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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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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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mcoy17-web_fbpost_640x640-semi-finalistsHere at Operation Homefront, the New Year doesn’t just bring with it the anticipation of all the ways we will serve our military families but also the excitement of Military Child of the Year award season! And it begins in earnest today with the announcing of our semifinalists for the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award and the semifinalists for the second annual Military Child of the Year Award for Innovation.

This year’s semifinalists range in age from 8-18 and represent 37 states and Puerto Rico, with one nominee from overseas.

Without further ado, here are our semifinalists by branch of service (You can find a list by state here)

AIR FORCE

Anthony Beasley, 18, Hurlburt Field, FL.

Jamal Braxton, 18, Hill AFB, UT.

Katherine Dever, 17, Kathleen, GA.

Marianna Galvin, 17, Henderson, NV.

Linda Goodson, 17, Triangle, VA.

Gavin Hetzler, 17, Edmond, OK.

Sharlee Krkosa, 17, Schertz, TX.

Trevette Kuester, 17, Huntington, MD.

Kylee McClure, 18, Monroe, UT.

Erin McLeod, 17,  Anchorage, AK.

Jordyn McNeal, 10, Birmingham, AL.

Benjamin Rawald, 14, Del Rio, TX.

Edward Salvador, 16, Niceville, FL.

Caroline Stanton, 11, Las Vegas, NV.

Erica Thompson, 18, Colorado Springs, CO.

ARMY

Darrius Anderson, 17, Mansfield, TX.

Alec Argueta, 17, El Paso, TX.

Andrea Gamble, 17, Kaiserlauten, GER

Hayley Hamblin, 18, Florissant, CO.

Henderson Heussner, 18, Fort Myers, FL.

Hunter Hotaling, 15, Lansing, KS.

Timothy Hunt, 17,  Burke, VA.

Mackenzie Miller, 17, Peachtree City, GA.

Elissa Nott, 17, Onalaska, WI.

Jediah Persaud, 16, Appling, GA.

Grace Pleinis, 9, Tampa, FL.

Thomas Rizza, 11, Bradenton, FL.

Cohen Russell, 10, Fort Meade, MD.

Madison Shick, 15, Tampa, FL.

Madeline Turpin, 17, Wahiawa, HI.

COAST GUARD

Mary Kate Cooper, 17, Fairfax, VA.

Kaili Cutler, 8, Daphne, AL.

Tyler Evans, 14, Maple Valley, WA.

Janelle Gehrke, 15, Saint Joseph, MI.

William Kuebler, 12, League City, TX.

Charlie McGuire, 12, Trenton, NJ.

Kylie McGuire, 15, Trenton, NJ.

Gabriel Niles, 14, Bennington, VT.

Jessie Porter, 17, Bayamon, PR.

Ashlynn Ruleman, 16, Waterford, CT

Alyssa Santos, 17, Tarpon Springs, FL.

Joseph Schmid, 8, Marshfield, MA.

Kira Walters, 14, Yorktown, VA.

Cody Watson, 16, Tuttle, OK.

Rachel Winburn, 17, Ketchikan, AK.

MARINE CORPS

Viktoria Alston, 17, Havelock, NC.

Jackson Beatty, 17, Camp Lejeune, NC.

Carson Butler, 18, Virginia Beach, VA.

Kindrah Carney, 16, Pearl City, HI.

Alejandro Cook-Hernandez, 17, Havelock, NC.

Da’Rod Crutchfield, 18, Camp Lejeune, NC.

Jocelyn Figueora-Urquidi, 13, Beaufort, SC.

Joshua Frawley, 13, Jacksonville, NC.

McKenzie Galloway, 17, Stafford, VA.

Brooke Gruber, 17, Jacksonville, NC.

Sierra LeFlore, 17, San Marcos, CA.

Jennifer Narvaez, 16, Hubert, NC.

Cody Phillips, 17, Quantico, VA.

Thomas Russ, 17, Stafford, VA.

Neorah Wells, 9, Charlotte, NC.

NAVY

Alexis Bryant, 17, Virginia Beach, VA.

Olivia Burch, 18, Grand Forks, ND.

Chace Cleckley, 17, Fallon, NV.

Caleb Harding, 16, Camp Lejeune, NC.

Sierra K., 17, Middletown, RI.

