Eric Peterson explained how he knows how to do things, especially when helping others. In particular, helping military veterans of any age.
“You do it,” he said. “It is the thing to do.”
He learned such lessons from his parents, Virginia and Bill Peterson of Limestone.
“A lot of that you can chalk up to his mom,” Peterson’s wife, Ashley, said. “She is caring, has a giving heart and is always there for you. His dad is a problem solver. They really shaped him.”
The 33-year-old founder of Project Headspace and Timing, an organization devoted to helping veterans in need, added that those things were hammered into him during his Army service.
Those traits shined brightly in 2020 as Peterson helped veterans, young and old, even during a pandemic. It’s also why he was selected as the Daily Journal’s Young Citizen of the Year.
Giving joy to others is nothing new for Peterson. Using money from a paper route while in junior high, he bought inexpensive gifts for each of the kids in his class one Christmas.
“They were nothing big,” he said. “I liked other people having joy.”
“Eric genuinely cares,” added Michelle Shear, who works in Volunteer Services at the Illinois Veterans Home at Manteno.
“He has been instrumental and played a role in reaching out to organizations and businesses recognizing and supporting our veterans’ needs across Kankakee County and the Manteno Veterans Home,” she said.
“It is nothing for Eric to call and say, ‘What do the guys need at Manteno?’ He has also played a role in bringing awareness to the homeless veterans program across the region as well and continuing on making an impact with housing homeless veterans.
“Eric is always conscious of sacrifices the veterans have made for us, and Eric continues to give back,” Shear said.
More than three years ago, Peterson started visiting the veterans at Manteno. He just started talking and sharing. Peterson became good friends with Army veteran Bill Hicks, who passed away last year after a six-month health battle not related to coronavirus.
That started a string of events.
First, he collected 866 donated heart cutouts and placed one on every window of the Manteno Veterans Home.
He then put together veteran-community outreach projects consisting of a bed build and bed deliveries for Sleep in Heavenly Peace, and brewing and canning beer with veteran-owned Steam Hollow Brewing Co.
He ran two veterans home donation drives to gather much-needed items during the COVID pandemic. Finally, he delivered 120 Christmas trees to the Manteno Veterans Home funded by Kankakee Community College.
In addition to being the founder of Project Headspace and Timing, Peterson is co-founder of The Bad Day Box Project with Kathi Myers from the Samuel R. Myers Foundation.
The loss of an Army buddy to suicide in February 2017 started the wheels turning to creating Project Headspace.
“I was in a weird place. I had trouble adjusting,” Peterson said. “I’m still working through things. A lot of people have helped me deal with things. This is so much a group effort.”
A big part of that effort is wife Ashley.
“She is the type of person who is relentless. She is incredibly supportive,” Peterson said. “She is my rock. She has dealt with a lot.”
Ashley said her husband does well balancing family, work and volunteering. He is not one to crave the spotlight, she said.
“Eric is very humble. He doesn’t like to draw attention,” she said. “He says if they don’t do it, I’ll do it. He is in it for the right reasons.”