TAMPA, Fla. –Once a week, Army Sgt. Maj. Kent Dolasky wakes up extra early to pack his kids’ lunches and homework while his wife Lana cooks a bulk amount of scrambled eggs and pancakes. Dolasky brews a pot of coffee, then packs it in a thermos alongside large foil containers of the freshly-made pancakes and eggs, plus disposable plates, cups and forks, syrup, sugar and creamer. He puts these items in a box and heads out the door for work.
On the way to work, Dolasky stops in downtown Tampa. He sets the containers of food and thermos of coffee on his car. He then begins assembling plates of breakfast and pouring cups of coffee. Meanwhile, more than half a dozen homeless men and women gather around him, smiling and graciously accepting a warm meal, hot beverage and friendly conversation. When stomachs are full and food is finished, Kent shakes hands, says goodbyes, gets back into his car and finishes his commute to work. He does this every Wednesday.
“I call this my most important meeting of the week,” Dolasky said.
While balancing his busy schedule as the commandant of the Joint Special Operations Forces Senior Enlisted Academy, this Green Beret, husband, father and adjunct professor still makes time to be involved in his community. In an effort to help the homeless in Tampa, Dolasky began a volunteer organization in 2010 called Buckets of Hope. He said he got the idea when he saw a homeless man walking downtown in shorts and a T-shirt in near-freezing temperatures.
“I took a worn out kids’ backpack that was earmarked for the trash bin and stuffed it full of snacks, socks and a sweatshirt and dropped it to the neediest looking soul I could find,” he said.
Dolasky said he saw that man wearing the sweatshirt and carrying the backpack for a few months after that initial encounter. He said he delivered his first bucket filled with winter survival items on Thanksgiving 2010—thus, Buckets of Hope was born. Shortly thereafter, he was taking donations for food, blankets, ponchos, and other basic, useful items to fill more buckets to be distributed to the local homeless. Handing out buckets soon evolved; on cold mornings, Dolasky began bringing coffee for the homeless.
“I brought coffee every morning on my way to work for a year,” he said.
While the coffee warmed hands, Dolasky’s compassion and interaction filled a void the buckets could not fill. He said he notices how many people just walk past the homeless quickly without making eye contact, avoiding them like a plague.
“After working with the homeless for nearly a year and a half, I have found that more important than handouts is simply the gift of time,” Dolasky said.
The sergeant major isn’t the only Dolasky involved in Buckets of Hope; his wife, son, and daughter are all involved in some way, whether it’s helping to pack buckets, make pancakes or hand out toiletries.
The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce recognized Dolasky for his charitable efforts and named him the 2012 Army Military Citizen of the Year during a ceremony Feb. 15. Adm. William McRaven, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, congratulated Dolasky on his award.
“You can take pride in this impressive accomplishment that speaks to your dedication and professionalism,” McRaven wrote in a letter to Dolasky.
Dolasky’s citation from the Chamber of Commerce read: “His selfless service to his community and those less fortunate makes him the perfect recipient of this year’s Army Military Citizen Award.”
Dolasky was not only presented the award but was also treated to a free dinner for himself and a guest at the formal event. Without hesitation, Dolasky decided to invite Vincent, a homeless man he had befriended over the past year. To get Vincent the proper attire for the occasion, Dolasky requested the help of his co-workers, who were more than willing to lend a hand. Approximately the same height and build, then JSOU Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Kimmich offered his best suit for Vincent to borrow for the evening. Dolasky said he has been truly grateful for the support and donations he has received for Buckets of Hope from his co-workers, family, friends, neighbors and local businesses.
Dolasky is working on other ways to help the homeless, including expanding Buckets of Hope to include a new effort called Huffys for the Homeless, which accepts and distributes donated bicycles. He said he also wants to help the homeless help themselves, such as aiding them in finding jobs, which would hopefully get them off the streets and into better environments. Shortly after attending the formal dinner with Dolasky, Vincent secured a part-time job. Dolasky said he is committed to the human aspect of giving hope more than the physical act of handing out buckets.
“What is important is that we take the time to recognize [the homeless], learn their names and where they are from, share a cup of coffee and a smile,” he said.
He recognized the positive impact fellow service members and special operators can have on their communities and thinks it’s important for them to be involved. He said while many people look to professional athletes or other celebrities to be role models, his peers should not underestimate their own abilities to make a difference.
“We should feel free to take on tough social issues in our communities—childhood obesity, domestic violence, illiteracy, drugs, alcohol abuse, gangs, et cetera.” he said. “The credibility, influence and legitimacy of a Special Operations Forces operator’s message to our communities trumps these [celebrities] who are being forced in to a role model position.”
After receiving much recognition for his community service, Dolasky remains humble and keeps the focus on those in need, encouraging others to make the world a better place, one bucket, cup of coffee, or smile at a time.
“At the end of the day, I'd like to shed some light on these struggling souls and let others know that it is OK to help someone,” Dolasky said. “For me, it is not every man for himself; it is every man gives someone a sense of self. We don't have to change the world—we just have to help one person change for the better.”