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Archive for the ‘Volunteering’ Category

ertIn the weeks before Christmas, throughout this great land.

Our elves on the homefront were lending a hand…

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Holiday Meals were bagged up and stuffed

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

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Wishes were granted and moments were shared

Letting military families know that all of us cared…

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The smiles of the families and joy that abounded

Reminded us all of the mission we founded…

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To remember the many who serve so we remain free

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

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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!

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

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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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Pictured left to right: Walmart Executive Vice-President of Logistics Chris Sultemeier, Senior Manager at the Walmart Foundation Kathy Cox, Vice President Walmart Foundation Julie Gehrki and Operation Homefront President and CEO, John I. Pray, Jr.

Today we are joined by Kathy Cox, a senior manager at the Walmart Foundation, who shares the connection Walmart has with our military communities and the Foundation’s involvement in Holiday Meals for Military. 

By Erin Patterson.

The Holiday Meals for Military program can trace its start to the actions of a noble man who was moved to help a young military family pay for their groceries on the night before Thanksgiving seven years ago. One meal for one family gradually turned into hundreds, then thousands of meals for military families across the U.S. This year, the Holiday Meals for Military program will provide nearly 12,000 meals to families around the country.

The program would not be what it is today without the help of key partners, such as the Walmart Foundation. Kathy Cox, a senior manager at the Walmart Foundation, has led the strategy and grant-making for veteran and military families for the last 16 years. When she heard about the Holiday Meals for Military program, she knew that it was something Walmart wanted to support.

“Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have worked really hard since the beginning of this conflict [in Iraq and Afghanistan] to stay close to the pulse of our service members and our military families,” Kathy said. “In 2009, you’ve got American personnel and their families that had some real stress and strain. We had folks that were losing their loved ones, we had military service members who were injured. There were some real—both physical and financial—hardships that these families were dealing with. So for the holidays, what we wanted to be able to do was lift some of that burden.”

kathycoxblogimage2For Kathy and for the Walmart Foundation, it was the perfect time and the perfect program. Even more, she was very excited to be working with Operation Homefront. Kathy loved that Operation Homefront had strong relationships with military bases around the country, which meant that they would be able to specifically identify the families who most needed this type of program. At the same time, she was impressed with Operation Homefront’s fiscal responsibility. With 92% of financial donations going directly to programs like Holiday Meals for Military, Kathy knew that Operation Homefront was leveraging the Walmart Foundation’s dollars to have the highest positive impact on military families.

“We wouldn’t be investing if we weren’t certain that our military families were being served and were being served in the most efficient and effective way that makes use of our both in-kind and financial support,” Kathy said.

Looking out for service members and their families comes naturally to the Walmart Foundation. The Walmart family is filled with military families, and they have a lot of men and women who have served in the military and who are now a part of Walmart’s workforce. Furthermore, Kathy noted that military families often make up the community surrounding many Walmart stores around the country.

“There’s quite an alignment with military families anyway because that’s part of our DNA. If you’re surrounded by military families, you want to make sure that you’re supporting military families,” Kathy said.

Because the military is already such an integral part of Walmart’s community, the Foundation’s involvement in the Holiday Meals for Military program began quite organically, starting at the associate-level and moving up through the company.

“While the Foundation has helped with the corporate dollars, most recently in this campaign to make in-kind food donations, it’s our associates who have led. It’s the managers of stores that have been aligned with bases and military families that have a sincere desire to be that store of the community that serves these military families and helps lessen the challenge of putting a holiday meal on the table,” Kathy said.

Even though it started at a grassroots level, Walmart has an emotional investment—not just financial—in this program. Kathy remembers one year when she volunteered her Friday night to help prepare the bags of ingredients for the families. A young lady with two children came to register her family, and Kathy remembers how she could see that this mother had a lot weighing on her mind. As she went through the registration process, she was told that she and her family were the recipients of Christmas gifts that had been donated by another organization.

