Holidays That Heal

A Nevada nonprofit group extends its reach beyond Christmas to help injured soldiers

Although he’s only 24, Kevin Hardin has had more than 30 surgeries in the past two years. The frontline Army medic was driving a Humvee in Iraq in 2007 when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle, severely injuring his hands and arms. Shrapnel from the explosion still remains in his brain.

He was transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., and that’s where the silver lining appears. In 2008, while recovering at the hospital, Hardin met the love of his life: Lillian May. She was there visiting a cousin who had been wounded in the military. When she encountered Hardin in the hospital’s courtyard, the two became fast friends, and then more. Hardin says she gave purpose to all that he’s been through.

Over Veterans Day weekend, the two flew to Las Vegas from their home outside of Fort Hood, Texas, along with 40 family members and friends, courtesy of Christmas Can Cure, a nonprofit group founded by Andre Carrier, the chief operating officer of Eureka Casinos in Las Vegas and Mesquite. They drove to Mesquite, where they were married in a wedding fit for a soldier.

“I’m excited to have our family and friends there so we can celebrate with them together,” says May, who is 27. Prior to the Mesquite wedding, she and Kevin had already been legally married. They said their vows in April at a county courthouse in Texas, knowing they couldn’t afford a wedding. When Carrier heard through family and friends about the couple, he wanted to help.

“We’re hoteliers,” he says. “What’s more fun than doing a wedding?”

It’s a change from past Christmas Can Cure festivities. The organization began in 2007 as the result of discussions among Carrier family members about how they could make a difference. Every year, the family spends Christmas at their home in Jackson, N.H., a picturesque town with sleigh rides, covered bridges and snow. They wanted to share their fairy-tale holidays with the men and women who fought—and had been injured—in the armed forces. So they spoke with inn owners around town and found other people interested in helping. In 2008, they hosted two families, and have continued doing so ever since.

Carrier sees it as his way of contributing, since he never served in the military himself. It’s also his way of bringing awareness to the fact that more military troops are coming home with injuries than in any previous war.

“I think the clock is ticking now, because we’re still at war,” he says. “But as the story becomes more about winding down troop levels, I think people will think about soldiers less.”

Potential families are selected by the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., that advocates for injured soliders. Families are chosen based on whether they have young children, and whether they live in an area of the country where it snows at Christmas.

Carrier says that his family originally expected to fund Christmas Can Cure themselves. But the more they spoke about the concept to others, donations started coming in. The Hardin wedding, for example, brought together partners such as Eureka Casino Resort, Bliss Salon, Days Remembered Flower Shoppe and Pleasant Holidays travel agency.

“It’s really the desires of other people to be involved in service to our nation’s veterans that made us become an official organization,” Carrier says.

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