To equip America's returning veterans with the tools they need to start a business or pursue career education.
How We Started
Work Vessels for Veterans was started in 2008 after John Niekrash, a Noank, CT lobsterman heard the story of a wounded warrior's dedication and service after having been severely injured in Iraq. John decided that his boat that had served him well for seventeen years should go to someone who had served his country. Our first "vessel," Krasher I was refurbished and donated for commercial fishing in Narragansett Bay, RI to a USMC Reservist who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and a legacy was born.
Board of Directors
John Niekrash, Chairman & Co-Founder - John Niekrash has been a commercial lobsterman for over 20 years and is also employed by Proximo Spirits, a New York-based importer of distilled spirits and a strong supporter of WVFV. Niekrash also founded CORE-Gives, a non-profit organization which assists employees in the hospitality industry with children who have life-threatening medical conditions. To date, CORE (Children Of Restaurant Employees) has raised over $400,000 and helped numerous families across the country.
Kathleen M. Burns, President & Co-Founder - Appreciative of the great educational and professional opportunities that have afforded her throughout her career has led to her passion for the work of WVFV, where she oversees the internal workings of the foundation. Kathleen's other affiliations include her current position as Executive Director of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association, Vice Chair of the Thames America's Cup Committee as well as positions on numerous other local committees and organizations. A graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, she transitioned into the marine industry from a successful advertising and marketing career.
Dan Burns, Co-Founder - Together with his wife Kathleen, Dan co-founded WVFV and oversaw refurbishment of many boats for veterans as manager of Noank Shipyard and Seaport Marine in CT. A native of Hamburg, NY Dan long served in managerial positions throughout the shopping center industry for over twenty-five years until he transitioned his vast property management experience into his passion for boating. Dan currently serves on the Board of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, chairs the annual Taste of Mystic and as a Board Member of WVFV, coordinates the acquisition, rehab and delivery of the organization's boat donations.
Rick Crolius - Retired human resources executive from aerospace industry. Served in U.S. Navy in Vietnam Era as 3rd Class Petty Officer (SK PO3). Volunteered as a National Ski Patroller, eastern Division from 1976-1999. Patrolman with senior qualification, mountaineering, EMT, & Avalance qualifications & national appointment #5200. Patrol Leader, CT Regional Director, Asst. Divisional Director for New England, Mid Atlantic. American Red Cross Senior Instructor. Past President & Director of Groton Long Point Association (1998-2009). Began volunteering with Work Vessels for Vets in 2009 by promoting annual fundraisers. Loves fishing, sailing and spending time with "Bear" his significant other, a 100lb black Labrador.
Paul Jacey - of Noank, CT joined the WVFV Board of Directors in 2016, following many years as a key volunteer on the WVFV Advisory Council. Currently President of Components for Manufacturing, LLC, he was previously Senior Channel Manager at Stanley Black and Decker/Bostich for over 15 years. Paul also has sales and marketing background in the SmartCard, cell phone and telecom security areas. Paul has an engineering degree from Clarkson Univeristy and his MBA from University of Hartford. He offers expertise and assistance in business planning and equipment needs for veteran applicants.
Hon. Catherine Cook, Executive Director. A former Connecticut State Senator, she came to WVFV looking to use her experience to help veterans. Retired from the Senate in 2006 as Chief Deputy Leader following two decades of public service representing eastern Connecticut and recipient of many awards, including National Legislator of the Year for the Biotech Industry, she went on to serve four years as the Governor’s Executive Assistant for Veterans' Affairs where she concentrated her efforts assisting the state's Gold Star families of the fallen, homeless veterans and combat-to-work initiatives, including the higher education OASIS centers for vets returning to college. Her connections with colleagues across the country assist veteran-entrepreneurs. A graduate of Connecticut College, she loves sailing and travel.
Hon. Catherine W. Cook, Executive Director — Former state senator from eastern CT, Cathy brings her experience and connections from a 22 year career in public service to WVFV. Her work as Executive Assistant for Veterans' Affairs to Governor M. Jodi Rell offers the ability to assist veterans with applications to WVFV as well as referrals to other veteran resources. She runs the office, write grants and has been instrumental in raising the national profile of WVFV.