Britton Laing, 18, Silverdale, WA.

Akaiah Lovell, 15, Port Orchard, WA.

Alexander McGrath, 17, Severna Park, MD.

Aiden OLeary, 17, Fredricksburg, VA.

Evan Pittman, 18, Phoenix, AZ.

Isabelle Richards, 12, Jamul, CA.

Kathryn Schorr, 17, Darien, CT.

Alexander Sucato, 16, Belle Chasse, LA.

Ethan Vicario, 17, Virginia Beach, VA.

Reagan Warrick, 12, El Cajon, CA.

NATIONAL GUARD 

Connor Ascherl, 18, Granville, IA.

Amelia Bailey, 16, Saint Augustine, FL.

Trevor Bartunek, 17, Rapid City, SD.

Sheryl Evans, 17, Callahan, FL.

Molly Frey, 16, Pickerington, OH.

John Kargel, 15, Isle, MN.

Zaniya Lewis, 18, Edgewater Park, NJ.

Sydney Long, 17, Lincoln, NE.

Isabelle Miller, 16, Spokane, WA.

Lily Moser, 15, Portland, OR.

Eleanor Rager, 17, Douglasville, GA.

Kara Smith, 17, Munford, TN.

Alexander Steinmetz, 16, Cottage Grove, MN.

Joshua Traxel, 16, Rolla, MO.

Alysha Worden, 17, Martinez, GA.

Semifinalists for 2017 Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation Presented by Booz Allen Hamilton

BreAsia Austin, 17, Dallas, TX, National Guard

Kamille Banks, 17, Lodi, NJ, Coast Guard

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

Elizabeth Brouse, 17, Merchantville, NJ, Army

Marianne Dunaway, 17, Madison, AL, Army

Gabriel Feinn, 16, Louisville, KY, Navy

Kianna Flowers, 17, Gambrills, MD, Air Force

Noah Freye, 17, Chesapeake, VA, Navy

Kennedy Knight, 17, Charlotte, NC, National Guard

Maura Knutsen, 17, Centerville, UT, Army

Jason Lee, 17, Pacheco, CA, Army

Jennifer Molton, 16, Lucas, OH, National Guard

Lily Moser, 15, Portland, OR, Army

Krystalin Neary, 17, St. Peter, MN, National Guard

Caitlyn Schoon, 17, Belle Plaine, MN, Army

Samantha Shaffer, 18, Greenwood, IN, Army

Madison Shick, 15, Tampa, FL, Army

Mikaela Smith, 17, Las Vegas, NV, Air Force

Trinity Torgerson, 17, Colorado Springs, CO, National Guard

Cierra Williams-Carter, 17, Virginia Beach, VA, Navy

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

Each semifinalist for the military branch awards will be interviewed by a team selected by Operation Homefront staff. Award recipients will be chosen by a panel of judges, to include senior retired service members, senior spouses, members of Operation Homefront’s board of directors, and other leaders in the military support community.  Booz Allen Hamilton will judge competitors for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation.

The top 5 finalists from each branch will be announced in February.  Winners will be announced in March and then on to the big gala in Washington, D.C. on April 06, 2017.

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

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

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ertIn the weeks before Christmas, throughout this great land.

Our elves on the homefront were lending a hand…

elvescheyenne

Holiday Meals were bagged up and stuffed

To give to the families we can’t thank enough…

mealscheyenne

thirtyonebags

Wishes were granted and moments were shared

Letting military families know that all of us cared…

santaandkids

wishestosanta

The smiles of the families and joy that abounded

Reminded us all of the mission we founded…

familysilverdale

familysanantonio

To remember the many who serve so we remain free

Who won’t be home this year to decorate their tree…

whitehousetree

The East Garden Room of the White House features an American flag display formed from images of brave military members and their families, and Gold Star ornaments adorn the evergreen that honors the men and women who have laid down their lives for our country.

We hope you are home soon and with loved ones so dear,

Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!

thankyounotes

Thank you for helping Operation Homefront build strong, stable, and secure military families – all year long.

————————————————————————————————————————

Special thanks this year to…

Walmart, Dollar Tree, Beam Suntory, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, HEB, SAS Shoemakers, Thirty-One, Procter & Gamble, Ocean Spray, Navy Federal Credit Union, Samuel Adams , Veterans United and many more local supporters who helps us serve over 11000 military families with meals and toys this holiday season.

