On August 29, 2013, the world lost an amazing person; husband, son, brother, grandson, cousin, friend and Veteran, Darren Manzella-Lapeira was killed in a tragic automobile accident. The Darren Manzella-Lapeira Memorial Run has been organized to honor his memory and to raise money for a cause close to Darren’s heart, Veteran’s Affairs.
Darren joined the United States Army in 2002 where he served as a medic for two tours of duty overseas during The Iraq War. Darren had recently joined The Army Reserves and was currently serving as a Staff Sergeant in the Army National Guard at the time of his death. Darren is remembered for his heroism in challenging the Military's "Don't ask, Don't tell" (DADT) policy on national television thus becoming the face of LGBT military members before being discharged in 2008 for publicly discussing his sexual identity. In December 2007 from the combat zone in Iraq, Darren told 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl that he was gay, and had violated the 1993 policy that barred gay service members from disclosing their sexual orientation. The policy was repealed in 2011. Darren said that, "he gave voice to the tens of thousands of men and women who serve everyday under the fear of DADT." As New York State Senator Chuck Schumer said, "Darren will always be remembered as someone who had the courage both to fight for his country and the courage to change it."
Most recently, Darren was working at the Canandaigua Veterans Crisis Call Center as a counselor. He was a self-proclaimed professional listener and treated each caller with compassion and understanding. As a Veteran, he was able create a connection with the Veterans that called in a time of crisis. Before Darren passed, he had written an article for Huffington Post, entitled “Sometimes it Takes a Veteran to Understand,” which was published posthumously on September 16, 2013. Darren commented, “I relate to Veterans and Service Members using compassion, trying to put myself in their position. Together we find a path out of the toughest challenges. When someone goes from crying to talking, and then they start to laugh – that’s satisfying.”
Proceeds from the event will go towards Darren Manzella-Lapeira Veteran Assistance Fund through the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. Through this fund, local veterans will be able to seek financial assistance for immediate needs such as rent, groceries and utilities with the help of the Chautauqua County Veterans Service Agency. The Agency also has trained counselors available to provide referral services in crisis situations.