DENVILLE, NJ – Chico’s Mexican Grill hosted a music benefit concert for wounded soldiers and raised nearly $3,000, Fri., Sept. 13.

“We’re glad that we can help and support this charity,” said Francisco Molina, Dover resident and owner of Chico’s.

“And the music acts we have here tonight are the best around.”

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The entertainers included solo acoustic musicians John Bruggerman from Parsippany and Rick Barth from Mt. Olive.

“Everybody who can do something for our soldiers should do so,” said Bruggerman, who has performed a few shows for the same event before.

Barth also has done several military-themed charities, including Wounded Warrior Project and Operation Chillout.

“Every opportunity to help out a veteran and their families I’m going to do it,” said Barth.

“It’s just nice that there are people who help our veterans and put in great effort for it.”

The event was organized by the Family and Friends for Freedom Fund, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Scotch Plains that provides financial support and grants to combat-wounded servicemen and women from all U.S. military branches.

“My father was in the navy, so I support the veterans,” said Denville resident Andrew Caruana.

“The music is excellent and it’s nice to know that Chico’s and Freedom Fund do this for the veterans. And I’ll do anything to support the military as much as I can. I’ll even pay for a drink and a meal.”

Since 2005, many volunteers, like Parsippany resident Karen Atkins, have pledged their time and money to the organization in support of its local heroes.

“Without our soldiers, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” said Atkins, who has been with the Freedom Fund since 2011.

“The more I get involved in Freedom Fund, the more people I get to meet and help. And I feel good about this concert. This is a lot of hard work, and I have phenomenal help here. This is our mission – they give back to us, so we give back to them.”

Sergeant Derek McConnell was one of the soldiers who once received support from Freedom Fund. McConnell, who served in the 10th Division of the U.S. Army, was injured in Afghanistan and died from his wounds after returning home in 2013. During the music benefit, Siobhan Fuller-McConnell from Parsippany, McConnell’s mother, spoke of her son and Freedom Fund.

“Freedom Fund is wonderful help because I know what help they were for Derek and how they like to pay it forward,” said Fuller-McConnell, who also has volunteered for the group since 2012.

“I’ve been involved in many groups before, but this is one of the best. Home-grown and close to where I live. This event gives me hope that we are not as divided as we are led to believe.”


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