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Archive for February, 2017

It is our honor to announce the recipients of the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award.

“These seven award recipients are among the best of their generation in terms of scholarship and service to their communities.  What is even more remarkable is that they make a profound difference in the lives of others and perform spectacularly in the classroom all while demonstrating resiliency in the face of the challenges inherent in military life,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront. “We had nearly 400 nominees for the ninth annual Military Child of the Year® Awards who personified resiliency, leadership, achievement, and strength of character. Their families, their communities, and our staff, volunteers, and corporate partners at Operation Homefront are justifiably very proud of them.”

Without further ado, here are they are!

 

Henderson Heussner, Army Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-army-henderson-heussner-225-x-281-pixelsHenderson’s family moved to Florida from Colorado as his father was deployed to Afghanistan and as the family was caring for Henderson’s terminally ill grandfather. Henderson, recipient of the 2017 Army Military Child of the Year® Award, shouldered the emotional burden and set a leadership-by-example standard for his peers. A student-athlete and member of the Estero High School varsity baseball team – who worked tirelessly to rebuild his strength after he suffered two broken vertebrae during his sophomore year – Henderson spent many hours alone in the batting cage in August 2016 in the sweltering Florida heat. He was not alone for long because he led one teammate after another to join him in putting forth the same spare-time voluntary pursuit of excellence. That is but one example of Henderson’s leadership and can-do spirit. Henderson also devoted 240 volunteer hours in the year leading up to his nomination as a tutor and mentor for at-risk children and teens at the nonprofit New Horizons of Southwest Florida. Henderson, a onetime American Legion Boys State delegate and West Point Summer Leadership Experience participant, also served multiple terms as class president and as Student Government president. He has spent hundreds of hours as a youth group leader, Sports Camp counselor and Sunday School teacher at Summit Church.

 

Alexander McGrath, Navy Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-navy-alexander-mcgrath-225-x-281-pixelsAlexander McGrath, the 2017 Navy Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, in addition to spending time with his friends, spends some of his spare time reading U.S. Supreme Court opinions as well as books about the U.S. Constitution. It is a fitting activity for this 17-year-old Severna Park Senior High School senior, who has established a laudable track record of influencing public policy in the state of Maryland. As first vice president of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, which represents more than 80,000 county students at all levels of government, Alexander organized 700 students to lobby in favor of three education reform bills that would come before the Maryland General Assembly, which is the name of Maryland’s state legislature. He instructed his peers on the legislative process and on the effective use of talking points. He also arranged meetings between the hundreds of public school students and state lawmakers. Ultimately, all three bills got to committee and two became law. Alexander has long advocated on behalf of students from military families as well, personally bringing the needs of military children, notably those needs protected under the Interstate Military Compact, to the forefront of the Maryland State Board of Education’s attention.

 

Jackson Beatty, Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-marine-corps-jackson-beatty-225-x-281-pixelsJackson Beatty is an 18-year-old senior at Lejeune High School and recipient of the 2017 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award. He began studying Kenpo karate at the age of 4 and achieved his black belt at 16. He has served as captain of the high school wrestling team. He competed at the 2017 North Carolina State Wrestling Championships and placed third in the 1A 106-pound weight class. He has qualified for the State Championship for the last three years and that was his best finish. He has been captain of the Marching Band drumline. He has a near-perfect GPA and has an outstanding track record of volunteerism, thusly giving back to the community, especially to children. Jackson has achieved these milestones through his skeletal dysplasia, a condition which hampers the growth and development of bones and joints. Working in conjunction with the Semper Fi Fund, which serves the children of wounded warriors, Jackson has been a mentor to other students participating in the Outdoor Odyssey Leadership Academy. Jackson is a Lejeune High School Band Booster, raising money for competition and band necessities. Jackson teaches karate to children in his spare time at Wright’s Mixed Martial Arts.