“And that’s when her resolve just broke,” Kathy remembers. “Once she regained her composure, she said, ‘You just have no idea. First, I had no idea how I was going to put a holiday meal on the table for my family. Now you’re telling me that also I have gifts that I’ll be able to share with my family. You have no idea how this will change our entire holiday season.’”

As we settle into the holiday season this year, Kathy reminds us that it’s important to be intentional in remembering our military families. Many of them are far from home and worried about whether or not they will be able to provide a happy, memorable holiday season for their children.

“Not all military families are base and with our all-volunteer force we have military families around us all the time,” Kathy noted. “I think we have to be intentional to try to get to know those families and to make sure that we’re being inclusive and recognize that not only are our military service members serving and sacrificing, these military families at home are serving and sacrificing right alongside them.”

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3a3087d5-7199-4826-982d-7bd9b50a02cbAs Thanksgiving approaches, those of us in military and veteran communities will gather around tables and give thanks, and yet, among all the hustle and bustle, something may be missing.  This could be a loved one deployed or unable to come home, a loved one who never made it home, or a feeling of loss and disconnection for some families who are transitioning from service or coping with injuries from war or years of service.

As many are wont to do when times are hard, these families will stay busy and do their best to plaster a smile on our faces during the holidays. But the feeling of something missing, the uncertainty of the future, and the heaviness of heart will  often remain despite these valiant efforts.

But valiant efforts will be made. Commands overseas and deployed will do their best to be a substitute family, and so will our communities back home.  Families with a deployed loved one will add more chairs to their tables, inviting other families with deployed loved ones to join them.  Others in our community, some with no military connection whatsoever, just love of country and service, will open their hearts and their homes to service members stationed near them that can’t be with their own families. Some will continue to honor service by volunteering at community events to serve their neighbors in need on Thanksgiving, with hearts filled with gratitude and drive to serve others above self.

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Our Holiday Meals for Military events will distribute over 11000 meal to military families across the country, including 1600 just distributed in Texas this weekend.

At Operation Homefront, most of us have personally experienced how our community can come together to fill a void. 85% of our team at Operation Homefront are veterans or families of active duty.  Almost 50% of our staff had a parent who served – giving us a unique connection with the military children we support.

We are honored to see the tradition of service continue year after year through support and response to our Holiday Meals for Military program and the messages and comments we receive about ways to reach out and help military and veteran families during the holidays. But, mostly we know this to be true because this is just what the military and veteran community does.

They look out for each other. They give each other strength.

This Thanksgiving, we are thankful for the opportunity to serve, for the chance to fill a need, whether it be a boost of encouragement or the relief of a burden. We invite you to express your thanks and gratitude. We all have friends, family, loved ones or neighbors who are serving or have served. Join us in giving strength by honoring and recognizing our military and their families through our #GivingStrength initiative. Here are some ideas:

  • Submit your personal stories for a chance to be featured on “Operation Homefront Strong Families” or our “Thank Military” Thursdays.
  • Email your Message of Thanks to info@operationhomefront.net or post a photo of a service member, veteran or military family member you know with their name, branch of service and when they served on the Operation Homefront Facebook page with #GivingStrength.
  • Support a current need of families who have reached out to us for help. This time of year, we see a dramatic increase in requests for assistance. Any amount you can contribute goes directly to helping a struggling military, transitioning or wounded warrior family.
  • Serve. Sign-up today to be an Operation Homefront volunteer to support military families in your area throughout the year.

Go to www.operationhomefront.net/givingstrength  to see ways YOU can be #GivingStrength and doing your part for military families in your community and around the country.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Operation Homefront family!

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In a survey from Blue Star Families last year, financial issues rated among the top concerns for service members, veterans and their families.

Today, we host guest blogger, Clifford Cho, Bank of America Senior Vice President /Business Banking Market Executive.

