By LOIS KINDLE
The residents of southern Hillsborough County are known to be strong supporters of the military, so the name Kelly Kowall is familiar to many by now.
Since 2012, the founder of My Warrior’s Place has received more than 5,000 guests at her Ruskin retreat that provides respite and support for veterans, enlisted military personnel, first responders and Gold Star, Blue Star and Silver Star families.
Last week her ongoing efforts on behalf of others was recognized by Gov. Rick Scott and Volunteer Florida Executive Officer Chester Spellman, who presented her with the Volunteer Florida Champion of Service Award during a cabinet meeting in Tallahassee.
“Volunteer Florida is honored to recognize Kelly for her invaluable work to provide members of the military, veterans and military families with a place to recover from traumatic events of the loss of a loved one,” Spellman said in a press release.
In that same correspondence, the governor thanked Kowall for her selflessness and volunteerism.
“I applaud her continued service to honor the lives of our veterans and provide a place for families and friends to find peace through their grieving process,” he said.
Kowall was honored to have been chosen.
“To be recognized at the state level is an amazing experience, especially since I come from the small communities of Ruskin and Apollo Beach,” she said. “Although this was so appreciated, it wasn’t something I expected. We do this work for the community and all of the people we serve.”
Kowall said when she first heard she’d be receiving the award, she felt it was a joke.
“I was riding in the car with my mother, when I received a call from a Volunteer Florida staff member,” she said. “When I saw the call was made on a cell phone, I really thought it was a prank.
“After several assurances, I gave her the information she was requesting.”
Kowall established the 501(c)3 organization in 2012 after she lost her only son, Corey, an Army specialist killed in 2009 in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device blew up and caused the vehicle he was in to roll over. He was 20 at the time of his death.
Frozen at first in her grief, she gradually found new purpose through the creation of My Warrior’s Place and the Project Corregidor grief and peer mentoring program in his memory.
Both exist through private and corporate donations, charitable grants and the untold hours of volunteers. Kowall’s latest project at the retreat is the construction of a stilted, wheelchair-accessible residence with three bedrooms and two baths to be used primarily by Project Corregidor program participants.
It is being built totally by volunteers and donated materials.
My Warrior’s Place is located past the Fish House off West Shell Point Road at 101 22nd St. NW, in Ruskin. If you’d like to help with a financial donation or learn more about the retreat, call Kowall at 813-321-0880. For more information, visit mywarriorsplace.com.