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Post 9/11 veterans lend skills to community leadership course

Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Navy veteran Susanne Kokoska of North Huntingdon Tuesday, April 22, 2014.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 11:18 p.m.

Some of Navy veteran Susanne Kokoska's Facebook friends hadn't met her in person, but that didn't stop them from driving two hours to cheer her on as she ran a 50-kilometer ultramarathon.

“One of the things that I've found is that the bond that you build with other people who served in the military, regardless of their branch, whether you've ever met them, is a circle of support that I have never found anywhere else,” said Kokoska, 36, of North Huntingdon, who in March completed the Lt. J.C. Stone 50K race in North Park in 8 hours, 14 minutes.

That is why she is one of 20 post-9/11 veterans in the inaugural community leadership course for veterans sponsored by Leadership Pittsburgh. The group attended a reception on Tuesday at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Participants in the program will meet with regional business and community leaders, learn about nonprofit issues and trends, and use their leadership skills to do a project for a local nonprofit group.

The Heinz Endowments, which contributed $150,000, estimates there are nearly 36,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Here are young men and women who are coming back with that sense of commitment, not just for themselves, but for the person next to them. Wouldn't that be wonderful if that was the culture of all our organizations, no matter what the sector,” said Aradhna Oliphant, president and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh.

Oliphant hopes that the veterans' sense of commitment spills over into their work with the nonprofits. Four groups — the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania, YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh and radio stations WESA and WQED — will work with the veterans.

After her time in the military, Kokoska said she volunteered as social director of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of a veterans' nonprofit group, Team Red, White & Blue, so she could connect with others who had served in the military.

“I'm really hoping to enhance my leadership skills and be a bigger resource for veterans,” she said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or



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