San Diego is home to nearly 100,000 active service members and more than 240,000 veterans living and working right here – one of the highest such populations anywhere in the United States. While we owe a debt of gratitude for the service of veterans and their families, we also owe it to ourselves to recognize how integral they are—and will be—to our lives every day. Here in San Diego, for example, these men and women are inextricably linked to the $45 billion that the military generates for our local economy.

The need for greater financial education among veterans and military families is as great as it’s ever been. A 2015 study by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that service members carry higher credit card debt and unsecured debt balances than their civilian counterparts. And in a survey from Blue Star Families last year, financial issues rated among the top concerns for service members, veterans and their families. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that financial readiness training should be more tailored to fit specific family needs.

Statistics aside, many simply struggle navigating the complex system of benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, and figuring out credit, lending, savings and mortgage options can be daunting for those who are facing them for the first time.

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It was our honor to participate for the 6th straight year in Operation Homefront’s Back-To-Brigade.

Recently, I joined other Bank of America employees at a volunteer event for Operation Homefront called “Back-To-School Brigade” in San Diego. During the event, over 1,000 deserving military children were each given a new backpack filled with school supplies. Nationwide, the Back-To-School Brigade served over 20,000 military children, ensuring they had all of the tools they need to be successful in school. It was our 6th straight year of participating in this event and we all witnessed first-hand how appreciative the military members were of our support. Our team has also supported Operation Homefront holiday programs with drives and volunteers.

In addition to Operation Homefront, Bank of America also works with many other military organizations. One of those groups, REBOOT San Diego and its veteran’s transition program that provides job skills and career education to returning service men and women. To date, REBOOT has helped over 1,450 transitioning service members and veterans maintain a steady 97% success rate in completion of their various workshops, attainment of a stated goal of education or employment and retention in the REBOOT program after their initial year. We’ve also been able to fund additional monthly workshops in North San Diego County to help Marines from Camp Pendleton and area veterans.

Proper financial education can make a massive difference for all of us and for military families in particular. It can help to relieve financial stress—one of the major causes of tension in service members’ relationships—and it can improve the lives of entire families. For some, it can even be the difference between homelessness and gainful employment in a fulfilling career.

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It has never been more urgent to ensure our community’s veterans have the financial education they need to succeed.

In addition, through BetterMoneyHabits.com —a financial education resource that Bank of America developed with education innovator Sal Khan and Khan Academy—we recently launched new content specifically geared toward veterans and military families. The new content offers transitioning service members guidance on issues like navigating the complexities of the GI Bill, a tutorial on how VA home loans work and a primer on buying a car.  The publication Military Times partnered with us to discuss these topics along with financial readiness as part of a free webinar available online.

It has never been more urgent to ensure our community’s veterans have the financial education they need to succeed. More importantly, as citizens and members of the community, we each have a responsibility to use our unique skills and gifts to help unlock the potential of the veterans and military families we encounter every day. We do this through financial literacy. How can your company help grow the skills and strengths of our nation’s veterans?

Bank of America has been a steadfast supporter of Operation Homefront programs and events across the country, such as our Back-to-School Brigade and the Holiday Toy Drive programs.   We look forward to continuing to work with them to build strong, stable and secure military families.

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Drew's Profile PictureOne of the best feelings in the world is to see the smiles on the faces of our military families at our Back-to-School Brigade events.  A close second is the honor of seeing so many come together in a shared mission to make a real difference for part of their community that often does not have the roots and support system that their neighbors enjoy.

It is that shared mission that drives volunteer Drew Aquino. Drew is the Director of Military Outreach for the Southeast Armed Services YMCA Pikes Peak Region in Colorado Springs.  Not only is Drew helping make our Rocky Mountains Field Office Back-To-School Brigade event possible at the YMCA, he is also picking up school supplies at 13 local Dollar Tree stores. In addition, he is managing the whole process to sort and pack thousands of supplies into backpacks that will be given to military kids in the area.

