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SCHEER: Falls rescue mission leader 'rucking' for a good cause

Niagara Gazette - 2/21/2024

Feb. 21—When he was a member of the U.S. Army, John Cooper Jr. was often ordered to lug around a 120-pound backpack as part of his training for actual missions.

Starting this week, Cooper Jr. will do more of what's known in the military as "rucking" to raise funds for the homeless, including homeless veterans.

From now through Easter on March 31, the executive director of the Niagara Gospel Mission will be spending part of his days "rucking" his way through a journey that's going to last "222 miles." The end goal honors his former army unit, the second battalion, the 22nd Infantry Regiment.

Cooper Jr. said the project is intentionally designed to be a "walk in the shoes" experience.

"For most of the homeless population, this is their life," Cooper Jr. said. "They walk around with their lives on their backs every day. This is how homeless people live. Just like I did in the army, it's living outside and all you have on you is your pack."

The mission, which is located inside the old YMCA building at 1317 Portage Road, provides shelter, food, clothing and spiritual guidance to homeless men in the Falls.

Cooper Jr. is asking people to support his cause by pledging to donate $1 per mile of his walk. He's hoping to raise enough money to be able to support the addition of six more rooms at the shelter for veterans who want to participate in the rescue mission's recovery program.

"Our neighbors are living this life on the streets, especially now where all day they are just kind of wandering," Cooper Jr. said. "They need to be put into places like this where it's not just a warm place to go and a meal. It's actually working on their root issues so they don't have to be homeless and we can give them hope."

A Wheatfield native and Niagara-Wheatfield High School graduate, Cooper Jr. served as a sniper in the U.S. Army for six years. He joined the mission staff in 2022 and became executive director in January following the retirement of the mission's former leader Tom McLaughlin.

The army veteran said he started preparing for his 222-mile journey about a month and a half ago by donning his 120-pound backpack for some "rucking" exercise.

He'll be providing regular updates through Facebook posts and YouTube videos as he takes all the steps needed to complete his "222 miles" campaign.

For more information about the rescue mission and Cooper Jr.'s fundraising effort, visit the mission's website at To follow Cooper Jr.'s 'rucking' journey, check out his video updates on YouTube. To make a donation, visit "222 Miles for Homeless Vets in Western New York" on GoFundMe.


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