 

Jamal Braxton, Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-air-force-jamal-braxton-225-x-281-pixelsVarsity swimming. Varsity cross country. Varsity outdoor track and field.  Jamal Braxton, the 2017 Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award recipient and future United States Air Force Academy Class of 2021 cadet, has been an achiever in them all.  This 18-year-old senior at Northridge High School in Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is distinguished, above all, by his selfless service to others. Jamal fills numerous leadership positions at the Red Cross, including Northern Utah Youth Co-Chair for Services to Armed Forces, Northern Utah Youth Co-Chair for International Services, Student Staff for Red Cross Leadership Development Camp, Member for the American Red Cross of Northern Utah Board of Directors, and the Northern Utah Youth Co-President. In these capacities, Jamal oversees monthly veteran house visits, youth group and leadership group meetings, numerous activities related to the armed forces, the recruitment of future Red Cross Youth Services leaders, and numerous fundraisers, including the International Measles & Rubella initiative fundraiser. He also educates youth on International Humanitarian Law. Serving military families abroad as well as domestically, Jamal earned the Commander’s Leadership Award from the 52nd Fighter Wing Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in 2013 and in 2014. Jamal in the U.S. and overseas has been a champion for the nonprofit New Eyes for the Needy.

 

Molly Frey, National Guard Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-national-guard-molly-frey-225-x-281-pixelsAlthough only 16, Molly Frey is a senior at Pickerington High School North in Pickerington, Ohio, and recipient of the 2017 National Guard Military Child of the Year® Award. She has been accepted to Capital University, where she will major in biology, with an emphasis on pre-med, and will play golf for the Capital Crusaders. For her academic excellence, Molly received a letter from President Barack Obama that read, in part, “Students like you will chart the course of our country’s unwritten history…” As a figure skater, dedicated to causes that benefit the troops, Molly and her coach in 2012 created the inaugural and annual figure skating show Tribute to the Troops, a program to honor the military and to collect donated items to send to deployed service members. She also raised funds and participated for five years in Skate for Hope, accumulating more than $6,000 for Breast Cancer research. Beyond the arts, Molly has served in the leadership group Students Serving Students, which is designed to improve character, bolster school climate, and organize events.

 

Mary Kate Cooper, Coast Guard Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-coast-guard-mary-kate-cooper-225-x-281-pixelsMary Kate Cooper, the 2017 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, is a 17-year-old junior at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Va. A triple threat, Mary Kate is a scholar who is taking AP Calculus B/C as a junior and has a weighted 4.7 GPA. She is a star multi-sport athlete of national and international acclaim and a community activist who has devoted countless volunteer hours to the betterment of her peers and to strengthening a broader understanding of those with disabilities. That description does not even scratch the surface of Mary Kate’s life, which is practically the definition of resiliency. Mary Kate is a below-the-knee amputee from birth who has only known life with a prosthetic leg. She has transitioned from playing recreational soccer against able-bodied kids to competing at the highest level in Paralympic sports. In addition to earning All-American High School status in Track and Field from the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Olympic Committee, Mary has become a top swimmer, competing on the international level in the Can-Am Swimming Open. Mary Kate was one of the few athletes to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Trials in more than one sport. While Mary Kate did not earn a spot on Team USA last year, in her best swimming event, she ranked 36th in the world.

 

Sophie Bernstein, Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton

for-website-innovation-sophie-bernstein-225-x-281-pixelsRecipient of the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation, Sophie Bernstein, a 17-year-old junior at Clayton High School in St. Louis, is passionate about food and about social justice. Sophie’s twin passions propelled her award-winning Innovation. Committed to improving the health of her community, Sophie has built, planted, maintained and harvested 22 raised vegetable gardens at low-income daycare centers and shelters in the St. Louis area. Sophie’s innovation has raised awareness of childhood hunger in the community, and it has increased the volume of fresh and healthy produce available at food banks and at child care facilities. Sophie had donated more than 13,570 pounds of produce to local food banks and to families in need by the time she was nominated for the award in the fall of 2016. Sophie’s project has been a hands-on learning lab for children as she has led 225 science technology engineering and math (STEM) botany and plant science workshops for young children throughout the year. In the process, students at low-income pre-schools are engaged in building, planting and maintaining produce gardens.