Drew grew up in a military family, and is himself a former Marine. Having been stationed and worked all over world serving U.S. military & their families, Drew understands the challenges of settling into a new community and a new school.

On being a part of our Back-To-School Brigade, Drew says, “It is an honor to be involved with Operation Homefront and Back-To-School Brigade because we are all working towards a common goal of making a positive difference in the military community. As a former U.S. Army Brat and U.S. Marine, I am reminded of the memories of what my family endured while my father deployed multiple times. Nothing is more honorable than to give back to the military community and be a humble servant leader.”

ASYMCA and Operation Homefront have similar missions, helping and serving military service members and their families. Working together, both organizations identified opportunities to synergize and make a bigger impact and positive difference for military families in and around Colorado Springs.

Drew encourages others to find a way to help affect change in their communities. “Get involved in your local community. Give back. Make a positive difference in a person’s life and build community. We are the leaders who must set the example for our kids and the future.  Passion, hard work & a positive attitude is a force multiplier!”

Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with Operation Homefront in your community.  Find a list of our upcoming Back-To-School Brigade events here and find out how our “1 Military. 1 Family” campaign is making a difference for military families across the country.

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Our Back-To-School Brigade events would not be the resounding success they are without our volunteers.  From collecting donated supplies to sorting through pencils, crayons and glue sticks, thousands of volunteers spend their summers giving selflessly of their time to show their appreciation to our nation’s military families. We asked our Field Offices to help us share a few stories of those who are helping us make a difference in the lives of the military families in their communities. They define what we mean when we say “1 Military. 1 Family.”

ViktorVolPicA Heart The Size of Texas:

A retired union carpenter from New Jersey, Victor Michaelson moved to El Paso, Texas to be close to his daughter and son in-law, who has served in the US Army for over 12 years. Victor learned about Operation Homefront from his daughter, who introduced him to volunteering in the Army community.

Sunah Noble, Community Liaison for our Southern Plains Field Office, wrote to us: “Victor is such an outstanding, hardworking volunteer!  He has been volunteering from the beginning of the Back-To-School Brigade at Fort Bliss, helping us pick up more than 600 educational workbooks from the Molina Foundation, picking up Dollar Tree store collections, helping receive supply collections from other volunteer drop offs, sorting school supplies, and helping us shop for program supplies and materials for Back-to-School Brigade.  Victor has also been working hard to support Back-to-School Brigade by promoting the event at information tables and helping out at our local Shamrocks restaurant fundraiser.”

Victor shares, “I love the opportunity to give back to the men and women serving our country.  The words of encouragement I would give others thinking about getting involved with military families and the local community is:  if you have the opportunity to work with great people, jump at the chance to give back to the people who give so much for us!”

 

ErikaVolPicA Born Volunteer:

Erika Stewart is a new Operation Homefront volunteer, but she was born for it.  The daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, Erika is a military spouse whose experience with service and leadership has been an invaluable asset to our Rocky Mountains Field Office.

“Erika… has stepped into the (volunteer) role with relish!” wrote Christine White, Program Manager for our Rocky Mountains Field Office. “She is our “volunteer wrangler” at school supply sorting sessions, and will do so again at our Back-To-School Brigade event.  We appreciate her willing spirit and dedication—Erika is always ready to jump in and do what needs to be done with lots of enthusiasm and energy.  Working with her is a pleasure!”

About getting involved in the community, Erika offers these words of wisdom, “Volunteering is rewarding, and makes you thankful for what you have.  Glass is half- full rather than half-empty.  Look for the positive in every situation.  Smile on kids’ faces when they get their backpacks.  Military families are part of our communities, our neighbors, our community.  The friendships we create are the family we choose for ourselves.”

Maybe you were born to volunteer too? Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with Operation Homefront in your community.  Find a list of our upcoming Back-To-School Brigade events here.