Our volunteers who gave us the priceless gift of time.

And finally, to our military far away from home… our most heartfelt thanks for keeping us safe. We miss you and pray for your safe return. 

Find these and many more terrific pictures from our Holiday Events on our Flickr page. If you would like to know more about #GivingStrength to military families, visit www.operationhomefront.net/givingstrength

 

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cvsinthecommunityblog1Starting a family is one of the most exciting and challenging times of a person’s life. Due to deployments and frequent relocation, military parents-to-be often live far from their extended families and support systems. The Star-Spangled Babies program provides baby showers to expecting service members and their growing families, giving these new and expecting parents tips on early childhood education and a support system when loved ones are far away.

Operation Homefront depends on our corporate partners to make what we do possible, and CVS has been an especially important partner for our Star-Spangled Babies program. We recently got the chance to talk with Eileen Boone, the senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy at CVS, and hear her thoughts on why it is important to support Operation Homefront and the military community.

Where does supporting the military community fall in CVS Health’s values as a company? Do you have many veterans employed by CVS or do you have certain military connections?

With millions of service members transitioning out of the military over the next few years, we’re committed to hiring veterans, current National Guard and Reserve members and military spouses across all parts of our business. We have approximately 150 stores that are within 20 miles of a military base, so it is important to us that our colleagues represent the communities that we serve. We’re also committed to supporting and hiring military spouses, which helps veterans better understand what opportunities are available to them when they leave the service.

At CVS Health, we have a long history of providing charitable support to a range of veteran-focused initiatives, including the National Guard, Fisher House, the USO and now, Operation Homefront. We’re also proud to offer a colleague resource group—called Valor—within CVS Health, which has nearly 500 active and retired military CVS colleagues.

What are some of the best ways to support the military? How can we give strength to military families?

cvsinthecommunityblog4Due to deployments and frequent relocation, we know that military families often live far from their extended families. This is especially hard for new and expecting parents and why CVS Health is proud to be the National Sponsor of the Star-Spangled Babies program that provides baby showers to service members and their growing families. Like many new parents, they have questions, concerns, and fears. Our partnership with Operation Homefront provides these new and expecting parents with early childhood education tips and a support system when loved ones are far away. This is one way that we support and give strength to military families.

 How do you feel knowing that you are helping so many military families? How are military families important to the rest of the country?

It’s an honor to work for a company that is committed to supporting veterans and military families across the country and it’s great to see the impact we’ve been able to have.  As part of our partnership with Operation Homefront, we’ve supported more than 100 new moms in Jacksonville and San Antonio, filled 800 baby bundles for families across the country and support troops through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront and Emergency Assistance programs. 

Why did you choose to support Operation Homefront?

We were drawn to Operation Homefront’s commitment to our nation’s heroes and their mission to build strong, stable and secure military families so they can thrive in the communities they’ve worked so hard to protect. Their mission directly aligns with our company’s purpose of helping people on their path to better. 

cvsinthecommunityblog3Which Operation Homefront programs resonated with CVS most?

Operation Homefront has many great programs that are helping military members and their families. In addition to Star Spangled Babies, CVS Health is also proud to support Homes on the Homefront to provide military families with financial support for much-needed items like groceries, rent and heating bills. We understand the challenges that military families face as they transition to civilian life and are proud to support Operation Homefront’s efforts to minimize these struggles as much as possible.

With the help of generous partners like CVS, Operation Homefront is “Giving Strength” to thousands of military families in need this holiday season. Operation Homefront would like to thank CVS for its tremendous support of our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families. Check out these pictures from the Star-Spangled Baby Showers in Jacksonville and San Antonio and see the impact our partnership is having on our military families.

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kenruffblog

Operation Homefront CEO and President, John I. Pray, Jr. with Ken Ruff, Vice President of national accounts at Beam Suntory after Ken was given a cornerstone award for his work in making Holiday Meals for Military come to life.

By Erin Patterson.

