Huge TikTok following helps Twin Cities veteran improve lives

An 81-year-old Twin Cities Navy veteran plans to give away 13 electric scooters for Veterans Day this weekend — the same type of scooter he says saved his life.

Social media helped him then, and it’s a big part of his life now. Kenny Jary is better known as Patriotic Kenny to his 2.6 million TikTok followers, and he tries to use his social media fame to spread human kindness.

Kenny served three years in the Navy during the Cuban missile crisis. He isn't afraid of people seeing him cry or of looking silly, like when he spray-painted his hair blue and gold to help deaf children in Ukraine.

"We raised over $1,000," Kenny said.

His main focus is getting electric scooters for veterans with mobility issues like him. He documents scooter giveaways on TikTok, between those silly or emotional posts.

Even Patriotic Kenny’s not sure why he’s so popular. Maybe it’s filters? Or maybe it’s Amanda Kline, the author of his children’s book and his partner in social media.

"I'm the creator, and she's the other one," Kenny said. "I don't know."

Whatever the secret, Kenny has adoring fans across the country and around the world. A lot of them still use snail mail to express their gratitude.

"Thank you for your service," he said, reading from one of the cards he'd received. "They draw stuff for me."

Kenny writes them all back, but he really thrives on human contact. So, meeting TikTok fans in person sticks with him.

"Hi PK," he says to a young fan in one of his TikTok videos. "How are you?"

PK is 9 years old and lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where Kenny was once stationed.

"And she's making all kinds of stuff," he said back at home. "Here's a bracelet right here."

She’s trying to raise $1,000 to donate to the Patriotic Kenny Foundation to buy a scooter. Kenny's mission to buy more scooters started when his mobility scooter broke down a couple of years ago.

COPD and emphysema kept him from walking much, so he needed the scooter to get around and maintain his busy social life. Without it, he was almost ready to give up on life at age 79.

"I probably would have passed away because I didn't have what I needed," Kenny said.

Kline and a long list of donors stepped up to keep Kenny rolling and his social media fame rose like a phoenix, helping him pay it forward.

"There are a lot of good people out there," he said. "I found out about it on TikTok."