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Posts Tagged ‘Homefront Celebration’

As a military spouse of 20 years, Aileen Boone knows the difficulty of connecting and making new friends with each move. Her most recent was to San Antonio, where she and her husband had been for 18 months before she heard about Operation Homefront’s Homefront Celebration program, which celebrates the service of our military spouses.

Aileen was one of more than 80 military spouses who recently attended the special night of dinner, dancing and making new friends. She met Rita Valdez, a 12-year military spouse, and the two planned on staying in touch.

Rita and Aileen struck up a friendship at Homefront Celebration San Antonio, TX. The two plan to stay in touch.

 

“It’s uplifting and it’s nice to meet people going through the same things,” Aileen said. “We’ve got a common bond.”

Rita agreed, adding that she had already texted her husband who was in training in Dallas that she was having a great time.

“Everything is totally awesome,” she said. “It gives us a moment for ourselves and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Along with door prizes and a very popular S’mores bar, guests also enjoyed speaker Brittany Boccher, a military spouse since 2005 and founder of Discovering Your Spark: Find Your Color in a Camouflage World.

Brittany gave a mini version of her workshop that was created to help military spouses find their passion and balance in life. She now does consulting and speaking engagements to help promote the needs of military spouses both inside and outside the military community.

The Feb. 7 event was made possible through the generous support of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). As part of the celebration, SNHU presented Eliana Cornejo with a four-year scholarship. Married for 10 years to Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Kevin Cornejo and mom to two children, the scholarship comes at a great time for Eliana, who plans to pursue a business administration degree that she will use for a new career and to assist at her church.

“I’m so grateful (to donors) they are opening so many doors and providing so many opportunities,” Eliana said. Hear more about Eliana’s journey as a military spouse here.

Since Operation Homefront began Homefront Celebrations in 2009, the program has served more than 8,600 military spouses.

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Achieving your degree is a tremendous accomplishment. Many times, military spouses are not able to complete their education due to the inherent challenges of military life – multiple moves, deployments, injuries, children’s needs, etc. Sarah Gaul’s dream of completing a bachelor’s degree will finally come true, thanks to a full-tuition scholarship from Southern New Hampshire University, presented at Operation Homefront’s June 2018 Homefront Celebration in Anchorage, Alaska, a military spouse appreciation event that was a bright spot during a rough period in Sarah’s life.

Sarah shares her story with our Homefront Celebration guests.

Grateful that SNHU’s military-friendly programs are flexible, Sarah will complete her education at her own pace because the former Coast Guard reservist just recently completed breast cancer treatment after an October 2017 diagnosis, works part time, and has three active sons with her husband, Jeramy, who medically retired from the Coast Guard in June 2018.

In fact, all five family members started new schools this fall. Sarah, who has sewn all her life and started working in a quilt shop in May 2018, is majoring in fashion merchandising and management and digital photography. Jeramy is in the geomatics program at University of Alaska Anchorage. Their oldest son, Frank, 14, just started high school. Middle son Sean, 11, entered middle school, and their youngest, Henry, 5, started kindergarten.

Sarah said they will need to support each other through some inevitable school-related stress because she still has “chemo brain” from her cancer treatment which required multiple surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy. Their older two boys are on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. And Jeramy has experienced several traumatic brain injuries leading to his medical retirement. The Veterans Affairs Department rated his disability at 100 percent. Jeramy’s initial TBI happened 21 years ago during a training accident while in the Washington National Guard. A tank hatch slammed shut on his head. “He’s lucky to be alive,” Sarah said, adding that he was wearing a helmet. He suffered a broken jaw. Later on multiple occasions, Jeramy hit his head while on Coast Guard boats, and fell down a ladder well.

Suffice it to say that life since her diagnosis and Jeramy’s retirement, with the whole family in different schools, has been “just crazy,” as Sarah puts it. That’s why she greatly enjoyed a night out to herself at the Homefront Celebration. She sat with SNHU representatives and students who shared their perspectives on balancing school, work and home responsibilities. Operation Homefront (OH) also treated attendees, including many Army and Air Force spouses, to a catered dinner, dancing and prizes.

“Even 20 minutes to myself is a wonderful thing,”-Sarah says, of her journey as survivor, student, mom and military spouse.

“It was so much fun,” said Sarah, who follows OH on Facebook, and had participated previously in OH’s Back-to-School Brigade and Holiday Toy Drive events. “It was an amazing night. They took great care of us. The gift bags were just stuffed full of things.”

Sarah had a good time at the event even though she feels “so self-conscious now” because the chemotherapy caused her to lose her hair. “Even 20 minutes to myself is a wonderful thing,” she said, adding that it was nice to find something to do for herself because she can’t get her hair done, or go for a back massage because she can’t lie on the table until she’s fully recovered from her surgeries.