Check back with us this weekend as we feature more of our All Star Volunteers. #1Mil1Fam

 

 

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Meet Hipsley!

It began with the need to do something.  To make a difference.

A dedicated group of volunteers with the Mid-Atlantic Field Office of Operation Homefront, concerned about the heartbreaking statistics surrounding veteran suicides, approached the Field Office staff with an idea. As part of their annual fundraising efforts, they wanted to support Operation Homefront – and support the training of a service dog for veterans recovering from physical and psychological wounds.

Though not a need addressed by Operation Homefront programs, the Operation Homefront Mid-Atlantic team knew they could help, as they are active in supporting the needs of families at Walter Reed and Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir. They also knew an organization that worked with service animals. And so began a unique partnership between Operation Homefront, the community, and the non-profit Warrior Canine Connection.

After 18 months of planning and fundraising solely by the volunteers with support from Operation Homefront, their wish became reality Wednesday as Operation Homefront presented Warrior Canine Connection with a check for $25,000 to cover the cost of training a puppy named Hipsley at Fort Belvoir.

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Jane Hipsley, herself a “puppy parent”, after learning that a puppy will carry on the name and legacy of her son, Sgt. Christian Hipsley.

Hipsley is named in honor of Army Sgt. Christian Joseph Hipsley, an Army medic who graduated from Hannah More Academy in Baltimore in 2000.  He was known as an individual who cared deeply for people and who found uncommon courage.  Sgt. Hipsley’s 13 years of service entailed three tours of duty in the Middle East, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.  Sgt. Hipsley was awarded the Bronze Star in 2011 for his efforts in saving five Afghan National Army soldiers after the caravan he was riding in was struck by consecutive IED blasts.  When the book was closed on his Army career, Sgt.  Hipsley had earned the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguished Valor and the Army Commendation Medal.  The soldier lost his battle with PTSD in 2014 at age 32.

Sgt. Hipsley’s mother, Jane, was in attendance as it was announced that a puppy would carry on the memory of her son by helping others.  Over the next 2 years, Hipsley and the other purpose-bred Golden and Labrador Retrievers will each empower 60 returning wounded combat Veterans. After this period, Hipsley will be permanently assigned.

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Margi Kirst, Chief Development Officer for Operation Homefront with the newest member of the military family.

 

“The beauty behind this is the connection between the community and donors who take the initiative to get involved, and the collaboration between non-profits.  It is the community coming together,” said Vivian Dietrich, Regional Director. “And at the end of the day, our mission of building strong stable and secure military families will be realized through the work of Hipsley with the Fort Belvoir families.”

Cyndi Lucas, Communications Outreach Leader for Operation Homefront Mid-Atlantic added, “It was unique opportunity to capture the passion of this group of volunteers. (Hipsley) will touch so many lives”

 

“We are extremely grateful to the enthusiastic group of volunteers from Operation Homefront’s Mid-Atlantic region who dedicated so much time and energy to raise the funds to train Hipsley at Fort Belvoir,” said Rick Yount, WCC founder and executive director. “In our work to serve more than 3,700 Veterans since WCC started, we have seen firsthand the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy in combating symptoms of PTS and TBI.  We are fortunate to have partners, like Operation Homefront, who are equally committed to supporting our nation’s Veterans and their families.”

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Working together to make a difference: Operation Homefront National and MidAtlantic staff with the “REDS” team volunteers.

About Warrior Canine Connection: Warrior Canine Connection is a pioneering organization that utilizes a Mission Based Trauma Recovery model to empower returning combat Veterans who have sustained physical and psychological wounds while in service to our country. Based on the concept of Warriors helping Warriors, WCC’s therapeutic service dog training program is designed to mitigate symptoms of PTSD, TBI, and other challenges, while giving injured combat Veterans a sense of purpose, help in reintegrating back into their families and communities, and a potential career path as a service dog trainer.  For more information, go to www.warriorcanineconnection.org.

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