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Operation Homefront is pleased to announce the seven winners of the prestigious 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award, the nation’s premier celebration of the achievements of our military children.

The 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award recipients are as follows:

 

2018 Military Child of the Year®, U.S. Army:

Rebekah Paxton, 17

Harrisonville, Missouri

Home School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year®, U.S. Navy:

Isabelle Richards, 13

Jamul, California

High Tech Middle School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year® , U.S. Marine Corps:

Joshua Frawley, 14

Jacksonville, North Carolina

White Oak High School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year®, U.S. Air Force:

Eve Glenn, 16

Tampa, Florida

T. R. Robinson High School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year®, U.S. Coast Guard:

Roark Corson, 17

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Ocean Lakes High School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year®, National Guard:

Aaron Hall, 16

Coarsegold, California

Minarets High School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation:

Shelby Barber, 17

Ewa Beach, Hawaii

James Campbell High School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the awards, which each year has provided the extraordinary young recipients with opportunities to be recognized by senior military leaders, elected officials, celebrities, and other remarkable military children.

The Military Child of the Year® Award reflects the positive impact that these special young people have made on their military families, their schools, and their communities. The award recipients will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at a gala on April 19, during which senior leaders of each branch of service will present the awards. They also will each receive $10,000, a laptop computer, and other donated gifts. The Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation recipient will work directly with a Booz Allen Hamilton team to develop a plan to help scale the recipient’s project — drawing on technology and strategic thinking as a part of the corporation’s competitive Summer Games.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we profile each recipient.

A huge thanks to United Technologies Corporation for being our gala’s presenting sponsor. Additional sponsors include Booz Allen Hamilton, MidAtlanticBroadband, LaQuinta Inns & Suites, and Procter & Gamble. Military Times is the media sponsor.

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Congratulations to the top 5 finalists for 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award!

Six Military Child of the Year® Award recipients will represent each branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life. The seventh award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by global technology and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. This award goes to a military child who has designed a bold and creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge.

The Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation recipient will work directly with a Booz Allen Hamilton team to develop a plan to help scale the recipient’s project — drawing on technology and strategic thinking as a part of the corporation’s competitive Summer Games.

The following are the 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award finalists by service branch. Finalists for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation are also designated:

Air Force
Eve Glenn, 16, Tampa, FL (Glenn is also one of 4 finalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)
Hannah Cheater, 17, Las Vegas, NV
Benjamin Rawald, 15, Del Rio, TX
Braden Westby, 18, Vilonia, AR
Madison Williams, 18, Monument, CO

Army
Rachel Ball, 17, Springfield, VA
Elizabeth Clinger, 17, Colorado Springs, CO
Hunter Hotaling, 16, Lansing, KS
Bryce Kim, 17, El Paso, TX
Rebekah Paxton, 17, Harrisonville, MO

Coast Guard
Allison Brozusky, 17, Middletown, RI
Roark Corson, 17, Virginia Beach, VA
Mattie Gross, 16, Kodiak, AK
Gabriel Niles, 15, Bennington, VT
Cody Watson, 18, Tuttle, OK

Marine Corps
William Butler, 16, Virginia Beach, VA
Katelyn Francis, 17, Havelock, NC
Joshua Frawley, 14, Jacksonville, NC
Taylor Pokorney, 17, Albany, OR
Elena Polinski, 17, Moundsville, WV (Polinski is also one of 4 finalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation)

National Guard
Madisyn Clark, 17, Peoria, AZ
Aaron Hall, 16, Coarsegold, CA
Aiden Hunter, 16, Onalaska, WA
Koralys Rodriguez, 17, Statesville, NC
Jessica Walker, 17, Blanding, UT

Navy
Sidney Brown, 17, Wiggins, MS
James Cosman, 13, Quantico, VA
Elisabeth Lundgren, 17, Chula Vista, CA
Isabelle Richards, 13, Jamul, CA
Madison Walker, 17, Virginia Beach, VA

Innovation Finalists
Eve Glenn, 16, Air Force, Tampa, FL
Shelby Barber, 17, Air Force, Ewa Beach, HI
Elena Polinski, 17, Marine Corps, Moundsville, WV
Gavin Sylvia, 18, Army, Fort Campbell, KY

The finalists were selected by an independent panel of judges. The final award recipients for each branch of service will be announced in early March. The Military Child of the Year® Award reflects the positive impact that these special young people have made on their military families, their schools, and their communities. The final seven award recipients will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at the April 19 gala, during which senior leaders of each branch of service will present the awards. They also will each receive $10,000, a laptop computer, and other donated gifts.

2018 marks the 10th anniversary of this special event — the nation’s premier celebration of the achievements of our military children. Thank you to the amazing sponsors of our Military Child of the Year awards program: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, LaQuinta Inn & Suites, MidAtlantic Broadband, Procter & Gamble, Sightline Media Group, and Tutor.com Online Tutoring for Military Families.

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A Marine greets his family at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., Nov. 21, after returning from a seven-month deployment. The Marine is assigned to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, which supported combat operations in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Terry Haynes III

Dare we say it? Thanksgiving is one of the remaining holidays with a clear central purpose. Consider the things you are thankful for … and eat! For years and years, and to this day, our nation has yet to veer from the main goal of Thanksgiving. We gather, we consider our blessings and we partake of a glorious meal. (And Operation Homefront is honored to provide Holiday Meals for Military, like our recent events in Texas).

Retailers may try to invade, starting Black Friday sales earlier every year…but Americans hold fast to this turkey-licious tradition.

And when we consider all that we have to be thankful for, our military is always at the top of our short list! We’re fairly certain that whether your family serves in the military or not, you are likely to take a moment today to be grateful for the men and women who miss many a holiday, including Thanksgiving, to ensure their fellow Americans can rest easy at night. We do.

So, share this with your family today.

Here are 3 reasons to be thankful for our military. These may not be the first time you’ve considered them, but Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to truly appreciate those who serve in our Armed Forces.

Two children excitedly welcome home their father and the crew of the attack submarine USS Norfolk from a six-month deployment during a homecoming ceremony on Naval Station Norfolk, Va. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kim Williams

1. What they’ve missed. There is a reason we all love military homecoming videos. Unless you’ve experienced, you can’t completely understand the feeling of leaving those you love behind. Or the joy of returning home to them. Thanksgiving isn’t the only holiday many of our service members have spent on foreign soil in unfamiliar surroundings. Those are moments with sons, daughters, spouses and family that can never be recovered. For every peaceful day Americans get to experience with loved ones nearby, we have our military to thank.

2. Courage in the face of the unknown. Those who serve have a mission. They work as a unit. But the whole point of having a strong military is outmaneuvering those who threaten the freedoms we enjoy. While they are trained for difficult situations, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause a certain amount of trepidation – for the service members and their families who may not sleep from the weight of worry. But our service members persevere through those hard days. And for those who carry the wounds of war, they are on a journey with an unknown conclusion. They have certainly earned our support.

Pfc. Jordan Wagner, an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, greets loved ones during a homecoming ceremony at Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, N.C. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

3. They choose to serve. Only about 1 in 4 of those between the ages of 17-23 years qualify for military service. And because we have a volunteer force, of those who qualify, not everyone wants to serve in our military. Thank YOU to the brave men and women who chose a hard but noble way to spend your youth. You did it for your future but mostly, you did it for all of us!

For all you do, thank you!

Join Operation Homefront in our mission to build strong, stable, and secure military families through our Giving Strength initiative. This holiday season, we want to give strength to our military and veteran families. We’ve compiled a list of ways you can support, honor and serve our military.

A few easy ways:

1. Send a message of appreciation to our military.

2. Use our new Facebook frame to show that you join us in giving strength to our military.

3. Sign up to be a volunteer.

4. Give a gift in support of our military through one of our current needs.

May you and all our service members, veterans and their families, have a very Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for all you do to keep our country strong.

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We caught up with Juanita Collins, Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year® Award for the Coast Guard in 2014. She has been attending University of South Florida, where she is a junior, majoring in biomedical sciences. She plans to graduate in fall 2019, and is still determining her post-graduation plans. She is a second-year resident assistant, president of the National Residence Hall Honorary, and recently joined an acapella singing group. She also has a shadowing position at Bayside Urgent Care Center in Clearwater, Florida. Juanita thanked Operation Homefront for helping make all this possible, and shares what she learned from other award recipients — and shares some advice of her own :

OH: What has been the biggest change in your life since receiving the award

JC: The biggest change in my life since 2014 has definitely been the transition into college life and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s quite different living on your own and learning how to be independent. I absolutely love my school. Through my undergraduate experience so far, I have learned a lot about myself and about life in general.

OH: Tell us about a fond memory you have from traveling to Washington, D.C., for the gala.

JC: My favorite memory from the Washington trip for gala weekend was probably being up on the stage with my family to receive my award. Throughout that trip, I knew it was special because I was able to share that experience and accomplishment with the people who meant the most to me. It wouldn’t have been the same without them.

OH: You have always been an active volunteer with various organizations. Do you still have time to volunteer, or to help military families?

JC: My most recent plan to help military families is to volunteer at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Tampa, Florida, when I have time during the weekends. The VA hospital is very close to my school, so that is the least I can do to pay it forward.

OH: Have other military children ever given you advice you valued?

JC: My favorite piece of advice that I’ve gotten from another military child is to be giving. The other recipients from 2014 all displayed such giving hearts, and that’s something I always admired. For example, Kenzie Hall, the Army recipient, created a nonprofit to grant dream wishes to military kids who had a parent injured or killed in combat. That was something that I loved just seeing how young she was and how full of compassion; she was such an example. What I have learned is to always have a giving heart. No bad has ever come out of helping others.

OH: What advice would you give future MCOY award recipients?

JC: For future recipients, I would give the advice to have fun on your trip. It’s a great honor to be recognized, so continue to be awesome. Never take these opportunities for granted, and use the scholarship to do what you really want to do with your life, not what you think your parents want for you to do in school and what career they want for you, and not what you feel will impress your friends or make people think more highly of you. Use that scholarship and put that money toward what you’re passionate about, what you can imagine yourself doing for the rest of your life. Only you truly know that. But also, never doubt yourself. If you choose a major or career path that seems super hard, and you’re scared that you might not make it; go for it. Don’t be afraid to reach a goal because of the time it’ll take to accomplish; the time will pass anyway. Work hard and be determined, and stay focused! Hold that title with pride.

OH: What would you say to your past or future self?

JC: I wish I could say the above advice to my past self. I really could have used this advice, but I’m glad that I learned it while life went on, even if it was the hard way. To my future self, I would like to say, “Wherever you are, I’m glad you’re there. I’m sure it was a tough path to get to where you are, and I’m proud of you.”

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Nominations are now open for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® awards.

Our prestigious award will recognize 7 outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Six of them will represent a branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their achievements while facing the challenges of military family life. The 7th award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by Booz Allen Hamilton which will honor a young patriot who has designed a bold, creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge.

Nominate today at http://bit.ly/2cKII81 Deadline to apply is Dec. 4, 2017.

Recipients of the Military Child of the Year® awards will receive $10,000 and a trip to DC for our special awards gala. The recipient of the Innovation Award will receive a $10,000 cash award, donated gifts, and a trip to Washington, DC with a parent or guardian and assistance from Booz Allen Hamilton to advance their project. #MCOY2018

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Continuing our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, where we spotlight the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront.  You can find previous stories here:

The day the Army recruiters came to his middle school, U.S. Army veteran Jason Stidham knew that he wanted to join the military. He just needed to be old enough to enlist. So he patiently waited then, one day before he turned 18, Jason joined the Army.

During his enlistment, Jason was stationed at Fort Campbell, Tennessee, and at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He also deployed to Iraq. Ultimately, Jason left the military in 2010, after seven years, when his injuries prevented him from serving any longer.

