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Stacey Buckner reflects on CNN ‘Hero’ experience


While many residents might have been busy with holiday preparations over the weekend. Fayetteville's Stacey Buckner jetted up to New York City to be recognized as a nominee for CNN’s Heroes award. 

CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute honors is an annual television special created by CNN to honor 10 individuals who have made significant humanitarian contributions to their communities. 

Though Buckner didn’t win first place — that distinction was awarded in Sunday night's national broadcast and came with a $100,000 prize, while the other nominees got $10,000 each — she left the city Monday with a host of meaningful connections with other nominees, new strategies to grow her nonprofit, and training to make the most of her national recognition as a CNN Hero. 

But there was a bonus: she departed the Big Apple with an unexpected additional $10,000, funding that will help to expand and reinforce her nonprofit’s operations. All in all, Buckner received $20,000 — the $10,000 award for being a nominee and another $10,000 donated by first-prize winner and veterinarian Dr. Kwane Stewart, who opted to split his $100,000 prize fund with the other nine Heroes.  

Buckner is the founder of the nonprofit organization Off-Road Outreach, which supports homeless veterans by offering mobile services including laundry services, food and clothing, and mobile showers, as well as assistance with applying for housing and VA health benefits. Buckner’s organization also created Veggies for Vets, a community garden supplying Fayetteville at-risk and low-income veterans experiencing homelessness with fresh fruits and vegetables. 

CityView caught up with Buckner on her way back from New York City, where the awards ceremony was broadcast live at the CNN New York studio. 

“It's been amazing,” Buckner said, speaking on her way to the airport Monday afternoon. “It's been a great ride — it's just beginning, apparently.”

During her trip to New York, Buckner had a chance to collaborate and make future plans with the other nominees, many of whom are doing similar work. 

“So just to learn about their nonprofits and what they're doing and how we can collaborate, it's very valuable to us because it's going to expand our mission as well,” Buckner said. “We love the other heroes. They are bringing a lot of knowledge and a lot of opportunities for us to expand.”

On Monday, the Heroes also received a tutorial from the Elevate Prize Foundation, which is matching GoFundMe donations up to $50,000 per hero. The short class, Buckner said, offered training on how to navigate and make the most of the national attention on their nonprofit work with social media tips and media training. 

“They are teaching us really invaluable skills on how to navigate this new notoriety that we will be receiving, and how to really make it purposeful, to really breathe in the moment,” Buckner said about the Elevate Prize Foundation.

Ultimately, Buckner hopes the donations will enable Off-Road Outreach, which is sustained through volunteers, to hire paid staff. She also wants to expand the group’s reach to outside of the Fayetteville area, but also stresses the need to “take care of our own community” in Fayetteville first, by giving Off-Road Outreach volunteers more means to help people. 

“I think we have a pretty well-oiled machine now, but we want to expand into having a staff,” she said. “ … So we want to expand not only the people that we're serving, but also the people that we can have to serve them.” 

Despite being in the national spotlight, Buckner keeps the focus on her work and her team’s collaborative efforts, remaining steadfast in her mission to help veterans experiencing homelessness. She encouraged others to do the same. 

“We shouldn't have homeless veterans,” Buckner said. “We just shouldn't. But the fact that we do, is that there is something that every single person in Fayetteville could do. Not just in Fayetteville, but there is a system in place to help these homeless vets. And if you would just give back and even just volunteer time with other veteran service organizations, we can all do something. We really can.” 

“And I talk about this frequently, but the power of giving, the beauty of the power of giving is that it doesn't matter about your gender, your age, your socioeconomic status,” she continued. “You can give back.” 

The Elevate Prize Foundation will be matching donations to all of the 2023 Top 10 CNN Heroes up to $50,000 per hero until Jan. 5. To donate to Off-Road Outreach, click here

Contact Evey Weisblat at eweisblat@cityviewnc.com or 216-527-3608. 

The CityView News Fund is a nonprofit organization that supports CityView’s newsgathering operation. Will you help us with a tax-deductible donation?   

Stacey Buckner, CNN Heroes, Off-Road Outreach, veterans, homeless