Our History

“Is Saving Private Ryan real?”

Dedicated history teacher Barbara Hatch wrote to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, asking for World War II veterans to address her high school student’s question with a visit to her classroom. Ralph George, a member of the Fountain Hills VFW, organized a group of WWII veterans called Veterans in the Classroom to speak to Barbara's students. Barbara continued to bring Veterans into her classroom each year.
Interested in funding programs that documented Arizona’s history, Arizona's Salt River Project (SRP), a local utility, requested grant proposals. Student Jeff Tully spoke up, “If we can document history from our veteran speakers, then I’m in.” Hatch and her students invited veterans to share their service stories with groups of students. The recorded interviews were submitted to a national military history archive called the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
The students loved the experience and asked to make it into an after-school club. Arizona Heritage Project (AHP) was born! The club evolved with student participation in civic events and Veterans Day celebrations, and with Hatch's 20 years of experience as yearbook advisor, authored its first hardbound volume (2004-2005) of veterans' stories in Since You Asked: Arizona Veterans Share their Memories.
Parents, including Laura Byers and Donna Ward, seeing the impact the program was having on their sons’ character and academic focus asked, "Why isn't this program in more schools?" The small group of parents and supporters banded together, incorporating Veterans Heritage Project as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, enabling the new organization to replicate the after-school club at additional schools.
2010 - 2013
With an initial four-school pilot, VHP formally launched Veterans Heritage Project (VHP). Each year, lessons learned were incorporated into support processes, enabling VHP to introduce its second edition of Since You Asked in 2012. By 2013, VHP numbered 11 chapters.
After 40 years of teaching, founder Barbara Hatch retired to volunteer full-time as VHP's Program Director. Alumna Brittany Manning contracted as part-time Program Coordinator. The grass-roots Board of Directors started to expand, led by Laura Byers as Board President, with an eye toward developing a national model.
VHP contracted with Michelle DiMuro in 2014, a non-profit professional, to help raise funding and provide the structure required to manage the growth of organization. By 2016, VHP numbered 25 chapters and grew to publish six editions of Since You Asked.
In January 2017, VHP officially hired its first staff: Michelle DiMuro as Executive Director and Brittany Manning as Program Coordinator, and moved into its first office space that summer. The Board of Directors expanded over the next two years with a focus on building capacity for the organization. Quality standards, technology tools, and a video tutorial series provided the foundation needed to pilot an out of state program in Niceville, Florida in 2018.
VHP builds awareness and capacity through the Saluting Stories of Service Gala, a re-designed website, and the implementation of an online learning management system for program curriculum. VHP was featured by the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits for demonstrating innovation and resilience during the pandemic.
2021 - Today
Legacy gifts for scholarships and staffing make an impact in organizational growth and program outreach. A team of six enters the 20th year of our program with a goal to reach our 3000th interview for 2023-2024, and to grow to 50 schools by 2025-2026.

Michelle DiMuro
Michelle DiMuro, Executive Director
"I feel all of my past professional experiences have been to prepare me for this opportunity. I am where I am meant to be. I love making a difference for our students and veterans, and am eager to expand our impact."
Barbara Hatch, Founder
"Witnessing veterans healing and students succeeding because of a program that expanded with parents' faith in our mission makes 'retirement' rewarding."

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"Students learned how to listen, question, think, write, publish stories, work hard, and honor their veterans.  Not just once, but hundreds of times.  Colleges took notice of their interest, commitment and skills. Parents took notice because something had taken root in our children; It was a maturity, sense of duty, and a belief in our nation’s freedoms."  

- Laura Byers  
  Founding Board President

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Inspiring Success

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"With each veteran interview, Patrick’s poise, confidence, communication & technical skills soared.  VHP increased his sense of civic responsibility, his gratitude to his veterans. It offered healing to his veterans, some of who, like his grandfather, had never spoken about his service. The bond between grandfather & grandson was cemented by VHP." 

- Donna Ward
  Founding Board Member