Bronx Veteran Wins Father Of The Year

For the 3 months he was homeless, Gonzalo Duran moved around day after day to find a place to sleep at night. He slept in a halfway house or next to convicts despite following all the proper protocols to receive veteran benefits. When he moved back to his childhood neighborhood, he met a fellow veteran who was in the same place he was a couple of months back. Realizing then that the system in place was flawed, Duran knew that in order to help others, convention needed to be thrown away.

A United States Marine Veteran, Duran has made it his mission to help homeless veterans in the Bronx. Being the CEO of Devil Dog USA, Incorporated has always presented some form of challenge as Duran has to fight through the red tape of bureaucracy and convention. While his main focus is on helping veterans through housing, resources, and recreation opportunities, Duran has been working on incorporating local Bronx businesses and people in his work.

img_6726On a cool October morning, Duran visits community members and businesses within the Belmont neighborhood. In shorts and flip flops, he is working, doing community outreach, and completing personal errands all at the same time. The first visit of the day was to Joe’s Italian Deli where they asked Duran for more copies of his Veteran Assistance fliers due to many customers asking for the flyer during the weekend rush. Afterwards Duran walked a few feet over to Majestic II Barbershop.

While getting a haircut and shave, Duran spoke to his barber, Julio, about the local happenings in his neighborhood. Many barbershops in the Bronx are not simply for getting a haircut but they also serve as a gathering place for community members to share information about the neighborhood, people who live in the area, to relax with friends, and even share in local gossip.

It seems that you have a local approach to conducting outreach, will your focus only stay within your neighborhood?

I actually focus my efforts nationally. I either partner or work with every major organization that deals with Veterans, from corporations like American Corporate Partners in Manhattan to Veteran non-profits like Team Semper Fi on the west coast. I am finishing up a project that will tremendously reduce the Student Veteran Homeless population but to complete it, I will need the support of my community as well as the Bronx. Recently, I have visited local businesses and told them who I am, what I do and what I have planned. So far I have been well received.

c41e48325c3a6469cb162ef5a6f914e471528b407cec697b0dpimgpsh_fullsize_distrAfter his haircut, Duran made his way to the east side of the Bronx to meet with Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj in order to discuss Veteran issues and upcoming Veterans Day events. “I feel like celebrating.” he said as he stepped into Napoli Pizza, a Williamsbridge Road pizzeria that is loved for their food and the friendly owner. With a satisfied stomach, it was time to go back to the Belmont neighborhood to speak with the children and parents at Belmont Community Daycare Center.

This is your first time speaking in a setting strictly for young children, what was your motivation today to speak to children?

Well a lot of the programs I do are geared to help me spend time with my son Charles and daughter Veronica. I do my best to balance my work and family time by incorporating them, other children and veterans into my golf, tennis, and scuba diving programs.

Now the daycare like many of my programs or work comes from being propositioned into it. I bumped into one of the educators during a parking dilemma because of alternate side parking. Anyway, I had to wait about ten minutes before I could move my car so I began talking to him. By the time it was time to move my car, I told him I would be happy to speak to the kids and parents regarding my services and work.

This also helps me with an upcoming project I am working on with the New York Public Library where I will do a series of forums giving motivational speaking. I have had a few hardships in my life but I have had a lot more accomplishments. Like a good Sergeant of Marines, once I learn something, I do my best to teach, mentor and inspire my troops. I see the youth of my neighborhood as my troops.

Recently I took a few students to meet Joe Kheller the President of the Metro Hutchison Complex, Senator Gustavo Rivera, Councilman Richie Torres, Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj and I have many more planned throughout the year.

img_6848The Bronx YMCA in Castle Hill was the next stop of the day for a weekly scuba diving program. Bronx Scuba provides community members and veterans the opportunity to obtain certification in scuba. After taking their course, Duran explained that, even though he did not have a father in his life, he feels he found one in Micheal E. Mashack, owner of Bronx Scuba. “Captain Mashack is a great mentor and inspiration…he created Bronx Scuba out of his love for it and wanted to provide it to the community.”

How did you get involved with Bronx Scuba?

Since my return from Iraq my lungs have never been the same. After 8 years in the Marines I was forced out. This caused me to gain weight and become unhealthy. When I got back into a routine I needed to find something that wouldn’t affect my lungs as much so I looked into scuba diving but there aren’t really any programs for Veterans in the east coast. So through a partnership of three different organizations, they paid for my fee to become a PADI Certified Scuba Diver. Since then, I went through their certification process for basic scuba diving license, I have continued to assist them with both Veterans and non-Veterans certification processes.

I hope to become an instructor and use that to help them with their childrens program. They have a scholarship to help five students a year.

In what ways do you feel that getting certified in scuba will help veterans?

Well I don’t want to say too much but once you see the world under the sea you see how much of the earth we really miss. Not only do I believe it benefits Veterans physically but mentally as well. Once I saw the wonders of the sea, I knew that everything from fishing to boating helped me explore new possibilities.

The day ended with cigars and good conversations at Moises Cigars. Duran excitedly talked to the other patrons about Saturday. When asked what was happening on Saturday, Duran said he was chosen to receive the Boogie Down Fatherhood Award from The Bronx Fatherhood Coalition.


Why do you feel you deserve the Father of the Year award?

[laughs] Honesty I don’t believe I do. Before accepting the award I asked my children if I deserved it and they told me yes. I asked them what do I do that makes them think I deserve it. They told me I feed them, clothe them and entertain them. I told them all dads should do that. They were pretty much at a lost for words after I said that. Until my son asked me if I thought my own dad deserved the award and I said no.

A few months ago, my mother asked me,”With all the metals you have on your chest and all of the accomplishments you have done, what do you have to show for it?” While listening to the other fathers speeches and the staff speak on what a father was, it didn’t hit me why I deserve the award. With these words I told myself I have beaten 100s of other fathers out of this award, so I have earned it but I wont feel like I deserve it until my children can tell me more than just the basics. But I will strive to keep this honor bestowed upon me with the highest regards to the youth of my community. As Coach Lynn says, “Anyone can be a dad but only a true man can be a Father”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: