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Seeing The Bright Side.

christianfagalaChristian Fagala was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 2. He would beat cancer – knocking out the disease with a combination of faith and a determination to see the bright side of things.

Chemotherapy didn’t just present physical challenges to Christian, but also cognitive ones. Despite having a harder time learning due to the effects of chemotherapy, Christian, now 9 years old, persevered and exceeded all academic expectations.

Christian felt the need to make a difference for others facing the same battle he had. At age 4, he began doing speaking engagements on behalf of childhood cancer programs. He has spent countless hours making videos and using social media to elevate awareness of childhood cancer. Christian has raised more than $20,000 in the last few years for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and CureSearch, a non-profit whose mission is to end children’s cancer by driving targeted and innovative research.

His faith has sustained him through hard times. “God hears our prayers and helps us as much as he can,” Christian said. “It reminds me that God can do very big things.”

Christian has also devoted more than 100 hours to homeless outreach. He also finds time to play youth soccer and enjoy a little dodgeball while participating in Scouting.

As a military child, Christian has relocated four times already and has endured 16 months of his father’s deployment. Christian sees a bright side to being a member of a military family, adding “Military kids get to travel a lot and live in a lot of places civilian kids may just travel to. We get to make so many friends from different places and experience different cultures.”

Christian aspires to follow in his father’s footsteps and to become a Marine. If medical issues become an impediment, then he wants to follow in his mother’s footsteps and work for the Department of Defense.

Christian is the son of Diana Fagala and Marine Capt. Justin Fagala of Quantico, VA.

This week, we will be shining a spotlight on each of our Military Child of the Year Award recipients, as well as the first ever recipient of the Operation Homefront-Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award. Be sure to check back daily or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates. In addition, throughout the months of April and May, we invite you to show your appreciation by sending a message of thanks and sharing #Mission2Honor with your friends and family. Follow this link to share your message, or post your own message on social media using #Mission2Honor.

Our heartfelt thanks to our presenting sponsor United Technologies, and all of our 2016 Military Child of the Year Award sponsors, for making this annual award one of the highlights of our year.  Your support allows us to bring the stories of our military families to the forefront, making a difference in raising awareness of the challenges they face in protecting our nation.

 

 

Guided By Faith.

john-trip-landon-national-guardJohn “Trip” Landon III has touched many lives throughout his lifelong walk of faith. “Faith,” as he explained, “the root of all of my other traits.”

It has served Trip well. Guided by divine teachings, he has excelled in academics, sports, Scouting, the arts, and faith-based service to his community. In fact, Trip’s favorite quote is “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

“I’ve been raised my whole life to be a Godly man of integrity,” Trip said. “This quote is a simple truth that reminds me how to do that.”

A National Honor Society member with a 3.9 grade point average, Trip is homeschooled for academics and participates in extracurricular activities at Ellensburg High School in Ellensburg, Washington.

As a member of the school golf team, Trip twice earned Academic Athlete honors and was voted Most Inspirational Player. A violinist and pianist, he plays in the school orchestra, performing three solo recitals and six concerts annually, while taking weekly lessons. He also performs at yearly competitions and festivals across the state.

Trip’s talents also extend to the stage. He has performed with numerous local drama troupes in Ellensburg.

His life of principle also translates into leadership. Trip has been an Awana student leader for five school years, leading the Christian youth group on occasion in the absence of an adult.

Outside of the classroom, stage and athletic field, Trip has made his mark in his larger community. As a Silver Palm-awarded Eagle Scout, Trip, who achieved the coveted rank of Eagle Scout before his 15th birthday, led four teenagers and four adults in planning and constructing an archery range backstop, a project that entailed 574 man hours. Having earned the Arrow of Light in the Cub Scouts and an impressive three palm leaves overall in Scouting, Trip has served as a Cub Scout den chief and has led two Cub Scout day camps and two Cub Scout overnight camps.

Sharing his faith and shepherding others is also important to Trip. He has participated in bible camps and has also has served as a Vacation Bible School leader for his church.

Trip aspires to work in prosthetics engineering, a career path that would allow him to help wounded warriors to return to service.

Trip is the son of Laura Landon and Army National Guard Capt. John Landon II.

For the next week, we will be shining a spotlight on each of our Military Child of the Year Award recipients, as well as the first ever recipient of the Operation Homefront-Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award. Be sure to check back daily or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates. In addition, throughout the months of April and May, we invite you to show your appreciation by sending a message of thanks and sharing #Mission2Honor with your friends and family. Follow this link to share your message, or post your own message on social media using #Mission2Honor.

Our heartfelt thanks to our presenting sponsor United Technologies, and all of our 2016 Military Child of the Year Award sponsors, for making this annual award one of the highlights of our year.  Your support allows us to bring the stories of our military families to the forefront, making a difference in raising awareness of the challenges they face in protecting our nation.

jeffrey-burds-navyThe day before Jeffrey Burds’ mother passed away from colon cancer, she told him, “Do great things in life.”

Jeffrey was nine years old, and he took to those words to heart, devoting his life to making a difference in the lives of others. Now 17, Jeffrey has distinguished himself with his leadership and through his academic excellence through eight military permanent change of station relocations and 66 months of his father’s deployment.

Jeffrey is the very definition of a leader. He is the executive officer of the Camp Lejeune High School Marine Corps JROTC, the boot camp of which he was named an honor graduate in 2013. Jeffrey’s talent for leadership is further evidenced by his roles on the high school’s track, football, wrestling, and basketball teams, two of which he has captained for.

Jeffrey was awarded in 2014 with Most Valuable Player honors in track, Defensive Most Valuable Player in football, and the Sportsmanship Award in basketball. He has also captained his football and track teams. His coaches chose him to receive the 8th Marine Regiment Workhorse Award. The award is presented to “a senior student who is a team leader, shows exceptional character, and is a leader in the classroom,” and was presented to Jeffrey by the commander of the 8th Marines.

Jeffrey has accomplished all of this while maintaining a 3.94 grade point average.

Outside of the classroom, Jeffrey pursues service to community with American Cancer Society Relay for Life, National Downs Syndrome Buddy Walk, Special Olympics, and Semper Fi Fund Outdoor Odyssey.

As he contemplates his future, which may include service to his country as a Navy officer, Jeffrey continues to hold fast to the promise he made to his mother to “do great things in life.”

Jeffrey is the son of Debra Rae Burds and Navy Master Chief Hospital Corpsman Joseph Burds of Camp Lejeune, N.C.

For the next week, we will be shining a spotlight on each of our Military Child of the Year Award recipients, as well as the first ever recipient of the Operation Homefront-Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award. Be sure to check back daily or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates. In addition, throughout the months of April and May, we invite you to show your appreciation by sending a message of thanks and sharing #Mission2Honor with your friends and family. Follow this link to share your message, or post your own message on social media using #Mission2Honor.

Our heartfelt thanks to our presenting sponsor United Technologies, and all of our 2016 Military Child of the Year Award sponsors, for making this annual award one of the highlights of our year.  Your support allows us to bring the stories of our military families to the forefront, making a difference in raising awareness of the challenges they face in protecting our nation.

An Agent For Change.

Along with our spotlight series on our 2016 Military Child of the Year Award recipients, we also want to shine a light on our first ever recipient of the Operation Homefront-Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award for Military Children. Via our partner Booz Allen Hamilton on Tumblr:

BAHblogpic

On March 21, Operation Homefront and Booz Allen announced that Elizabeth O’Brien of Aberdeen, North Carolina is the first-ever winner of the Innovation Award for Military Children.

The award recognizes the creative spirit of military children who make outstanding contributions every day that may go unnoticed because of their transient lifestyle. Booz Allen and Operation Homefront’s goal with this award is to acknowledge military children who demonstrate the power of innovative thinking by catalyzing a local, regional, or global change that will positively influence the lives of other military children through new technologies, non-profits, or community service.

In partnership with Military Missions in Action (MMIA) O’Brien, 17, designed the Military Child Access Assistance Program (MCAAP) to help provide accessibility ramps and other home modifications to military children’s homes that are not covered by Tricare. She also developed the Hike2Help 5K that raised over $7,000 and funded three accessibility ramps. Elizabeth’s family has experienced five Permanent Changes of Station and a total of 34 months of deployment.  Through all of this, she has logged 1,500 volunteer hours with MMIA since age 12.

In addition to a $5,000 cash award, O’Brien will visit Booz Allen’s Innovation Center where she will collaborate with our consultants to develop a project plan and receive strategic advice to help her advance MCAAP.

The Booz Allen Innovation Award for Military Children will be presented at the Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year Awards Gala on April 14th in Washington, DC. For more information on Operation Homefront and the Military Child of the Year, visit here.

Congratulations Elizabeth!

For the next week, we will be shining a spotlight on each of our Military Child of the Year Award recipients, as well as the first ever recipient of the Operation Homefront-Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award. Be sure to check back daily or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates. In addition, throughout the months of April and May, we invite you to show your appreciation by sending a message of thanks and sharing #Mission2Honor with your friends and family. Follow this link to share your message, or post your own message on social media using #Mission2Honor.

 

One Huge Heart.

lorelei-mcintyre-brewer-armyTen-year-old Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer has already faced more than most of us will in our lifetime.

Lorelei was born missing half of her heart, for which there is no cure, and her twin brother, Rory, passed away before the two were able to meet.  She underwent open heart surgery shortly after her birth at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Two more open heart surgeries would follow, and with her third, she fought her hardest battle yet. Lorelei’s lungs collapsed and she started to literally drown in fluid surrounding her heart and lungs.  After a long, grueling recovery, Lorelei survived her ordeal, but it changed her forever.  She became determined to make a difference.

At 5, she learned to sew in order to make compression heart pillows for pediatric open heart patients, aiding in their recovery from surgery.  She named her organization Heart Hugs and it spread like wildfire.

Heart Hugs works with children’s hospitals, orphanages, and individual families to provide these pillows at no cost to the patient and family, utilizing the kindness of volunteers around the world to help Lorelei ensure no child is turned away.

In addition to undergoing 21 medical procedures to date, Lorelei has also endured seven military-related relocations and has experienced a total of 36 months of her father being deployed. Lorelei’s favorite quote is “No matter what age you are, or what your circumstances might be, you are special, and you still have something unique to offer. Your life, because of who you are, has meaning.” Explaining how that quote applies to her, Lorelei said, “I can be so many things and help so many people as long as I stay focused.”

No one would fault Lorelei for taking time for herself and focusing on her extraordinary challenges, but Lorelei is not even thinking about slowing down.  As she explained, “I am missing half of my heart and people sometimes think I can’t do anything, but I can.”  And she does. Lorelei maintains a 4.0 grade point average in school and also dedicates a great deal of time to causes dear to her. She participates in the Single Ventricle Survivorship Program, the Cardiac Kids Developmental Follow-Up Program, and the Single Ventricle Revision Study Program. Lorelei also helps with the program “Socks for Vets,” created by her brother Cavan, who was our 2015 Army Military Child of the Year.

Lorelei is the daughter of Michelle McIntyre-Brewer and Medical Service Corps Officer Capt. Steven Brewer.

For the next week, we will be shining a spotlight on each of our Military Child of the Year Award recipients, as well as the first ever recipient of the Operation Homefront-Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Award. Be sure to check back daily or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates. In addition, throughout the months of April and May, we invite you to show your appreciation by sending a message of thanks and sharing #Mission2Honor with your friends and family. Follow this link to share your message, or post your own message on social media using #Mission2Honor.

Our heartfelt thanks to our presenting sponsor United Technologies, and all of our 2016 Military Child of the Year Award sponsors, for making this annual award one of the highlights of our year.  Your support allows us to bring the stories of our military families to the forefront, making a difference in raising awareness of the challenges they face in protecting our nation.

monthomilitarychildblog1When we view a photo of a military family, we tend to focus on the service member. That intense gaze. The confident stance. We wonder what obstacles they faced as they guarded our country’s freedom. We want  to know their story.

The photo here isn’t the classic image of the warrior.  This photo is about family. It is the family that stands beside that service member. Their story is love and laughter, joy and fear and, yes, occasional tears.

They serve, too.

April is Month of the Military Child. In honor of them, we present 5 reasons why military kids totally deserve to be recognized for the whole month of April…and really for the whole year!

1. They are patriotic. These kids know what the flag, the anthem and the pledge represent. As they grow, they understand that while they may not have their parent around, it’s for a very important reason that impacts the lives of all of America’s kids. As a result, they learn and live a love for their country. And it extends to their community service. Read how Cavan McIntyre-Brewer, our 2015 Army Military Child of the Year, tirelessly finds ways to bring some comfort to our nation’s veterans.

2. They are strong and resilient. How many sleepless nights have they endured, wondering if daddy is okay or just missing him? How many times have they had to take that scary walk into yet another new classroom? How many birthdays (or school events, or holidays) has their mom or dad missed? monthofmilitarychildblog2And how many military kids have had to grow up very quickly and fill the gap a parent may have left, whether they are wounded or gone from the home because they are deployed? They face extraordinary circumstances with quiet resolve. Read how Caleb Parsons, our 2015 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year, stepped in to help when his parents, both service members, were deployed at the same time.

3. They are citizens of the world. Talk to any typical military kid. They have likely seen and lived in multiple states. They may have lived in one or more countries in Europe, or Asia, or both. As a result, their knowledge of other cultures, languages and empathy for those who may look or act differently is highly developed. A fine example is our 2015 Air Force Military Child of the Year, Sarah Hesterman, who seeks to empower girls on a global scale through her work with the United Nations.

4. They support each other. The best person that can understand the life of a military child is someone who has lived it. Military kids stand together…connected by similar struggles, mixed with amazing experiences and overwhelming pride. Our 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year, Nate Richards, even started his own blog to encourage other military kids.

5. They don’t ask for recognition. People often forget that military kids serve our country too. They didn’t choose a life that offers moments that are exciting and gut-wrenching, sometimes within the same week or month. They humbly serve behind the scenes. And we’re happy to point the spotlight squarely in their direction. By honoring a few, we recognize them all.

