The Carolina Hurricanes Honor USO North Carolina Programs Manager with Hero of the Game

USO North Carolina’s Program Manager, Heather Rossi, was honored as the Hero of the Game (presented by D&H Distributing) during the Carolina Hurricanes home game against the Vegas Golden Nights on January 25, 2022.

The home game marked the fourth annual Hockey Talks event, which aims to encourage conversations about mental health and reduce stigmas associated with mental illness.

“The Hurricanes are proud to honor local heroes to recognize their service and dedication to our community,” said Rachel Santucci, Community Relations Coordinator for the Carolina Hurricanes. “Heather was recognized as the Hero of the Game presented by D&H Distributing on the Canes Hockey Talks, Mental Health Awareness Night not only for her service, but her work with the Mental Health First Aid program. We are grateful to Heather for the important impact she is making with service members on both mental health and suicide awareness.”

After graduation from the University of Oklahoma, Rossi joined the United States Air Force. In 2012, after 10 years serving her country, she began the transition back to civilian life, but she knew her call to service wasn’t over.

For the past decade, she has worked with service members and their families to build resiliency through hands-on training and tools to better cope with the pressures and challenges associated with the military lifestyle. She joined the USO North Carolina in March 2019, and started training service members in Mental Health and First Aid later that year.

Rossi with fellow USO NC employee, Rachel Taylor at a Mental Health & First Aid class. | Photo credit Rachel Taylor

The program teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders and gives individuals the skills to reach out to help with support.

“Teaching Mental Health and First Aid creates a common language around mental health,” said Rossi. “It allows military members to discuss mental health struggles and provide support to each other.” The goal of the program is to give service members and their spouses a peer group that understands the stressors and accesses within the military related to mental health illnesses.

Prior to joining USO North Carolina, Rossi was no stranger to the offerings of The USO. “I feel like I spent a year of my life at the USO Sea-Tac center,” said Rossi. “We had very long layovers, and the USO was always there for me and my family with food, activities, or just a comfy place to rest. The staff was always warm and friendly. They made us feel like we were home. That level of comfort is what drew me to continue my service to my fellow service members with the USO.”

Rossi also leads the Reset programs throughout the state. Geared towards service members, military spouses, and military kids, Reset focuses on health, human service and resiliency through hands-on training.

Rossi with having a conversation with an attendee of Warrior Reset. | Photo credit Rachel Taylor

In the wake of Covid-19, Rossi created virtual programming to engage service members and their families while maintaining social distance. Some of those events include: Resets, monthly bingo nights, Coffee Connections, gaming tournaments, and arts education for children.

More recently, Rossi has spearheaded the USO’s global gaming initiative within North Carolina.

“I’m so excited to connect a new generation of service members to the USO through gaming,” said Rossi.

Gaming provides an opportunity to improve connections between the military, their families, and civilians while providing a shared space to communicate and relieve stress through escapism.

“Heather understands the importance of creating programming that resonants with service members and their families. She deserves the Hero of the Game honor for a number of reasons, but mostly due to her dedication to help strengthen America’s service members,” said Tommy Walker, Temporary Executive Director for USO North Carolina.“ She is committed to creating programs that offer a continuum of support to everyone we serve, and the USO North Carolina is lucky to have her as part of the team.”

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