“I’m excited to get back into school and start learning again.”

Sarah said the scholarship was the “ultimate prize” because without it, she would have had to delay returning to school until after their kids graduated from college. “Financially, there’s no way that we could afford for me to go back to school. I had really just put going back to school out of my mind.”

Now she can work on her classes as she finds time. “We’re teaching our kids how important education is,” Sarah said. “Not having that degree over the years has been tough for me.” She has wished she had a degree because many employers require one even for entry-level work, and it will improve her job prospects after being a stay-at-home mom for 14 years, an experience she “would not trade … for anything.”

It was not for lack of trying that Sarah has been unable to finish her degree. It’s just one of the many challenges and sacrifices that comes with the territory of serving in the military. She had previously taken online courses through American Military University, but could not continue because Jeramy went to a Coast Guard cutter in the Bering Sea, while she took care of the kids.

Sarah enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserve in 1998. Jeramy, who had been serving in the Washington National Guard, later switched into the Coast Guard Reserve. They married in 2001, not long before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Because of 9/11, they both got called to active duty, and the Coast Guard sent them to different places even though they were in the same unit. They didn’t see each other for three months. Jeramy went to an electronic support unit in Seattle; Sarah went to the marine safety office, conducting vessel safety inspections. Once she got pregnant with their oldest in 2003, she continued some inspections, but had to stop others because of the environmental risk.

Frank was born in 2004, at about the same time her six years of active drilling was ending. She got out because of her concern that as a dual military couple, they would have child care issues. In 2005, Jeramy accepted an active-duty Coast Guard assignment that moved them from Seattle to Anchorage.

Sarah and family in 2017.

“Having transferred and moved as much as we have as a military family, it’s not easy,” Sarah said.

With a degree in fashion merchandising and management and digital photography skills, Sarah can help retailers with buying decisions, staying relevant in the economy, and keeping customers coming back. “I’m excited to get back into school and start learning again. Mentally for me, I think it will help with my chemo brain … to keep my brain engaged.”


Thank you Southern New Hampshire University for supporting our military spouses and helping us host Homefront Celebrations across the USA and for helping our military spouses realize their education goals.

More events are planned in the future so keep an eye out on our events page or follow us on Facebook to see announcements about this and other events.

Get educated about risk factors for Breast Cancer, prevention and early detection and more here.

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Before we jump into 2018, we’d like to look back at some of the best moments from this past year. It goes without saying that we are able to advance our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families because of those who give – our individual and corporate donors. Thank you! These moments would not happen without you.

1. These women came to our caregiver retreat…in a hurricane! As Hurricane Harvey was skirting San Antonio, we were hosting a group of caregivers along the Riverwalk for a very special retreat, as part of our Hearts of Valor program. They would not be kept away by a hurricane and there’s a good reason. These retreats are designed to uplift those who are closest to wounded veterans. The retreats give caregivers a much-needed break and education about invisible wounds, compassion fatique, healthy living and staying connected. Special thanks to our sponsor, USAA, for making these retreats possible.

 

2. Our annual gala to celebrate military kids has become a must-attend event! Celebrating the youngest heroes of our military families is one of our favorite things to do. This year’s Military Child of the Year® Award, once again, recognized several outstanding young men and women who represent their families, their branches of service and their country very well. Read more about them and you’ll be inspired. Looking forward to meeting next year’s award recipients in April 2018 in Washington D.C. Who will they be? We’ll find out in early March! #GivingStrength

 

3. There’s no place like home! We get to be a part of making dreams come true through our Homes on the Homefront program that awards mortgage-free homes to veterans. To date, we’ve awarded 599 homes since the program began. All of this is possible because of our great partners like Chase, Meritage Homes, Wade Jurney Homes and Sears (who donated and raised money to provide two homes to veteran families in 2017). Stay tuned as we plan a big celebration for our 600th home in 2018.

 

 

4. Special nights for military spouses? Yes, we did! The call to military life is not easy on a service member’s spouse. Being apart from your service member AND trying to hold down the homefront is managed more easily when you have friends nearby. Our Homefront Celebrations give military spouses a night away to relax, make new friends and be pampered just a little. And thanks to our friends at Southern New Hampshire University, these events have bolstered the careers for some very special women who received a full-tuition scholarship at each celebration, like Megan Morris (pictured here at our event in Tampa, FL). Stay tuned as we announce another year of Homefront Celebrations around the country in 2018.

 

5. Awwwwwww! At our Star-Spangled Baby Showers each year, we get all mushy at the sights and sounds of our expecting moms and the young moms who bring along their sweet newborns. In 2017, we hosted 9 events from coast to coast, a few places in between and even Hawaii, providing critical baby supplies and large raffle items to hundreds of military moms. We were also excited to be joined by Procter and Gamble and Paralympic veteran Melissa Stockwell at our baby shower in Chesapeake, VA.

