Joie Cook

Dawn Cauthen-Thornton | May 22nd, 2018
Joie Cook (Photos by Todd Youngblood)

Joie Cook (Photos by Todd Youngblood)

On February 20, 2008, Joie Cook intently watched the rise and fall of her father’s chest as he lay in a hospital bed. Initially she didn’t notice the change in his breathing but her significant other, who was also present, brought it to her attention. It was no less than heart-wrenching seeing her hero, the dedicated Marine, battling for his life. At 2:20 p.m., her world was almost destroyed. The love of her life took his last breath and lost his battle with lung cancer. I say ‘almost’ destroyed, because there is light at the end of this tunnel.

“It just didn’t make sense because he didn’t even smoke. He was healthy, he juiced, and he ran marathons,” Joie still struggles with the loss. Prior to the cancer diagnosis, the doctors mentioned that the patriarch of the Cook family simply had pneumonia. When the cancer was finally found, it took less than six months to metastasize and take over his body. Joie prayed, she bargained with God, and listened to others who told her he would get better. But he didn’t. “It hasn’t been the same since,” Joie confesses through a trembling voice.

The only girl of three children shares fond memories of the life she led as a military kid, moving from state to state, with time in Hawaii and Savannah, Georgia, where she was born and is currently assigned. Joie has spent, collectively, over a decade serving her country in the Army, the Air Force Reserves, and now the Air Guard. Emerging from a family full of soldiers, her father was her biggest influence. She later learned that he too, served in the Army first, then the Air Force. She feels even more connected to him because of this path.

The first year after her father’s passing, Joie and her family decided to get together for dinner in her father’s honor. Every February for the next five years, they broke bread together, until a close family friend, Nadine Henry, and Sandra Cook, suggested that she explore other ideas. Since her dad was a veteran and she currently serves, they decided to pay tribute to him and others in the armed forces by hosting a dinner along with vendors from various aspects of the community. In May 2013, A Hero’s B.A.L.L. (Building Around Life’s Lessons) was born and held at the University Hilton Hotel, in Charlotte. “The first ball hosted approximately 80 people and six vendors, which was great,” Joie says. She credits Los Bravos, Inc. with much of the inaugural balls success. They allowed her to shadow them and learn how to foster a non-profit organization, which helped her tremendously.

By the third year, the event had grown so much, they were forced to create two separate events to properly connect with those in attendance. That’s how the vendor expo was formed. Now the expo attracts more than 50 vendors offering valuable information in education, employment, serving in the military, health and welfare, housing, products and services, and veteran services such as NABVETS (National Association of Black Veterans) headed up by Commander David L. Graves, Jr.
The charity organization targets anyone who can benefit from their services, but especially focuses on women veterans and their families. Joie feels like women veterans are typically underserved because they’re the minority within all four branches. When they’re in need of diapers, feminine products, and other items most take for granted, her organization can help. “One time a female client came in and needed a bra. That’s simple but she didn’t have one,” she explains.
This year the expo will offer workshops on VA claims, business financial literacy, financial literacy for kids and teens, home ownership, and the importance of sisterhood. A big supporter of the charity is the Charlotte Chapter of Woven, a curriculum-based support group made up of all women veterans. The organization is run by Tina Bryce and Cat Corchado and aids women in coping with everyday issues, such as how to manage stress, transition, job loss, suicide, divorce, and a host of other set-backs.
“There is a misconception that the VA blankets everyone with help, and that isn’t the case,” says Joie. She explains that the actual veteran, the child dependent, and the spouse, are all different and are serviced differently. Her organization assists everyone needing to overcome an obstacle, no matter how they are connected. They’ve paid household bills, for funerals, and even assisted with job searches. They also partner with other non-profits like Goodwill (Operation Good Jobs 3.0) if they can’t help.
This year the expo will be June 23 – June 24 at Johnson C. Smith University and will feature Branches of Success, a panel made up of veterans. They will be discussing the effects of the military both personally and professionally, and “When The Military Hit Me”, a panel discussion that will educate and compare domestic violence between the military and the civilian worlds. On the last day of the celebration, there will be The Salute to Soldiers Jazz and Inspirational Benefit Concert featuring Dante Lewis and Stellar Award Winning Gospel Artist Isabel Davis. The concert is a ticketed event($10 donation for the general public, vets w/ID and kids are free). The event is open to the public. Sunday June 24 at 3:00 pm in Biddie Hall Auditorium. Exhibitors that will be present include T-Mobile, Zurvita (Zeal For Life), NC A&T State University, Charlotte Area Fund, AARP, Authors, and Paparazzi.
The Cook Family has poured their energy into keeping their father’s legacy alive and worked tirelessly to serve the community that gives so much, veterans. I’m sure they believe that their fallen one is proudly looking down, marveling at their dedication and strength, possibly saying “This, is the light.” The events of AHB are held in memory of Nathaniel S. Cook-USMC (May 4, 1955 – February 20, 2018).
Upcoming events include the Annual Black Tie Fundraising Gala on July 21 at the Crown Plaza, featuring guest speakers Army Captain Ty Young, Author Lila Holley, and Boot and Color, and educational guide for women of color in the military.

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