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    Knights help Veterans Reach for the Stars

    The Astronomy for Disabled Veterans program will be the first for VA hospitals in U.S.

    By Andrew Fowler 2/14/2020

    ASPINWALL, Penn. — For a hospitalized, lonely veteran, nights can be hollow drawn out spaces that leave one feeling hopeless. To help fill those dreaded stretches of loneness, Pennsylvania Knights are helping disabled veterans study the stars by organizing the first astronomy program at a U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital.

    It started when Jim Surman of the Knights of Columbus Stephen P. Barry Assembly 940 in McKeesport, visited the H.J. Heinz campus of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. Surman asked what the Knights could do to help there after he read about veteran depression and suicide rates.

    “In the evenings, it’s always a problem,” the VA staff told Surman. “It’s very lonely at night.”


    Surman met with a group of more than 50 veterans to find out what they were interested in. When he suggested that the Knights provide a telescope, a “whole bunch of hands went up.”

    That’s when the Knights reached out to the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh (AAAP) to start the “Astronomy for Disabled Veterans” program.

    Surman and his brother Knights visited councils around the state to raise funds. More than 50 councils donated and helped raise a total of $21,000. The funds were used to build an observatory on the hospital’s grounds equipped with an electronic sliding roof and a donated 9.5-inch Celestron telescope.

    They are currently trying to raise $65,000 to fund other technological equipment, including another telescope that can connect to NASA. The Knights also hope to provide astronomy classes for the veterans, led by graduate students from a local college, and build an astronomy library at the hospital. The AAAP also plans to donate books to the library.

    “It’s going to be state-of-the-art,” Surman said. “We’re in ground-breaking territory.”

    The “Astronomy for Disabled Veterans” program is just one way Knights honor and serve veterans around the world. The Knights of Columbus has also partnered with the Gary Sinise Foundation to build homes for disabled veterans, and joins the Archdiocese for the Military Services in sending thousands of military personnel to a Marian apparition site in France through the Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage.

    The Knights of Columbus’ service to veterans also includes volunteering at VA medical clinics around the U.S. and distributing wheelchairs to veterans through the Global Wheelchair Mission.

    To donate to the Astronomy for Disabled Veterans project, send funds to Knights of Columbus, SPB Assembly, 1214 Glass Street, White Oak, PA 15131.

    Learn more about how you can serve your community with the Knights here.

    Share your story with Andrew.fowler@kofc.org.

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