The Tampa Bay Lightning honored United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Mertes as a Lightning Community Hero during the first period of tonight's game against the Los Angeles Kings. Mertes, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will divide the money among her charities of choice, Dress For Success, MADD, Fulfill Your Destiny, Bay Area Legal Services and Hands Across The Bay.
A 20-year veteran of the United States Air Force, Mertes' illustrious military career was cut short five years ago to the day, on February 7, 2007, when the vehicle she was driving was struck by a drunk driver, causing her severe brain trauma which impaired her ability to function, as well as her memory and her ability to process information. Forced to retire from the armed forces, Mertes founded her own 501(c)3 non-profit organization, Fulfill Your Destiny, which is dedicated to assisting others whose career life paths have been permanently altered by injury. The initiative provides scholarship and financial assistance, career guidance, and other support to individuals faced with situations much like her own.
In addition to leading Fulfill Your Destiny, Mertes also generously volunteers her time and talents on the Boards of WEDU Community Action, Hands Across the Bay, and Dress for Success. She serves as a mentor at the Young Women's Leadership Symposium and also supports a number of Tampa Bay community-focused organizations including MADD and Bay Area Legal Services among others. Most recently she was named as one of just seven Unsung Hero honorees at the 2011 Fearless Women's Conference. Now as a motivational speaker and educator, Mertes often shares her personal story of courage and bravery as a method of providing leadership tips and financial insights to local associations, business groups, and charitable organizations.