Fundraiser to say thanks to America’s veterans

Manalapan resident organizes special event at Manasquan Elks Lodge

BY AMY ROSEN Staff Writer

“Imagine all the things you take for granted
swept away,
And all you thought you had was gone.
Imagine times have changed, you face an
unprotected day
But that’s not so, please take the time
And Say Thank You to a Veteran
Reach out and shake their hand
And know that you can sleep at night
They fought to save our land.
Say Thank You to a Veteran
For how they served us all
We know that freedom has a price
And they’re the special ones that took the

Those words, and more, were written by Manalapan resident Danny Rongo on Nov. 11, 2008 — Veterans Day.

Rongo, a lifelong musician, songwriter and board of trustees member of the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation, was inspired to undertake this labor of love and write “Say Thank You to a Veteran” after meeting Joe Arata, the president of the Vetwork organization and a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division during the Gulf War, at a fundraiser for Vetwork.

Rongo had been asked to be the master of ceremonies at the event.

Arata’s words to Rongo and everyone he meets were the inspiration for his song. According to Rongo, Arata often says, “If you see a man or woman who has served this country, reach out and say thank you to them. That means the most.”

“That stuck out in my head and I used the message as the title of my song,” said Rongo.

According to the organization’s Internet website, Vetwork, a program of Vetgroup Inc., is a not-for-profit organization governed by a volunteer board of directors. The agency meets the immediate and long-term needs of lowerincome veterans.

Vetwork provides supportive services to assist veterans in securing/upgrading employment; obtaining permanent, affordable housing; and transportation to access all necessary medical or basic needs services. They seek to provide a continuum of care with the services and to enable veterans to maintain or achieve self-sufficiency. To accomplish this end, they are committed to advocacy, education and the prudent delivery of direct, quality services.

In Rongo’s words, Vetwork is an immediate response unit that serves all veterans, young to old, no matter what war they have served in.

Rongo explained, “This is what I love about Vetwork. If a veteran needs help, they will get them food that day, they will get them shelter that day. When a veteran calls Vetwork, they get help that day without having to go through the red tape of bureaucracy. Many of them didn’t have a job when they signed up to serve in the military, and when they come home, they still have no means of support. Sometimes they need a meal. Vetwork helps get them what they need.”

Rongo is not a veteran, although his father, Frank, is a veteran. When he found out that one out of every three people sleeping on a sidewalk wore a uniform at one time, Rongo was shocked. He became dedicated to Arata and the Vetwork cause and has helped raise money for the organization.

Arata recently told Rongo that funds allocated for returning veterans are being quickly depleted as the number of soldiers returning from serving overseas increases.

To try to raise funds to meet the needs of the returning veterans, Arata reached out to Rongo, who has access to hundreds of bands through his Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation connections, and together they have planned a fundraiser.

The “Say Thank You to a Veteran” fundraiser for New Jersey veterans will take place from noon to 4 p.m. July 19 at the Manasquan Elks Lodge, 17 Stockton Lake Blvd., Manasquan. All proceeds from the event will be donated to Vetwork to help meet the immediate and long-term needs of New Jersey veterans.

All food and drinks at the event will be donated by the Manasquan Elks.

Admission to the fundraiser is $20 per person and includes food and beverages in addition to a silent auction of signed professional sports items, raffles, entertainment and more.

In addition, all proceeds from the sale of Rongo’s CD, “Two Songs — Two Causes,” will be donated to Vetworks. The CD, which will be autographed by Rongo, features “Say Thank You to a Veteran” on one side and “Where to Now?” on the other side.

“Where to Now?” is a song Rongo wrote about global warming, another cause about which he is passionate.

The July 19 fundraiser will feature entertainment by three bands. Rongo will serve as the master of ceremonies and, of course, sing “Say Thank You to a Veteran.”

Jolly Rotten Skeletons, a ska band featuring upbeat music and a horn section, will take the stage at 1 p.m. The band’s members range in age from 14 to 18 and hail from Millstone Township, Holmdel, New Brunswick and beyond.

At 2 p.m. the Matt Wade Trio will perform up-tempo jazz and blues.

Jazz Pollution, a nine-piece jazz/funk band, will be the final band to perform.

The grand finale will feature all of the acts on stage.

Guest speakers at the event will include Arata.

When Rongo is not busy at his Wall Street day job, he focuses on music and helping causes like Vetwork. His entire family pitches in, including his wife, Andrea, and her daughter (Rongo’s stepdaughter), Alexandra Koken. They recently spent July Fourth at the Ocean- Fest event in Long Branch and told those who visited their tent all about Vetwork. They sold tickets for the upcoming fundraiser and CDs to benefit Vetwork.

Rongo’s parents, Dolores and Frank Rongo, of Toms River, who are musicians as well, devote their time to raising funds and awareness about Vetwork in the Ocean County area.

“I know music can change the world,” said Rongo. “I know it can help people. My thoughts are simply to have music be a vehicle to reach and inspire as many people as possible.”

“Now we see so many need our help, it’s a chance to serve them now

Understanding that they fought for us, we must fight for them somehow.

All together we can make a change,

We can sacrifice for them, pay the price for them, let our love for them shine.

Say Thank You to a Veteran.” For more information, visit www.vetwork. org or