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Archive for August, 2014

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Diego and his mom, Jennifer, on the day they handed out “I Served” stickers and encouraged veterans receiving treatment at the VA Hospital in Brooklyn, NY.

“Words of kindness are more healing to a drooping heart than balm or honey.” Sarah Fielding

One very special military boy, Diego, 8 years old, was determined to do something to make life a little brighter for the men and women who received care at the VA Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. And he did. In the words of his mother:

“Since we moved to Ft. Hamilton, Diego has been so curious about the veterans hospital.

It is a very tall building that we see daily when we enter and exit the base. He has asked many questions and made many comments. One really got me.

‘Maybe they are sad because they just have one leg and are looking at the window, wanting to go home.’

He asked me if we could go to the hospital and bring empanadillas for the veterans. (I know. This boy is pure gold!) I explained to him that they are very strict at the VA and that was a very cool idea but maybe we were not going to be allowed to do that.

We had been brainstorming when, driving one day around the neighborhood, we saw a sign that says: “Don’t forget our Veterans at the VA Hospital.” Diego once again reminded me that he wanted to go to the VA.

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Honor. Respect. Remember. Healing words for those who wonder if their sacrifices are forgotten.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me info about a program that gives free Operation Homefront “I Served” stickers to veterans and asked me if I wanted some. Bingo!

I told myself, ‘I’m giving out those stickers at the VA, and putting a smile on those veteran’s faces. Period.’

I told Diego that I was going to contact the Volunteer Coordinator to ask for permission. We got a call a few days later that we were good to go! Diego was happier than a dog with 9 tails!

On our visit, where we passed out about 200 stickers, we saw a little bit of everything. We engaged in meaningful conversations with true heroes, talking to me and my son about world history. What can be better than that?

My heart is full today. We shook hands, handed them their stickers and thanked them for their service.

It was something so simple that made many people smile. I’m talking about people that have sacrificed so much so I can live free and happy in this great nation.

Anyone can do that. We don’t have to do great big huge gigantic things; just do what you can, when you can. Sometimes we might feel that what we do is a small drop in the ocean; but the ocean will be less because of that missing drop.

Thank you, my boy, for pushing “Mami” to do this and thank you Operation Homefront for all you do for our veterans and military families!”

Diego lives with his mom, dad and sister at Fort Hamilton, NY where his dad serves in the U.S. Army. Thank you to this wonderful family who live a life of service every day.

Find out more about our I Served sticker program that offers a variety of free stickers to recognize veterans for their service. View our Pinterest board that features pictures from friends who have received a sticker.

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Military families learn early on that home is where the heart is, as they move across the country, or across the sea, and back again.

They learn that their foundation is not made of cement but it is built upon memories with other military families they cross paths with along the way. Most agree that, while it’s a great experience to see other states and cultures, it’s nice when you can finally settle in one place and put down some roots.

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U.S. Army National Guard Sergeant Brian Lynch and his family were recently awarded a mortgage-free from Chase, through our Homes on the Homefront program.

Our Homes on the Homefront program gives military and veteran families a chance to do that. Since 2012, we’ve awarded more than 400 homes to military and veteran families. Whether the key is handed over at a ceremony with VIPs and celebrities in attendance, or whether it’s a quiet event with a few pictures at the front doorstep, the impact is still huge.

These families, who have sacrificed so much in their lives, are now living mortgage-free.

That means that the dollars that were once used for rent can go to earning a degree or can be put away so a child can go to college later. It means they can pay off a car faster…or buy a newer one. It means that they have more freedom, choices and control over their future.

For one family, it means they can pay their medical bills.

U.S. Army National Guard Sergeant Brian Lynch joined the National Guard because he knew it would help him grow as an individual and add discipline to his life. In 2008, he enlisted in his hometown of Rockford, Minnesota and recently reenlisted for another seven years. In 2013, he served a tour in Afghanistan.

Brian married his childhood sweetheart, Michelle, and they have two children. Michelle has needed multiple surgeries due to a medical issue she was born with. Their finances have been stretched under the weight of significant medical expenses and monthly rent.

While they’ve tried to set aside money for a home, it hasn’t been enough. Brian heard about the Homes on Homefront program and applied for a home that was near his family.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and Chase, Brian was awarded a mortgage-free home in Zimmerman, Minnesota.

“It means the world to us,” said Brian, “now we don’t have to move from place to place.” He is looking forward to watching his kids grow up. He and Michelle have relatives living nearby and look forward to spending the holidays together.

“I would like to say thanks and that we are very grateful,” added Brian. “I was gone for a year, but now if I go again, my family is able to do things without me being there.”

