A Pelham Bay-born, Vietnam vet is celebrating the ten-year anniversary of his charity.
Burke House, a children’s charity started by Vietnam veteran Tom Whelan that helps Saigon children, become more educated and financially supported, will host an anniversary fundraiser on Saturday, September 27.
Tom Whalen first thought of the idea for a charity when he took a three-day tour to Vietnam and other countries in Asia in 2002. He had planned to take a retirement-like trip and settle down after ending his previous job tenure working at a computer company.
After seeing the many poor street children of Saigon, Whelan decided to start a charity with the help of his one sister and four brothers who also served in the US military in the 1960s.
In 2004, Tom Whelan created Burke House, in honor of his mother’s maiden name – the goal being to educate and financially support the children from Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City.
Whelan, who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 including the Tet Offensive, said that his interactions with the 10-year old girl Nga greatly influenced his decision on starting this charity.
“When I first met Nga in 2002, she told me that she worked for her family by selling books to tourists,” said Tom Whelan. “It made me so sad to see a girl working at such a young age while gaining no education whatsoever, so I had to sponsor and help her.”
“There are many kids in Vietnam who don’t receive the proper education that they should, along with kids who live in other countries that struggle with poverty. That’s the reason Burke House was started – to lift the spirits of the poor street children by providing assistance to them.”
Whelan began making trips to Saigon annually, providing food, tutoring and money to children in need. As the charity grew, so did the number of people that Whelan helped, eventually supporting students from Huynh De Nhu Nghia (School for the Blind) as well as other poor street children in Saigon.
“He is extremely devoted to this cause,” said Geri Sciortino, owner of the Bronx Design Group, who assisted Tom back in June when he came to the store to get his fundraising journal printed for the anniversary fundraiser.
“He is so dedicated to the kids of Saigon and improving their lives. It’s truly inspiring – some Vietnam veterans who were lucky to return to the US don’t ever want to go back – he goes back every year to help those kids.”
Ten years later, a children’s charity that has been supported solely by the donation of friends and family has seen those in need be provided with education and financial support.
The Burke House anniversary fundraiser will take place on Saturday, September 27 at Honey’s Thai Pavillion, located on 3036 Westchester Avenue.