By Jenna-Lee Neff

Local nonprofit Honoring America’s Veterans (HAV) recently appointed Navy veteran Paula Pedene to the position of executive director. The move comes as the organization develops virtual recognition events in place of their annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade.

“As a Navy veteran and one who is a strong advocate for veterans and their needs, I have personally witnessed for decades the impact honor and recognition events offer in helping our veterans heal,” says Pedene. “Those personal stories of healing I have heard since 1997 make this a fulfilling role for me.”

Founded in 2012, Honoring America’s Veterans did not have an executive director before this point. Instead, the organization focused on growing and working with the board of directors to build out the position so they could easily identify the perfect candidate when the time came.

“It’s an honor for me to serve as the first executive director of Honoring America’s Veterans,” Pedene says, explaining the process the board took to establish what the organization needed from a leader. “Fortunately, the board knew I would be retiring from federal service, and due to my efforts in founding the parade, helping to create HAV, my operations and public relations expertise fit what they needed.”

Honoring America’s Veterans keeps the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade alive after Veterans Affairs moved away from the annual event, which began in 1997. With more than 500,000 veterans in Maricopa County, the organization now hosts the state’s largest Veterans Day event in order to pay tribute to those who have served and show them support in the healing process.

“Our veterans tell us that by remembering them on Veterans Day, we help them heal,” Pedene shares.

Recently, Honoring America’s Veterans decided to cancel the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade and transition to a virtual event instead. The decision came after the organization considered the risks and restrictions put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the celebration will be called U.S.A., A Beacon of Liberty and will feature “Honor Our Heroes” honorees. It will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube for all to virtually attend and enjoy.

Eligible honoree essays are chosen from veterans who served between 1941-2011 that demonstrate honor, respect and gratitude. The essays will focus on individual veterans’ military and community service. Once selected, honorees will be interviewed in order to tell their stories for the event.

Alongside the “Honor Our Heroes” program, students in grades 9-12 are participating in a creative essay contest on veterans and the impact of military service. Selected essays will be presented in the virtual event.

“Although we won’t have an in-person event, we’re working on creating a fabulous online event,” Pedene says. “We intend to interview the winners of these campaigns as part of our event.”

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