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Liveaboard Family Raises Funds and Awareness for Veterans and Service Dogs

July 15, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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“The fact that 22 veterans are killing themselves every day is extremely disheartening,” says Miami Phillips, a veteran of the Vietnam War, from his Irwin 41 sailboat, YUME. “And of course, add to that the mess at the VA, no jobs to be had, little support from the military for broken soldiers — it is sickening. So we had to help somehow,” he says.

The Center for Disease Control reports that the 22 veterans who commit suicide daily account for approximately 20 percent of the deaths from suicide in the United States. Upon learning this, Phillips, his wife Shelly, their son Ryan, and a three-year-old black Labrador/Australian shepherd named GOOSE, took action. They live aboard and crew YUME to promote awareness and raise money to help veterans, active duty military personnel, and military dependents who live with crippling, life-changing issues.

liveaboard 2The Phillips focus on paws4vets (http://paws4vets.org/cfc), an organization that is part of the nonprofit foundation paws4people. paws4vets works on behalf of those affected by post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and wounds received while in the service.

All three family members work from YUME all year doing what they can to help; they sail annually from Marathon, Florida to Washington, D.C. Last year their efforts were instrumental in raising over $330,000.00 as part of the federal government employees’ pledges to the Combined Federal Campaign.

“We leave Marathon in the Florida Keys around April each year and slowly make our way north. As we homeschool our son, we use the opportunity to visit as many historical sites as possible, as well as all the older towns we can,” explains Shelly.

liveaboard 3“Our goal on the way north is to talk to anyone who will listen about the issues facing these veterans. We visit American Legion, VFW and DAV posts, as well as anywhere we are invited,” she says. “The favorite speaker is always GOOSE, our medical alert service dog, as he is trained to interrupt panic attacks, wake you up from nightmares, remove clothing, and help find lost items.”

GOOSE is one of hundreds of dogs trained and certified as assistance dogs by paws4people. The organization, founded in 1999, works diligently to offer the highest standards in training as well as engaging in the challenging process of reaching out and helping those at high risk for suicide.

After two intense years of training, GOOSE responds to over 100 commands, from basic obedience instructions to highly sophisticated ones such as the “anchor” command — he turns around to sit on a standing person’s feet, snuggling into their legs with his back. This maneuver places the dog in such a position that someone feeling overwhelmed with panic, fear, anger (or any other negative emotion) must pay attention to the dog. By thereafter sharing the emotion, its harmful damage is lessened or eliminated.

liveaboard 4The Phillips family, tanned and fit from full-time life aboard a boat, has been living this lifestyle since November, 2013 when they sold their horse farm in Atlanta. “This is not our first time around the block on a boat,” says Shelly. “We bought a three-foot aluminum sloop hull in 1989, spent two years building it out, and sailed for six years and around 12,000 miles before having our first son in the Virgin Islands and moving back ashore for a while.”

A while turned into16 years; the couple admits that it is much easier to sell a boat and go to shore than sell a home and go to sea!

Laughing, Miami says, “Once the economy got done with us, we ended up with a 30-year-old boat needing a lot of work, instead of that newer 42-foot catamaran we had been eying for years!”

“It’s all good,” adds Shelly. “We are doing what we love, which is traveling. Our lives are so much simpler now than when we ran a horse farm with 90 lesson students, 19 horses, fence fixing, grass cutting, driveway dragging, stables mucking, and 24/7/365 work!”

Since acquiring YUME, the Phillips have gone south for the winter, then up the coast, arriving in  Washington, D.C. in September, attending four to six events a week in government offices through December 1.

“To really appreciate boat life, all you have to do is go spend some winter days in DC traveling to each of the 18 intelligence agencies and speaking with thousands of government employees,” notes Miami.

“Although it was a great feeling finally getting underway December 1, and heading down the Potomac, it was not the best time to be heading out. On day two when we came out of the Potomac into the Chesapeake, and headed around Smith Point Light, it was 34 degrees, raining, with a northeast gale, and those short step waves made it pretty ugly for a while.”

But that’s in the past. They are gladly making their voyage again on behalf of those whose physical and mental service scars will benefit from increased funding and public awareness.

To learn more about the family and their fundraising journey, visit http://paws4people.org/give/shelly-phillips/ and read their sailing blog http://sailyume.com.

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