 

What’s next?

Each award recipient will receive $10,000 and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for a special recognition gala on April 6, during which senior military leaders will present the awards. In addition to the $10,000 cash award, the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation award recipient will receive a mentorship by Booz Allen Hamilton employees to scale or to advance the recipient’s project.

We would like to express our thanks to our presenting sponsor for the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Awards Gala, United Technologies Corporation, along with sponsors Booz Allen Hamilton, Murphy-Goode Winery, La Quinta Inns & Suites, MidAtlanticBroadband, and the Military Times.

Check back with us as we shine a spotlight on our recipients over the next few weeks and stay tuned for details on how you can join us LIVE from the April 6th gala on our Facebook page.

Find out more about our Military Child of the Year®  Award program at www.militarychildoftheyear.org

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Operation Homefront is thrilled to announce the top 5 Finalists from each branch of service for the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award and the 6 Finalists for the second annual Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by Booz Allen Hamilton.

 

Meet our Finalists…

 

ARMY

Darrius Anderson, 17, Mansfield, TX

Alec Argueta, 17, El Paso, TX

Andrea Gamble, 17, APO AE

Hayley Hamblin, 18, Florissant, CO

Henderson Heussner, 18, Fort Myers, FL

 

AIR FORCE

Jamal Braxton, 18, Hill AFB, UT

Katherine Dever, 17, Kathleen, GA

Linda Goodson, 17, Triangle, VA

Jordyn McNeal, 10, Birmingham, AL

Benjamin Rawald, 14, Del Rio, TX

 

COAST GUARD

Mary Kate Cooper, 17, Fairfax, VA

Jessie Porter, 17, Bayamon, PR

Kira Walters, 14, Yorktown, VA

Cody Watson, 16, Tuttle, OK

Rachel Winburn, 17, Ketchikan, AK

 

MARINES

Jackson Beatty, 17, Camp Lejeune, NC

Brooke Gruber, 17, Jacksonville, NC

Sierra LeFlore, 17, San Marcos, CA

Jennifer Narvaez, 16, Hubert, NC

Thomas Russ, 17, Stafford, VA

 

NAVY

Alexis Bryant, 17, Virginia Beach, VA

Alexander McGrath, 17, Severna Park, MD

Evan Pittman,18, Phoenix, AZ

Isabelle Richards, 12, Jamul CA

Ethan Vicario, 17, Virginia Beach, VA

 

NATIONAL GUARD

Amelia Bailey, 16, St. Augustine, FL

Molly Frey, 16, Pickerington, OH

John Kargel, 15, Isle, MN

Zaniya Lewis, 18, Edgewater Park, NJ

Eleanor Rager, 17, Douglasville, GA

 

MILITARY CHILD OF THE YEAR® AWARD FOR INNOVATION (presented by Booz Allen Hamilton)

Sophie Bernstein, 16, St. Louis, MO, Navy

Gabriel Feinn, 16, Louisville, KY, Navy

Noah Freye, 17, Chesapeake, VA, Navy

Kennedy Knight, 17, Charlotte, NC, National Guard

Lily Moser, 15,  Portland, OR, Army

Madison Shick, 15, Tampa, FL, Army

 

So now that we have our finalists, what’s next?

Winners will be announced in March and then on to the big gala in Washington, D.C. on April 6, 2017.

In the meantime, you can learn more about the Military Child of the Year® Award and read about our past recipients at http://www.militarychildoftheyear.org and get inspired by pictures from last year’s festivities here.

Congratulations to all of our Military Child of the Year® finalists! Great job!

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By Ashley Sistrunk, Guest Blogger.