 

6. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without you! It’s been an honor serving military families around the country. Thanks to our generous donors, we served more than 11,000 families with everything they needed for a spectacular holiday meal. Since we began our holiday programs in 2008, we have served nearly 80,000 military families, impacting over 330,000 family members. See our feature blog to celebrate another year of bringing joy to our military families this holiday season!

 

7. When it was time to hit the books, we made it a little easier. Going back to school is expensive. Military kids have enough to deal with and not having the right supplies should not be one of their struggles. We were happy to meet so many smiling faces, like this child in Dayton, OH, and remove the financial burden from their families. This year, we hit a major milestone, as we distributed our 300,000th backpack since the program began which included more than 41,000 backpacks given to military children around the U.S. this summer alone.

 

8. Home Depot Really Is #DoingMore4Vets! From golf tournaments to renovating veterans’ homes to providing support for our Critical Financial Assistance program, The Home Depot Foundation, and its band of Team Depot volunteers, are a long-time partner who support means so much as they join us in giving strength to military families! We were honored to present a Cornerstone Award to Heather Prill, Senior Manager, National Partnerships at The Home Depot Foundation for her contributions to the national nonprofit’s mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families this past September.

 

9. Transition from service can be a challenging time for veterans. Especially if they are coping with injuries and illnesses from their service. Our rent-free transitional housing villages stand ready to help when these families need it the most. Since inception, our villages have welcomed more than 500 families who lived in a rent-free, fully furnished apartment to help them make a smooth transition to civilian life. Our Critical Financial Assistance program helps military and veteran families overcome unexpected crises like a major appliance or car repair or help with rent or mortgage. We’ve been able to help veterans like Petero Taufagu who needed help getting his car repaired. Later, through our partnership with American Airlines, he also received a brand-new Jeep Cherokee. So now he has a reliable way to get to his necessary doctor appointments. Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $22 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests.

 

10. Fact IS Stranger Than Fiction! We can’t make this stuff up!

a. Cracker Barrel created the Flip It Forward Pancake Fundraiser and raised $64,000 for Operation Homefront! It included a media tour with a pancake artist who even created our logo in pancake batter. We thought about framing it…then thought again.

b. Who doesn’t secretly harbor the desire to shatter glass? Our friends at CDW found a way to convince PGA TOUR players Ben Crane, Smylie Kaufman, Ryan Palmer and CDW-sponsored Gary Woodland to compete in a “glass breaking” event between the golf pros. And more was at stake than just bragging rights – winner Gary Woodland presented an additional donation of 10 Lenovo Chromebooks – five to Operation Homefront and five to the charity of Woodland’s choice. The entire event raised support for military families through Operation Homefront.

c. A personalized burger? Carnival Cruise Lines is known for fun but they outdid themselves when they devised a way to laser-burn personal well-wishes from military supporters onto burgers they served to Marines at a special event at MCAS Miramar in California. They even got former Miss USA DeShauna Barber there to serve the burgers and provided a $25,000 donation to Operation Homefront. You have to see the pictures to believe it.

d. We’ll brave a blizzard for you! We were still in the doldrums of summer heat when Chevy first invited us to be a part of their #ChevySalutes event to honor the military at the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia. Let’s just say winter hit with a vengeance that day and provided a very memorable experience to award a brand-new 2018 Chevrolet Traverse to one of the nicest caregivers and her seven-tour combat veteran husband. Don’t worry, we dressed warmly, mom!

 

11. We still get starstruck! We’ve been excited to work with some pretty inspiring people this year.

a. The Pale Ale Wins the Summer of Yes! Carson Daly who worked with Other Half Brewing to create a craft beer with proceeds to support Operation Homefront as part of his #SummerOfYes on the Today Show.

b. Wonder-Super-Mega-Amazing Melissa Stockwell: Through our partnership with P&G, we got to work with the very inspiring Melissa Stockwell, who is a bronze-medal winning, 2-time Paralympian, triathlete and Purple Heart wounded Army veteran. She attended one of our Star-Spangled Baby Showers in Virginia and has since welcomed her own baby Millie to her sweet family.

c. Tim McGraw Walks the Walk. And where do we start with Tim McGraw? We’ve been working with this country superstar since 2012. From his personal support to joining us to award mortgage-free homes along with Chase, he has been a steadfast champion for military and veteran families. #GivingStrength #startstrongstaystrong

 

12. We have the best volunteers! Our volunteers show up and pitch in whenever they are needed. We host hundreds of events all year long from Alaska to the tip of Florida, from San Diego to Massachusetts. This year, we created a special Volunteer Reserves which recruits our volunteers that want to get involved, but don’t want to volunteer on a daily basis or even a weekly basis, but they’re very interested in staying in the loop and ready to be called on when we need help serving our military families.

