Carroll County Heroes Foundation holds a dance for heroes

Carroll County Heroes Foundation holds a dance for heroes
James Van Brunt, founder of Carroll County Heroes Foundation and Peggy James - the fund's manager - dance at a September 10 fundraiser at the American Legion in Westminster. (Submitted photo)

For many who attended a Sept. 10 dance at the Westminster American Legion it was not about music or dancing. It was about the cause. It was about helping our own heroes here in Carroll County.

"Our men and women in uniform — be it police, firemen, EMT or military — put their lives on the line every day for all of us," said Peggy James, manager of the nonprofit Carroll County Heroes Foundation, created in January by John Van Brunt. The dance helped raise funds for the charity. "Many are injured, and some quite seriously, even giving their lives," James said.


Allen Calvert, of Hagerstown, said his reason to come was twofold. He is a follower of the band Rock and Roll Relics, which was playing at the dance. And because his career was with the Army, the cause touched his heart.

"I'm retired Army. I like seeing people actually doing things go help the vets," Calvert said. "Veterans have a higher unemployment rate, higher disabilities and higher homelessness [rates] than the national average."

Dolores Blake, of Woodstock, who came with her husband Bob, agreed.

"I think it's great," she said of the dance. "Anytime you can promote the cause and make money for these people it's great."

James Van Brunt, founder of Carroll County Heroes Foundation and Peggy James - the fund's manager - dance at a September 10 fundraiser at the American Legion in Westminster.
James Van Brunt, founder of Carroll County Heroes Foundation and Peggy James - the fund's manager - dance at a September 10 fundraiser at the American Legion in Westminster. (Submitted photo)

Carroll County Heroes Foundation provides services to the county's fallen heroes and their families — whether they served locally or nationally — after they've suffered a severe injury or death. Some of those who qualify include employees of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, resident state police, and members of Carroll County fire companies and police departments. Grants may also be made to residents who are members of the Maryland National Guard, United States Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corps.

Van Brunt, who taught at the University of Maryland for 35 years, also served as a Marine in the 1960s. The New Windsor resident said he was stationed at headquarters in Okinawa, Japan, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His voice broke as he recalled those days. He was a bugler and was asked to play taps to honor Kennedy. His years of service have stuck with him.

Van Brunt said during the early years of his life he couldn't afford to contribute to charities, but when he could he was seeing lots of requests from charities that had nothing to do with Carroll County. During a conversation with his accountant and good friend Don Hull — also a former Marine — he came to a decision that he would start his own Carroll County charity.

"We got into the costs [of setting up a nonprofit], and Don mentioned the better way to go way to go was through the Community Foundation of Carroll County with [director] Audrey Cimino," Van Brunt said. "After I made the contact, we set it up at the end of last year."

Van Brunt said he took fliers about his new nonprofit to the Westminster Moose Lodge, where he is a member, and donations rolled in. But he realized he was going to have to do some sort of event to keep needed dollars coming.

"I talked to a best friend, Peggy James, who I have been dancing with for about 22 years," Van Brunt said. "She and I both ran Sunday Singles out of Westminster for about 10 years, and she'd done lots of great things. I'm running a small farm and I am no spring chicken, so I asked her to take over as the foundation's manager."

James jumped into action, using her years of experience in the dance community.

"John and I have worked together before. He knows my organizational skills and go-getter attitude. He knows I not only can dream it, I can do it," she said.

According to James, the Westminster American Legion donated a space to hold the foundation's first dance and the Rock and Roll Relics band discounted their price. She solicited over $900 in raffle prizes, including a Ravens suede jacket and a $200 package for two from Liberty Mountain Resort. Then she tapped members of the dance community that she has befriended and worked with for years, drawing them in to attend the dance.

James said anyone can nominate a hero in need on the Community Foundation of Carroll County's website, at They are listed under "Funds." Their first course of action has been to help Cpl. Brant Webb, of the Sheriff's Office, who was injured in January when struck by a vehicle that crossed the center line while he was on duty. He was nominated by Sheriff Jim DeWeese.


Van Brunt said Webb, who suffered a head laceration and injuries to his knees and feet, still suffers from his injuries.

"When he was injured he went on injured reserve with two-thirds of his salary," Van Brunt said. "Then his wife quit her job to take care of him, so they have lost a lot of income. He was traveling 30 miles to Thurmont for therapy so, working with Dick's Sporting Goods, we bought him an exercise bike."

James said she and Van Brunt personally delivered the recumbent bike and — with friends — assembled it for Webb in his home. Van Brunt said their next goal is to help Webb obtain a more accessible tub and shower.

"We are working with Home Depot," Van Brunt said. "In his shower he had a small handgrip. It was plastic and it broke immediately," she said. "We want to help people get back to their normal lives as soon as we can. We want to protect those who are protecting us. Had we had the fund in place before January we could have done a lot more for Corporal Webb. We have been gradually getting the word out and building funds."

Both James and Van Brunt say they are determined to make a difference, even though the turnout for the dance did not meet their expectations.

"This was the first of many dances we will have with the Rock and Roll Relics," James said, noting that the date was chosen for its link to their nonprofit.

Neither James nor Van Brunt will give up their endeavor to raise funds.

"I know there are dozens in need out there," Van Brunt said. "There are vets and members of the military. These people put their lives on the line and there is no safety net. Like with Corporal Webb, two-thirds salary is not enough to live on. I'd love to have a fund big enough that when something happens, we can step in to take care of the people who take care of us. We need to find out what more can be done."

Those who attended the dance seemed aware of the cause they were supporting, including Wayne Wray, of Eldersburg.

"This is a worthwhile endeavor," he said. "I think anything that honors the people that give so much of their lives to us and to the community. Anything we can do to support them we should."

To nominate someone who qualifies and needs assistance or to donate to the Carroll County Heroes Foundation fund, visit the Community Foundation's website at