Colonel Steven Weintraub has been in the Marines for over 30 years, so he knows a thing or two about the trials military men and women face every day overseas and in civilian life.
Weintraub, who is in the reserves, uses his spare time to give back to his brothers and sisters in arms.
He is the chief strategy officer at Tempe-based nonprofit Veteran Tickets Foundation, known as Vet Tix, which works to provide free event tickets active-duty service members, veterans and immediate family members of troops killed in action.
Mike Focareto, who is a Navy veteran, established the organization in 2008.
He came up with the idea for Vet Tix when he attended the Super Bowl in Glendale that year. There were many empty seats near him, and he thought about how he could use these vacant seats by connecting veterans who can’t get ahold of these tickets with the unused seats.
Vet Tix just recently donated its 3 millionth ticket in June, courtesy of an anonymous donor for a New York Yankees game.
This anonymous donor has eight season tickets behind the dugout of the Yankees stadium and often donates them to Vet Tix.
Weintraub says, “This time, he donated all eight. We had three Vet Tixers and their guests, so there were six tickets, and then myself and another one of our Vet Tix employees went out there to commemorate the event.”
Vet Tix donates tickets for anything from sold-out concerts, to high profile sporting events.
Veterans receive tickets for popular events through a lottery, due to high demand and the small quantity of donated tickets.
“To make it completely fair, we advertise when the lottery is going to start well enough in advance so no one will get caught off guard. It typically runs 24 hours and it levels the playing field for being selected for these A-list events, “ Weintraub says.
Tickets to other events, such as food festivals, are offered via email on a first come, first serve basis.
“95 percent of what we do is all online, and we make the purchase of tickets accessible for any situation with the site, appearing the same on an iPhone as it does on a laptop,” Weintraub says.
Vet Tix is separated into two different programs, which are Tickets for Troops and Hero’s Wish.
Tickets for Troops involves the free donated tickets for A-list and general events, while Hero’s Wish is more exclusive.
“(Hero’s Wish) is a one-time wish for those that are currently serving. If you’re 6 months pre or post a deployment overseas, you can submit a wish, as well as if you are severely injured,” Weintraub says.
Vet Tix provides the tickets, but the recipients have to find their own lodging and transportation to the event.
“We have been able to fulfill every single Hero’s wish that has been submitted,” he adds.
However, one wish nearly broke that streak when an Army Captain, who was deployed in Afghanistan, had a two-week rest and recuperation leave as well as the wish of a lifetime.
He wanted to take his parents to the Broadway show Hamilton, and that was the only event Vet Tix had yet to fulfill at the time due to exclusivity and the high price of the tickets.
Thankfully, through a connection with the production crew, the organization was able to get three tickets to Hamilton so he could take his parents when he was home on leave.
Vet Tix has a high utilization rate of claimed tickets by donors, according to reports from event venues. Weintraub says this helps create a loyal reputation among donors.
“We want to get the word out to organizations and corporations that have the ability to donate tickets so that when they have tickets to donate, they donate them to Vet Tix because they know that our people will go,” Steven says.
Jordan Sherwood, a Marine Corp. Veteran, served two tours in Iraq before being honorably discharged for an injury.
Sherwood advocates for Vet Tix and the encouragement the nonprofit gives veterans to engage with the world after selflessly serving their country.
Vet Tix has helped Sherwood do just that after he was discharged.
When he left the service, Sherwood struggled to readjust to civilian life, and neglected his passion for baseball because of his fear of large crowds.
But, eventually, he took a chance with Vet Tix and attended a baseball game.
“I was overwhelmed by so many people and Vet Tix gave me the potential to love something I once had,” he says.