Songfest raises funds to help Veterans Matter start in Cleveland, Columbus

August 14, 2018 | News, UToday, Alumni



Students at The University of Toledo made a tremendous impact on the lives of homeless veterans in spring semester.

A little more than $60,000 was raised at this year’s Songfest, a UT tradition dating back to 1937 where students from organizations on campus unite in a friendly song and dance competition to raise money for those in need.

Blue Key National Honor Society and Mortar Board National Honor Society raised a little more than $60,000 at Songfest and thanks to a funding match from First Nation, presented a check for $120,056.18 to Veterans Matter. Ken Leslie, founder of Veterans Matter and 1Matters, second from left, accepted the check and posed for a photo with, from left, Amber Gaspirini, Jana Choberka, Patrick Ryan, Cory Black and Rachel Hopkins.

This year, students competed to raise funds for Veterans Matter, an organization based in Toledo dedicated to finding homes for veterans.

For the state of Ohio, Veterans Matter has mainly served veterans in Toledo, Dayton and Cincinnati. However, the money raised by students at UT’s Songfest has allowed the organization to expand to the Cleveland and Columbus areas.

“Veterans Matter is of the utmost importance to me,” said Patrick Ryan, recent UT graduate and one of the philanthropy chairs for the Blue Key National Honor Society at Songfest. “I saw the life-changing impact that Veterans Matter was having and knew that my college career wouldn’t be complete without taking every opportunity to participate and help serve those who have served us.”

Since its establishment in 2012 in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Homeless Veterans program, Veterans Matter has helped house 2,183 veterans and their families.

Veterans Matter allows homeless veterans to receive housing in a short period of time rather than waiting 30 to 60 days to obtain a deposit.

Donations are used as a deposit or first month’s rent allowing veterans and their families to move in as soon as possible.

“The University of Toledo has been this amazing power of compassion in the community in partnership with 1Matters and Veterans Matter,” said Ken Leslie, the founder of both organizations. “It thrills me that The University of Toledo students will be housing the veterans in Buckeye territory.”

By partaking in the event and almost tripling their initial goal for fundraising, the students and their hard work are ensuring that this winter, veterans and their families will have a warm place to call home, Leslie explained.

“It’s incredible to me that we, at The University of Toledo, were able to rally around a cause that resulted in changing lives on such a large scale, not only across the U.S., but right in our own backyard with Cleveland and Columbus,” Ryan said.

The efforts of the community helped change the lives of 80 families, ultimately doubling to 160 with a funding match from First Nation Group, a business dedicated to providing leading respiratory equipment and support to the Veterans Administration, Department of Defense and other federal treatment facilities.

Songfest was a huge team effort, Ryan added, and wouldn’t have achieved success without the help and hard work of Mortar Board National Honor Society, Blue Key National Honor Society, and all of the organization leaders and their teams that participated.

Ryan would like to share his gratitude toward those he worked alongside who devoted much of their time to the event: Rachel Hopkins, fellow philanthropy co-chair; Amber Gasparini and Jana Choberka, Mortar Board philanthropy co-chairs; Cory Black, sponsorship chair for the event; and Ja’Vawn Marbury and Taylor Bowen, who emceed and helped organize Songfest.