They can now settle in and place their heart and their home in one spot.

eckrich-operation-homefront-cmt-hot-20-countdown-randy-houserThe Lynch family were featured on the CMT Hot 20 Countdown episode today. As part of their home giveaway surprise at Country Thunder in late July, they got to meet country music star Randy Houser, enjoy a great cookout with Eckrich and learn that they were also going to receive free groceries for a year from Walmart.

To find out more about our Homes on the Homefront program and see available homes across the U.S., go to www.homesonthehomefront.org. Thanks to our partners Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Meritage Homes for donating homes to this program.

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It is hard to find the words to describe what happens when a life is extinguished. Even harder, it seems, when that life was taken.silhouette-wounded

So it was with shock that I learned this week that another talented, gifted, and beautiful soul had convinced himself the world would be better off without him. Because this person was famous, there was a cyber-shockwave that reverberated through the social media world. But as palpable as that shock was, and the depth of the emotions being felt worldwide, nothing comes close to what those who were closest to him were feeling.

I know a little bit about that feeling. Because 30 years ago, a young man, full of life and a bright future, was found in a field, not far from his home, in the early evening hours. With a gunshot wound to his head.

That young man was my brother’s best friend. Athlete, class officer, with a smile that melted all the girls’ hearts. And despite how close they were, my brother still had no idea that his friend had slowly convinced himself that the world would be better off without him.

He was 14.

No matter how many years pass, and how many lives are lost, one never gets past the memory of that pain.

Along with those memories often comes a feeling of defeat, of resignation. “Not again.”

It is a resignation that creeps into the minds of many of us who work in the military and veteran communities every time one of our own loses the battle with their pain. Posts in social media in the wounded veterans’ community spoke of avoiding the news, of trigger alerts and warnings, of fears past and current. And sadness.

It is believed that 22 veterans take their lives every day in this country. Each one extraordinary, one of a kind. They leave behind shattered hearts and, often, more questions than answers.

But as quickly as it comes, that resignation turns to determination. A need to ensure this doesn’t happen again. And while it does, and it will, we can’t stop working towards the goal of preventing suicide among our men and women in uniform and our veterans.

So please, from someone who has experienced the indescribable pain that suicide causes to loved ones and friends, I ask that everyone hammer home that help is available. Sometimes it may seem you are shouting into the wind…but someone may hear you. It could be that 14-year-old teenager. Or 63-year-old. Or a veteran for whom war has taken the spark of the soul, and who feels that the only way to tend the pain is to end their life.

Here are some resources to share:

Veterans Crisis Hotline

Real Warriors

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

IAVA Campaign to Combat Suicide

DCOE Outreach Center

Military Crisis Line

“Survival is your strength not your shame.” – T. S. Eliot

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100,000 Facebook fans. Upon hitting that number, we sat back and thought about the meaning of this milestone.

Truly, it’s not about the number, but what it represents. A community of people from all over the USA, and even overseas, who have a common bond of service. Service to our country and service to each other. A commitment to making a difference in someone’s lives. That’s powerful stuff, and in a world that seems to be getting crazier by the moment, concrete proof of the goodness of people.

Hug someone right now!

There are so many good souls out there just waiting to bring a smile and a helping hand to their neighbor.

Yes, we have 100,000 reasons to celebrate today, but every day, we celebrate the one. The one person who found the courage to reach out and say, “I need help.” The one who reached out to say, “I want to help.” The one who dropped by to let us know how they are doing and how your support of our mission allowed us to make their lives better at a time when they felt nothing was going their way. And yes, even the ones who let us know, sometimes colorfully, that we have some more work to do.

We smiled for days after receiving this.  Your support means the world to our military and veteran families.

We smiled for days after receiving this. Your support means the world to our military and veteran families.

We particularly love to share pictures of what we’re doing and the impact your support is having on our military and veteran families. Some of our favorite posts have been from our photo contests. Over time, you have shared thousands of moving photos that have captured joy, sadness, triumphs and loss. You have allowed us to help share with the country a glimpse of what it means to serve.

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Joy, relief, love…wrapped up in one precious moment. (one of the finalists in our My American Life photo contest, submitted by Krystal Lund)

So, we just want to say “Thank You” for checking in with us…whether it be daily, weekly or monthly. On our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram page or here on our blog. We know that these days, lives are very busy, and your time online is often filled with just as much to do and process as your offline world. Time is a priceless gift these days. We are honored that you would take the time to help us raise awareness of the challenges faced by military and veteran families, and how someone can help.

Together, we are unstoppable!

 

And we can’t say thanks without also mentioning those who make it possible…our individual and corporate donors. Your support is the reason we have a really good story to tell in the first place.

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Thanks for 100,000 likes. We like you too.

 

 

 

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