceremony. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • Felix Niihau, left, and Veteran Mentor Bill Flynn speak during Monday's Big Island Veterans Treatment Court Kona Mentor Appreciation Ceremony. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the inception of the Big Island Veterans Treatment Court six years ago, 24 veterans have graduated from the program thanks to help of veteran mentors.

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On Monday, Kona veteran mentors Rick Ebenezer, Bill Flynn, Gaylene Hopson and Charles Sermons were recognized for their ongoing service to the nation through the treatment court that utilizes a holistic approach to help provide resources and treatment that veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces need to resume being law-abiding citizens and enjoy the freedoms they fought to protect.

“You mentors — both on video and in person — thank you. First, thank you for your service in uniform, and thank you for your service out of uniform. Without the mentors giving up their valuable time, I’m not sure about the success of this program,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Disher. “You’re like the North star, you can be there for a client and help guide them.”

More than a dozen people attended either virtually or in-person the Big Island Veterans Treatment Court Kona Mentor Appreciation Ceremony held in Judge Wendy DeWeese’s courtroom at the Keahuolu Courthouse.

Among the featured speakers were Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald and Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Clyde J. “Butch” Tate II, who last served as 19th Deputy Judge Advocate General and is currently chief counsel for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, the premier national resource for treatment court practitioners.

Tate commended the volunteers efforts, as well as the work conducted by the treatment court staff, noting that the team effort is why Veterans Treatment Courts are sucessful.

“Our mentors are the secret sauce for our courts,” said Tate via Zoom from northern Virginia. “It is the purest example of veterans taking care of veterans, and veterans connecting with other vetrans like no one else can. Nobody can connect to another veteran like a veteran.”

Ilihia Gionson, Big Island representative for U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, also thanked the volunteers.

“I know that for a lot of our veterans that one caring voice, that one caring pat on the back or that one help nav the beuracracy there is at the dept of veterans affairs or courts or just life. It’s that one person who reaches out and makes that effort and connects with our vets that’s what makes the difference.”

Veteran mentor Rick Ebenezer, speaking via Zoom from Arizona, said he enjoys the opportunity to give back after having received help himself, albeit prior to the start of veterans treatment courts.

“It’s just an honor, just a real priviledge,” said Ebenezer. “THe gratification I get from helping you guys is beyond my expression it’s just an honor and privelidge to help epople in recoevery.”

Gaylene Hopson, one of the first mentors of the program when it launched in 2014, thanked her fellow veteran mentors.

“It’s all about honor, courage nad committment and you guys have done an awesome job and thank and pleae continue doing the good work that you do for all of our veterans,” Hospon said via Zoom from Alabama.

Without the guidance of his mentor Jim Traxler, 2017 Big Island Veterans Treatment Court graduate Rex Corpuz said he couldn’t be where he is today serving as sergeat-at-arms for the American Legion, chairman of the homeless veterans program and a volunteer for the veterans honor guard.

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“He helped me change my life around, he guided me, he treated me like a friend, a brother and family,” said Corpuz.

Know a Hometown Hero who should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.

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