As we honor our youngest patriots this month, we invite you to learn more about, and be impressed by, our 2016 Military Child of the Year recipients. Check back here as we share more stories and articles about them. And mark your calendars to follow us on social media on April 14 as we celebrate them with a special gala in Washington D.C. We’re also excited to announce our Mission2Honor initiative to recognize military kids and families during April and May. We hope you’ll join us and a part of this effort!

Together, we will continue our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive – not simply get by – in the communities they have worked so hard to protect.

* We dedicate this blog in memory of 2015 National Guard Military Child of the Year Recipient Zachary Parsons who tragically lost his life in February in a car accident. Zachary strived every day to live a life of integrity and serves as the finest example by which all military kids can be inspired.

As he turns the key on his new home, Raphael Harris and his wife, Yesica, can see a new beginning and a fresh start. Not too long ago, they were once a family geographically separated and facing many financial and medical challenges. That was before they found out about our Operation Homefront Village.

RaphaelVillagesBlogRaphael is a military brat and grew up in South Carolina before his family moved to Alabama. After graduation, he decided to join the military and he became a Marine at age 17.

Raphael was first stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and then Camp Pendleton in California. During a deployment to Afghanistan, he was injured when an improvised explosive device caused the vehicle he was riding in to roll over. As a result of his injuries and trauma, Raphael was medically retired from the Marines after four years of service.

Transitioning out of the military can be difficult for anyone, and Raphael’s family was no exception. Raphael became friends with a service member who was also transitioning from the Marines. He told Raphael about Operation Homefront and how we offered rent-free transitional housing at our Operation Homefront Village in California. Raphael thought this might be a great solution for his family, so he put in an application, and was accepted into our program.

“Before coming to the Village, I was (away) from my wife, who was back in Alabama,” said Raphael. “We had a lot of debt.”

Our Village program provides rent-free, utilities paid, fully furnished apartments to wounded, injured, and ill veterans leaving the military. It is designed to enable families to heal together, while bridging the gap between military pay and veteran benefits.

While living at the Village, Raphael not only saved $15,000, but he was also able to reduce his debt by $15,000. “This is an amazing program which helped fill in the gaps during my transition and helping me to be more stable,” added Raphael. “I would recommend it to anyone who is qualified to apply.”

Raphael has since graduated from our Village program. Recently, he and his wife were able to realize a dream and bought a home in San Antonio, Texas. He continues his care at the VA and is going back to school where he will pursue a master’s degree that allows him to counsel wounded warriors with severe post-traumatic stress.

As with the Harris family, when veterans graduate from our Village program, they will have VA benefits in place, debt significantly reduced, and emergency savings available.

“In 2015, Operation Homefront served 111 military families through our transitional housing program,” said Senior Director of Transitional Housing Gracie Broll. “Our goal at Operation Homefront is to ensure our military families remain strong, stable, and secure throughout transition from military to civilian life. We do this by walking hand-in-hand with each family while providing them with the tools and resources needed for success.”

While the Harris family has settled into their new home and new beginnings, their story can inspire other families who are still in transition.

HectorVillagesBlogRetired U.S. Marine Sergeant Hector Perez deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan during his term of service. On a deployment to Afghanistan, “A road side bomb detonated and hit my vehicle and I was injured – spinal cord injuries, neural damage to my left leg and left eye, and some TBI and PTSD as well,” he said.

Like many in his situation, Hector was caught off guard and struggled to make ends meet during the transition process. Hector heard about our Operation Homefront Village from his recovery care coordinator and applied. He moved into the new Operation Homefront Village in San Diego, which celebrated its Grand Opening in January. There, he found relief and a way to get back on track with his life.

“It’s safe, it’s beautiful, it’s near all the VA (offices) I need,” said Hector. “Being a part of this community will help our family transition from active duty to retired tremendously.”

While at our Village, Hector will receive help to get control over his budget, reduce debt, and stabilize his treatment at the VA. He will also be given the tools and training he needs to establish a savings account and develop a plan for future housing.

“We will be able to focus on stabilizing income, bringing current debt down to a minimum, live in a safe environment with others in same position and continue care for disabilities,” added Hector. With the right supports in place, Hector now has hope for a bright future.

For many other families just like Hector and Raphael’s, our Villages provide a supportive environment, relieve the financial stress and provide a comprehensive package of individualized family support and financial planning services. Operation Homefront has Villages in three locations: Gaithersburg, Maryland; San Diego, California; and San Antonio, Texas. Since opening our first Village in March 2008, we have transitioned 453 families, which includes 724 military children.

View more pictures from the San Diego open house. Learn more about the Operation Homefront Villages.

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