Continuing a spirit of adventure and giving back

Nov 17, 2021

The Kroc Center values our veterans' time in the military and the volunteering ethic they give back to the community. In 2013 one of our beloved volunteers, Stephen Wall passed away in a tragic accident. In a way to honor him and his spirit, The Kroc Volunteer program created the “Stephen Wall Memorial Award”.  Each year this award is given to a Military Veteran Volunteer that embodies service, honor and adventure.

Stephen Wall made an impact to all those around him

Growing up in Houston, Texas, Stephen’s family were very active in their church and volunteer community. His father served on several cooking ministries that provided meals for the homeless and coordinated blood drives at the church. Patti taught Continuing Christen Education classes and led Bible studies. Stephen’s family modeled the importance of volunteer opportunities through the local church “We did not make a big deal about what we were doing.  We just did it...Daily.”

Stephen valued the lessons and ethics the United States Navy gave to his younger brother Tim. “It was important to him that he try his hardest to become someone with purpose.  I believe Stephen saw the military as his chance to become someone better every day.  And to serve others at the same time,” noted Patti.

As volunteering was part of their family makeup, this eventually led the way for Stephen to find time for the Kroc Center. In the short time he volunteered at the Kroc, he put in over 200 volunteer hours. Passionate about basketball, Stephen loved coaching the local youth how to play. Volunteer Manager, Janet Higley-Reade, reminisced how Stephen was at every practice, every scrimmage. “Stephen was a fixture for those kids on the courts. He was extremely dedicated.”

On September 10, 2013, Stephen was in a tragic freediving accident that took his life.“He loved to hike places, climb everything or anything, he was dedicated to physical fitness, went skydiving – even the manner of his death was, to him, an adventure,” Patti shared.

After his death, Stephen inspired the “Arms Wide Open” photo. The signature pose is a person with their back turned and arms stretched way out to their sides, as if hugging the universe.  Patti Wall has received photos from the beaches of Bora Bora, golf courses in the United Arab Emirates, to glaciers in Alaska of “Arms Wide Open”.

2021 Award Recipient: Mitch Coutu

Mitch Coutu, currently working in the Operations Department of the Navy where he has held multiple roles during his career, including flying helicopters. Mitch’s experience in the military fostered a responsibility to give back to the community. 

During the first part of the COVID pandemic, the Kroc Center had to close the volunteer opportunities for the public. As soon as they were able to reopen, Mitch was one of the first on the scene. When asked why he volunteers his time, Mitch said “I wanted to be able to be part of something a little bit bigger than myself.” He told Janet, “I’m willing to do whatever you need help with right now,”

When asked what he enjoys about volunteering at the Kroc Center, Mitch mentions his fellow food box helper, Gail.  “She's an older lady that works there with me and she's got special needs. I don't speak sign language but she can read lips pretty well. We formed a little friendship even though we can't talk to each other.”

Similar to Stephen, volunteering was always part of Mitch’s life from a young age. “In my family, it was a big deal for us to be involved in our community,” he said. “When I go and volunteer, it helps me feel like I'm more committed and connected to my community and able to have a better perspective on life. It also helped me be more thankful for the things I have.”

Mitch shared that he felt the military fosters a sense of purpose in life and a purpose to the community. The Kroc Center is proud to help foster that relationship between the military and the local community by providing volunteer opportunities and by honoring veteran Stephen Wall’s legacy with the annual Stephen Wall Memorial Award for military veterans.

Recent Stories

Related Content: Salvation Army