EL GRANADA, San Mateo County (KPIX 5) -- A Peninsula couple is helping disabled military veterans get back to living their lives by organizing hunting and fishing trips and hosting the vets fror free.
At Collins Lake near Marysville, almost 20 veterans boarded fishing boats recently, thanks to the Purple Heart Anglers.
Randy Houston founded the nonprofit in 2008, with the support of his wife Deborah, to host disabled military veterans on free daytrips.
"It's a huge thank you to the veterans," said Randy Houston.
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When asked what they want veterans to receive from their nonprofit, Deborah Houston replied, "Normalcy. It's normal, it's regular. 'Let's go out, go fishing.'"
Randy Houston, a retired carpenter and contractor, originally started the fishing trips as way of connecting with his brother, Jerry, a Purple Heart recipient who served in Vietnam.
Jerry later died of complications from Agent Orange.
But the Purple Heart Anglers adventures continued. In 11 years, the El Granada couple has taken 2,000 wounded warriors fishing.
Small groups go all over California, Oregon, Hawaii, and even Alaska, for a trip of a lifetime.
"It was one of my dreams to go to Alaska and catch a big salmon," Scobee beamed, remembering his unforgettable journey with Purple Heart Anglers a few years ago. "Everything was fantastic."
The Houstons also hosted a fishing trip to Costa Rica, supported by San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Deborah Houston retired from the Giants as its director of guest services; she was also one of the project managers of the team's home at Oracle Park.
The Houstons say the trips aren't just about catching big fish. The trips also cast a lifeline for many with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. They connect with fellow veterans who often go home calmer and happier.
Randy Houston is moved to hear how the nonprofit's daytrips mean the world to disabled veterans. "When a woman says my husband tried to kill himself and now he's not that man anymore, that's huge," he said.
Rohnert Park Army veteran Ken Scobee recently enjoyed his outing. "When I'm at home, I'm always inside," he explained.
Scobee, who kept our borders safe during the Cuban Missile Crisis, suffers from PTSD and constant back pain.
"(It's) the only time I get to go out, 'cause I'm on my walker. When I go to the doctor, I'm on my scooter," Scobee said.
The Houstons credit 150 volunteers they've reeled in to help. Many donate their time and boats, like Tom Oldag, who says the couple inspires him to give back to those who've served our country.
"They have a lot of heart for people," said Oldag. "It's almost endless heart for people."
Since the program relies solely on volunteers and donations, Randy Houston sells $10 raffle tickets at the Bass Pro Shop in Manteca to help pay for the excursions.
So for taking disabled veterans on meaningful daytrips, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Randy and Deborah Houston.
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