Veteran inspires kids to raise relief money

Jamie Havig was about to redeploy. The Navy combat medic put on his headphones, blasted the volume and tried to ignore the plane's bouncing descent.

"I've been on a lot of flights where I was being shot at and landing in really hot zones, but this one made me nervous," Havig said.

This time he was landing in the middle of a storm at John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York. Havig is a veteran who served two tours in Iraq attached to a Marine sniper team. It's where he picked up his nickname, "Doc."

The 35-year-old now lives in Irvine and works for the nonprofit Team Kids.

But on Nov. 7, just as the nor'easter was hitting the East Coast days after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc, he was working for Team Rubicon.

Team Rubicon is an emergency-relief nonprofit staffed by veterans. When a disaster hits, highly trained volunteers who honed their skills in war zones respond by flying in from across the country to help in any way they can. Their goal: be the first on the ground.

"We are the best at organizing chaos," Havig said. "We're up and running and responding within minutes."

Havig talked about his mission with Team Rubicon like he was back in the service, and he described the scene on the ground in much the same way too.

"It seriously was a disaster area, like a war had just happened there," he said, describing the aftermath of Sandy's massive flooding, high winds and fires. "Almost like a nuclear sand bomb had just gone off."

Until he returned Wednesday, Havig spent long days with other veterans organizing groups of 20 to 30 civilians.

They assisted any way they could, taking work orders submitted by Rockaway residents at Forward Operating Base Hope to shovel sand, tear out ruined drywall or haul broken furniture.

"The owners would just sit there watching the whole thing in tears," Havig said. "It was a sad sight, but at the same time, if we weren't there helping them, nothing would be done."

At the end of the day, the vets on Team Rubicon slept in a rock-climbing gym a fellow Marine found for them.

"We don't stop when we're tired. We stop when the job is done," Havig said.

He refused to pass up the chance of helping in New York.

"I don't ever want to be the 'I-should-have-done-something' guy," he said.

He was that guy once in Iraq when an injury stopped him, Havig explained.

"Medically, I couldn't have went on, but it still haunts me that I wasn't there," he said.

Havig's motivation is twofold. He is the program director at Team Kids, and he returned to Irvine with a mission to inspire.

Over the next few weeks, he'll speak to students in assemblies and events, explaining that they can make a difference.

Team Kids is built around issuing a challenge to the younger generation.

Typically, at four elementary schools in Irvine — Turtle Rock , Culverdale, Eastshore and Alderwood — Team Kids explains a problem like homelessness or poverty. Then kids will pick a nonprofit to raise funds for and develop their own plan to do so.

It's different from the normal message sent to kids to simply keep away from bad decisions and stay out of the way, said Julie Hudash, the founder of Team Kids.

"We marginalize kids as not being able to make good choices. Team kids does the opposite," she said.

Her intent is to show kids their contributions matter.

There's a simple message she wants to communicate: "When it comes to caring … we actually think that you're more compassionate than anyone older than you."

Since the nonprofit's start in 2001, some 50,000 kids have received that message and they've raised $400,000.

The challenge until Dec. 31 will, of course, be hurricane relief. When Sandy hit, Team Kids jumped into action with its own emergency response plan.

In 2005, Team Kids started a program called LemonAID Stand Restore America in response to hurricane Katrina. It empowers kids to set up their own lemonade stands where they take donations for disaster relief.

That money is then sent to Team Kids, where 100% of it is forwarded to the Red Cross.

Within 24 hours, the team was laying plans for Sandy LemonAID stands.

"Not everyone is a special-ops Marine, but in small ways, everyone makes a difference," Hudash said.

Anyone interested in creating or visiting a LemonAID stand can get more information at or by calling (949) 861-4887.

"[Kids] want to do good. That's who they are right now. There's no stopping them," Havig said. "We just give them the ball and say 'run.'"

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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