The viral military Christmas card. Did you happen to see it floating around internet land the past couple of months? Totally cliché, right?

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sistrunkblog2Let me back up and introduce myself. Hey, I’m Ashley! I’m an almost 30 year old (how did THAT happen) wife and mother to four perfectly imperfect children….oh and I’m a military spouse whose husband is only halfway through the journey to retirement.

We’ve had quite an interesting military experience that I’m sure MANY of you can relate to.

When we were 18 & 19, we had this crazy idea to get married and start a family together…but didn’t factor in the expenses. My husband, Brandon, worked at a BBQ restaurant and I worked as a hairstylist in a salon. Not too bad, right? WRONG!

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We were married 4 beautiful weeks before we discovered we were expecting our first child! How did we find out? The fumes from the hair salon started to make me sick, so I did what any logical 19 year old would do….I bought 10 pregnancy tests and sure enough, they all read POSITIVE.

We told our families and within that process, realized we wouldn’t be able to afford a child with a BBQ income alone, since I could no longer tolerate the smell from the salon.

So, this started our military journey.

If you’re lucky enough to know my husband, you know he is one of the most giving, kind-hearted people on the planet. He will do anything for anyone, which can be taken advantage of at times. He knew that joining the military would cover the medical expenses of having a child, even if it meant sacrificing his own life at some point. Who does that?! Only 1% of America, apparently.

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Off to boot camp he went, while I was left behind, 6 1/2 months pregnant. I would write him letters every single day and would pray to receive one from him. Not a single letter came. When I finally saw him at his graduation, he explained that his unit kept getting in trouble, so their punishment was not being able to write letters. I think in a way, that helped prepare me for the rest of our military journey.

My husband missed the births of 3 out of 4 children. One due to tech school and the others due to deployments. The recruiter must have forgotten to mention the chances of that happening. Either that, or we were just young and naïve and assumed we would have a fairytale life.

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When he left for this past deployment, my children were 9, 7, 5 (she turned 6 while he was gone), and 2 months. “They” say deployments get easier each time. I say “they” must not have children or “they” somehow speed up time during deployments. No one prepared us for the emotional strain that this deployment would bring. The kids were now old enough to be downright MAD for him being gone. Not just mad, but incredibly sad too.

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I had to get creative when it came to keeping the kids and myself connected to the person we absolutely ADORE while he was thousands of miles (7,038 miles, to be exact) away, BUT… I’ve never had a creative bone in my 5’1 body.

That’s where Pinterest stepped in. Pinterest SAVED this deployment!

*All the mommas say AMEN*

Here are some things my family and I did to stay connected through this deployment:

1) Deployment wall: We had a family night a week or so before my husband deployed and we decided to spend that time putting our deployment wall together! *See picture*

We showed them on the map where we were and where daddy would be. We had two different clocks, one that showed our time and one that showed his. We had a picture of him in uniform and a picture of him with the kids (added later). We had a space where they could roll out a sheet of paper and draw him pictures or write him letters, or even just write down how they’re feeling that day. We had little baskets for mail received and mail to send out. I would catch them going to the wall and just staring at his picture. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.

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2) Pictures on pillow cases, recording his voice in a stuffed animal, and video recording bedtime stories. If you haven’t visited your Airman & Family Readiness Center, I suggest you do! They have so many different things that can help a deployment along! My husband was able to go and have pictures of him and the kids printed onto pillow cases, have his voice recorded in stuffed animals, AND video record himself reading them each a bedtime story! So they got to see him every night before bed!

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3) Care packages: Pinterest has SO many awesome ideas for care packages! The kids loved putting things in the box and decorating it! They would say “Oh! Daddy will LOVE this!” And their little faces would light up! If you’re OCD, this will really test your patience, but it’s so worth it to see them wanting to get involved!