It was late the night before Thanksgiving in 2009. Ken Ruff, the vice president of national accounts at Beam Suntory, was exhausted. He and his family had just finished the long drive from their home in Chicago to their hometown of Utica, New York. Ken’s daughter was sick with a cold, so he went to the grocery store to buy some cold medicine for her, looking forward to relaxing with his family the following day. While waiting in line at the grocery store to buy the medicine, he was so travel-weary he almost didn’t notice what was happening in front of him.

A young family—a soldier in uniform, his wife, and their small child—couldn’t afford to pay for their groceries. They had picked out a small piece of turkey, a loaf of bread, a box of stuffing, and a can of cranberry sauce for their Thanksgiving meal the following day, but they didn’t have enough money to buy even these few items. When Ken realized what was happening, he stepped in and paid for the groceries, insisting in spite of the young family’s polite refusal.

“It came out to a total of something like $15,” Ken said. “It was an easy thing to do.”

Ken didn’t think much of the situation at first. He was just happy to have been able to help the family, who was incredibly grateful for the gift. It wasn’t until he got back to his car in the parking lot that he was struck by an idea. It bothered him that there are so many military families who struggle during the holidays, and he wanted to do something about it.

“Christmas is a wonderful time to unplug and be with families and friends, and a lot of these people couldn’t entertain in their homes, they had to go to the base to get a holiday meal and if they had a grandparent or someone from their extended family they wouldn’t be included,” Ken remembers. “They are challenged every day of the year. It’s a very hard life for the military. During the holidays, it’s even that much more of a need because you have presents, meals, etc., so that need is even higher. Providing groceries means that they don’t have to pay for it, so there’s that sense of relief to enjoy being at home with their family.”

Ken called up his financial manager at Beam Suntory and told him to cancel the order of holiday gift baskets, which the company usually gave out to customers around the holidays. He knew that would make dollars available to make a difference in the lives of military families.

“I knew that it was a very real need that these military families don’t have the resources to have a nice meal at home. It spawned the idea to develop program. We knew that this would literally bring joy to the families,” Ken said.

Then, Ken called up Operation Homefront. Beam Suntory already had a long-standing relationship with Operation Homefront, so Ken knew that this was an organization he could trust to partner with on this program.

Ken went in front of the Beam Suntory leadership to present what would be an extraordinary idea: to create a holiday meals program in partnership with Operation Homefront. Beam Suntory was completely on board and wanted to support Ken as much as they could. The program aligned perfectly with Beam’s corporate values of taking care of the communities where their employees live and work.

With the support of both the Beam Suntory leadership and Operation Homefront, Ken now had just four weeks to pull together the holiday meals program before Christmas. He recruited different partners to donate money, food, or volunteers, and ultimately gave groceries to 500 military families. As more and more people heard about the program, they wanted to get involved and help out for the following year.

Since the beginning, the program has grown every year, delivering more meals to more military families in need. It began expanding into different bases around the country, bringing in more donations and helping even more families. The volunteers started to make the events more exciting for the families, setting up Christmas decorations and even bringing in Santa Claus for the kids. In 2015, the program delivered holiday meals to 8,500 military families. And this year, the program is expected to serve more than 12,000 military families.

Ken attributes much of the program’s development to the many partners that have jumped in and given financial donations or donations of food or time.

“Nobody thought this program would grow as much as it did. As the saying goes, it takes a community,” Ken said.

One of the main reasons why Beam Suntory has continued to partner with Operation Homefront over the years is its fiscal responsibility. 92% of Operation Homefront’s donations go directly to their programs, such as Holiday Meals for Military.

“We believe in what we’re doing with Operation Homefront,” said Emily York, the corporate communications manager at Beam Suntory. “We are very responsible with our philanthropic dollars and we want to put them to good use. The commitment to Operation Homefront and the belief in what you guys are doing is shared to the very top of our organization.

Looking back on the past few years, Ken is proud of the impact that the holiday meals program has had on so many military families, and he is incredibly grateful for the partnerships that have helped the program to continue to grow.

“It was fate being in that grocery store and having the good fortune to think of an idea to do something positive about it. I am very impressed with everything that Operation Homefront does for this program, and I’m very proud that Operation Homefront continues it,” Ken said. “The program is what it is because of Operation Homefront. I’m the first one to tell you that the support of Beam is very important, but the people at Operation Homefront make it happen. I’m really looking forward to a great holiday season. I truly believe that this will be our best year ever.”

 

 

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