Play For Your Freedom helps Veterans on and off the field

By Kerry Butrick Dowling
Posted 11/9/22

When David Lionheart of Newburgh met up with his friends ten years ago for a recreational game of football, he had no idea he would be changing his life and the lives of others. What started as a way …

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Play For Your Freedom helps Veterans on and off the field


When David Lionheart of Newburgh met up with his friends ten years ago for a recreational game of football, he had no idea he would be changing his life and the lives of others. What started as a way to support an organization close to his friend’s heart has grown exponentially and helps thousands of veterans in the Hudson Valley and across the country. Lionheart’s non-profit organization, Play For Your Freedom, will be celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

“When I picked up my friend for the game he had a wounded veteran organization hat on and I didn’t see him in that way. There are some things you couldn’t see with a glance,” said Lionheart, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Play For Your Freedom. Lionheart went to work shortly after making handmade jerseys and working with others to get support for veterans in need. It was then that Play For Your Freedom was born on a dirt field in Newburgh.

The first year’s teams were comprised of 16 players and together they raised over $2,000.

“Right out of the gate there was a strong sense of community,” he shared. The second year there were 72 players and they raised over $7,000. In January 2016, Play For Your Freedom acquired an office space in the Newburgh Armory Unity Center through a donation which offered the non-profit a space to thrive and a facility to call home.

At the heart of the organization is more than just a football game, Play For Your Freedom provides veterans with a place to feel safe and includes wellness workshops, drug rehabilitation counseling, fitness and socialization through a peer-to-peer system. “The goal was to make it a place where all veterans feel comfortable and it’s a safe space to do so,” explained Lionheart.

Lionheart grew up in humble beginnings in Newburgh and has faced his own life challenges along the way. By all accounts, his desire to give others the tools needed to face the day are the fire that keeps him moving. “I want them to know that they deserve to have a happy and healthy life. Everyone deserves that. I want them to believe it’s possible,” he shared.

Eventually, Lionheart was receiving phone calls from all over the country and he began traveling to help veterans in need of the services offered by Play For Your Freedom. “We weren’t saying no to anybody,” he explained. In addition, he began calling hospitals that support veterans to offer his services which brought Play For Your Freedom directly where it was needed most. In pre-pandemic times, Lionheart shared the organization was booking approximately six to eight workshops a month and working with close to 1,200 veterans.
“Isolation is a killer. I would tell the veterans it’s just important to be in the room. Everyone has a place and a purpose. We would encourage them to bring their friends to the next event whenever possible,” said Lionheart.

As Play For Your Freedom grew so did the number of volunteers and supporters, Lionheart said the organization would not be a success without the supportive environment created by those around him. “Our team is what’s special. We all create a welcoming environment with smiling faces. We all have the ability to connect with others and everyone brings their personal experiences.

Everyone is good at something. I think the big message that needs to get out there is that our veterans are real people with real issues. People often say thank you for your service, but I want them to also ask- how are you doing,” explained Lionheart.

In 2021, Lionheart’s documentary film project, PTSD: The Walking Wounded, was released on iTunes and Amazon to a national audience. The documentary examines the reality of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), by following real American heroes as they explore their real life stories and the struggles they’ve faced since reintegration into civilian life.

“It’s a raw conversation that needs to be had. Without them there is no film- they shared the real talk. I’m so incredibly proud of them. I hope this documentary will be a real tool for others to help our veterans,” said Lionheart. Lionheart hopes to have a showing of the documentary in Orange County in the future.

In addition to the documentary, Play For Your Freedom recently announced that the organization has purchased three service dogs from Clear Path For Veterans to give to veterans thanks to a donation received from local supporters. The first service dog, Ranger, will be going to a female veteran in Orange County. Lionheart said all of the proud moments with Play For Your Freedom over the last decade being financially in a place to adopt three service dogs is one of the organization’s proudest moments.

“Service dogs are just incredible. These dogs are trained to see things that we as humans should see, but often don’t see. For me, it’s more than just the organization making the purchase. This female veteran’s life will be changed I guarantee it. This is a huge step for the organization,” explained an emotional Lionheart.

When asked what he sees for the future of Play For Your Freedom, Lionheart voiced his desire to change the mindset of others in this crazy world. “My hope is centered around being willing to hear and see each other and take a little bit more time to understand one another. I want others to take a minute to be kind and compassionate to others. We never know what someone is going through,” he shared.

On October 7, 2023, Play For Your Freedom will be hosting its 10th Annual Fall Classic at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, 321 South William Street, from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. Individuals interested in donating to the event or assisting are asked to save the date.

For more information about Play For Your Freedom including volunteer and donation opportunities please visit


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