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4) Technology: This is huge for military families! We didn’t have Skype or video messenger until my husband’s 2nd or 3rd deployment. Before that, you heard from your spouse whenever they could find an open phone, which was never guaranteed. For this deployment, we were so blessed with technology! The kids were able to talk to their daddy *almost* every morning before school! Of course the connection was sketchy or would fail, but most of the time they could at least say hello!

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5) Holidays: Holidays are tough with your loved one halfway across the world. As the parent, you have to put your feelings on the back burner and focus on the physical/emotional needs of your children, ESPECIALLY around the holidays! For holidays, we would remove his picture from the deployment wall and tape it on a chair at the head of the table. This way, the kids could see he’s not been forgotten and that he is still a part of our special day, even though he’s not actually home.

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For Christmas, we made our first ever Christmas card! Yes, the viral military Christmas card! Honestly, the card ALMOST didn’t happen. I had my husband take his pictures from his deployment location, but the timing never seemed right for us to take ours.

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As each day got closer and closer to Christmas, I would see more and more pictures of all the happy families together on their beautifully crafted cards. At first I was sad. So terribly sad. I wanted nothing more than for my husband to be home for Christmas, but I knew that wasn’t an option. So, I decided TODAY IS THE DAY! We went out and got each shot on the first try, thanks momma!

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I pieced them together that night and decided to post them on FaceBook. The response was unbelievable! Within a few days, it was EVERYWHERE! So many spouses reached out saying “We’re apart for the holidays too! Thank you for showing us your togetherness through it all!”.

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Deployments are hard, especially if you actually love spending time with your spouse and consider him/her your best friend. The days can be so long and it can be so tempting to let that cause division in your marriage or family, but if you can focus on the good, you WILL get through it! Give yourself some grace. You will have days where you just want to bury yourself under the covers and cry and that’s ok! Try not to take that frustration out on the deployed member, but at the same time, be honest with them if they ask what’s troubling you. They will feel helpless at times, but that’s where you have to rise up and show them that you are strong TOGETHER, even if you’re not physically together. Your hearts are bonded, for better and for worse.

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teamdepotblog1Mission. It is something that comes up almost immediately when we talk about what we do here at Operation Homefront.

In deeper discussions, many of us in the non-profit community will bring up another word. Calling. Most all of us in the Operation Homefront community have met one or more military or veteran families that have had a profound impact on us individually. Sometimes, fate, or destiny, brings that message home in away that moves us deeply and reminds us that there is a greater purpose to our existence. The time when being in the right place at the right time changed a life.

Last month on our blog, we wrote about how a chance meeting between a weary traveler and a soldier on Thanksgiving Eve led to thousands of holiday meals being distributed to families ever since through our Holiday Meals for Military program. Recently, the right place at the right time for one struggling veteran family was the plumbing aisle of Home Depot in Hiram GA.

A caring employee at the store finds a woman sobbing while surveying plumbing fixtures, clearly at her wit’s end. The employee could have walked on by. But he didn’t. What poured forth from the woman was heart-breaking: her husband was a veteran with severe PTSD and physical injuries. They had four children, one with special needs. She was struggling to handle it all in a home seemingly falling down around them.

teamdepotblog2The “we-help-veterans” ethos in Home Depot stores is imbued in every staff member, so he brought her to the store’s Pro Desk to see what could be done.

Fast forward a few months. Operation Homefront, along with partners Home Depot Foundation and ServPro, came to the rescue to remediate mold, repair rain-damaged drywall, install a new water heater, replace hole-laden and uneven flooring, and install new and working cabinetry.

Together, we were able to make their house not just “livable”, but love-able.

teamdepotblog3These repairs won’t fix everything that troubles this family, true. It doesn’t fix the service member’s health issues. It doesn’t address the special needs of this woman’s fourth child. There is still much ahead for this family to tackle. But now the family has a safe, clean place in which to live so they can move on and up to a stable and secure future.

Thank you to our friends at The Home Depot Foundation for seeing that this family deserved more and making it happen.

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