There are so many moments to remember in 2017. And each was an honor because we got to be a part of serving our military and veteran families. That makes any year a great year!

If you’d like to be a part of giving strength this holiday season and making our 2018 even better, consider giving to a current need of a military family to give them the best start possible to the New Year!

 

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Surprise!

With a little help from her husband, we were able to surprise Hailey at home.

One minute, she was an average military wife at home on a Saturday morning. But this day was quite different, she was being given an experience most people only dream about. With the ring of the doorbell, Hailey Lorati found herself in the midst of balloons, flowers and photographers, being whisked away in a limousine. “I remember being so excited that I was shaking and just happy,” said Hailey.

First stop was a local bridal store to pick out any dress she wanted, thanks to a donation from an anonymous donor. The last time Hailey picked out a dress for herself was the day before her wedding. Like many military wives, she was young and in love but didn’t have much money for a big fancy wedding. Her best friend and she went to a shop the day before her wedding, looked at the clearance section and picked out a dress that would fit. But now, not only could she choose her dress, but shoes and jewelry to match. The VIP experience continued on to a spa for a manicure and pedicure. And she visited a local salon to have her hair and makeup done. “My husband was the last person to give me a haircut, so it was pretty messy,” said Hailey.

Operation Homefront hosts Homefront Celebrations to honor military spouses at spots around the country every year. When Hailey signed up to attend our Homefront Celebration at the beautiful Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Wash., she indicated she wanted to be considered for a scholarship from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), our partner for this event. In spite of the challenges of military life, her husband being away a lot and having children, Hailey has continued to work to complete her degree. She was contacted for an interview but had no idea she had been selected. “I assumed that I really messed up the interview,” said Hailey.

But Hailey impressed everyone with her willingness to put others before herself. “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office. So she was selected not only to receive the $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University, but was given the VIP experience to make her day extra special. With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to have an education.

Others Before Self: “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office.

Others Before Self: “During the interview, Hailey offered to give up her spot (at the Homefront Celebration) and be a volunteer for the event, so another military spouse would have a chance to attend,” said Michael Nuttbrock, program manager for our Pacific Northwest field office.

 

Hailey, in true form, thought of others first when the limo pulled up to her house. She has a baby, so she was concerned that everything would go okay if she was away. “I was nervous about leaving my baby. I had never left my baby prior to… this event. Operation Homefront and SNHU staff took turns caring for him and… made it work so I could feed him (and still) look presentable for the big night,” she said. “My husband apparently was in on this entire thing. How on earth he pulled this off, I will never understand.”

 

After a day of pampering, Hailey was off to the big event. She met her husband there so he could see his beautiful wife after her transformation. “My husband was just so happy and proud of me. I’m so happy he was able to share the entire experience with me.”

afterHFCWA

 

 

Hailey was selected  to receive a $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University,  With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to pursue higher education.

Hailey was selected to receive a $5,000 scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University, With the scholarship, Hailey will be the first in her family to finish her degree.

When the guest speaker spoke, “I cried reflecting on our own experiences of (deployment) and having to tell your children why Dad is leaving. My husband has a scary job and we don’t dwell on the ‘what if.’ This evening was a great reminder that I’m not in this alone, all the wives who attended have been there or could be in that place later down the road,” said Hailey.

She said that she and all of the guests were treated so well at the Homefront Celebration. Even though she had been singled out for a special day and scholarship, she “really wanted all the spouses to feel like Cinderella for the evening.”

Hailey was eager to show appreciation for her day. “I want to extend a special thank you to the United States Army, for providing my family the life we have. In addition, I want to thank my husband. He means the world to me and I wouldn’t be where I am in my life without him by my side. Lastly, I want to share my extreme appreciation towards Southern New Hampshire University and Operation Homefront staff (in Washington). They all put in an extensive amount of behind-the-scene work to ensure my day was extremely special. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend the day with them,” she said.

 

Operation Homefront’s Homefront Celebrations are designed to give military spouses an evening of relaxation and rejuvenation. It’s our way of saying thanks for the sacrifices made by those who hold down the homefront. The evening includes a special dinner, inspiring speaker, raffle drawings and gift bags for everyone to take home. Our events are possible through the support of Southern New Hampshire University, who dreamed up the idea of awarding scholarships and the VIP experience for Hailey, who plans to finish her BA in Human Services. So far this year, we’ve hosted Homefront Celebrations in San Antonio, Texas, and Tacoma, Wash., and we have several other locations we’ll visit, to be announced later this spring. View all pictures from the Tacoma event.

Special thanks to the following for donating time or services to make the event special for Hailey and her family: Excalibur Limousine Service, David’s Bridal (for opening early), Salon Miro, Savi Spa, Hotel Murano and the anonymous donor for covering the cost of the dress and accessories.

 

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