During his military service, Jason met his wife Tommie. “Jason and I met through a mutual friend who set us up on a blind date,” said Tommie. “We met for breakfast at IHOP and he was the kindest and funniest guy I had ever met. The date wound up lasting for 6 hours! We had breakfast AND lunch there! He proposed on our 6-month anniversary and we were married two years later.” Since then, they have welcomed two children to their family.

A few years after Jason transitioned out of the military, they moved to Alvin, TX to be closer to Jason’s family. “His PTSD became a little too much for me to deal with by myself, (so) we agreed that having his family around would help him cope better with his trauma and, it has,” said Tommie. Finally settled in Texas, Jason and his wife Tommie were focused on living a simple, satisfying life.

While the family remains tight, this year served up three hard hits.

Jason went on medication for pain management, but his dosage was incorrect and had severe repercussions for the veteran. Jason had a seizure, was hospitalized, and was out of work for four months.

The couple gradually recovered from that experience and decided to use their income tax refund to open their own car repair shop since Jason is a certified mechanic. With only word of mouth advertising, the shop did not generate enough income to pay the bills.

To supplement their income, Jason became a driver until his shop could make more money. The couple was on the road to financial recovery once again when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. Their home flooded during the hurricane and then Jason was out of work for two weeks because of area flooding.

The third financial blow hit the family hard. With six kids, including one attending college and two months’ worth of rent due, the family was forced to look outward for assistance. They also needed help to pay for repairs to their washer and dryer.

Reluctantly, Jason and Tommie reached out to Operation Homefront for help. “Asking for help is extremely hard and it hits your pride. From the first time we spoke, Kerry (Operation Homefront caseworker) made me feel like she really cared. When Kerry called and said Operation Homefront would help, we never felt ashamed or embarrassed. Kerry was on our team and working with us,” said Tommie.

“Both of us were pretty emotional,” said Tommie. “Your donors have no idea the impact that they had on our family. Without you and your donors, two adults and six kids would be out on the streets. There are no words to express our gratitude.”

“Operation Homefront is amazing,” continued Tommie. “Our caseworker Kerry was wonderful, sympathetic, and compassionate.

“We are very grateful for you and your donors—people who actually care.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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Continuing our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, where we spotlight the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront.  You can find previous stories here:

Veterans like Nataly Morales and Joshua Virola embody the can-do spirit found in so many other former service members, who volunteer, on average, more hours than nonveterans.

While the rate of volunteering among all Americans, 25.5 percent of the population, is comparable to the volunteering rate for veterans, veterans put in an average of 43 more hours per year for a total of 169 hours, according to a 2016 study, the Veterans Civic Health Index.

Nataly, a Marine from 2002 through 2004, and her husband, Joshua, who served 15 years and deployed three times on active duty and as a reservist with the Marine Corps, received gifts from Operation Homefront’s Holiday Toy Drive in 2014 for their children, Carisma, 14; Faith, 9; and Isaiah, 7. After that, the whole family became regular volunteers for Operation Homefront over the next two years, until right before they moved to Texas at the end of 2016, when Joshua got out of the Marines as an E-5.

“They immediately asked how they could give back and started volunteering for every event,” said Vivian Dietrich, an Operation Homefront regional director.

Even though Nataly and Joshua were busy preparing for their move from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to Grand Prairie, Texas, they helped OH bag and transport the P&G products, including cleaning supplies and tissues, that were given away at the 2016 Thanksgiving Holiday Meals for Military event. First, they drove their car, while an OH staff member drove her vehicle, over two hours away to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to pick up the stored goods and bring them to a storage facility in Jacksonville, North Carolina, closer to Camp Lejeune. Later, Nataly and Joshua retrieved the products, and brought them to the event site at a school, using the U-Haul truck they had rented for their move to Texas. They also helped fill the reusable Thirty-One tote bags with groceries provided by Walmart.

Their children helped at OH events too, organizing supplies or handing out refreshments. “I’ve always tried to teach them to help, and they love it,” Nataly said. “It’s really cute to see them work.”

For Nataly and people like her, helping others is a form of sustenance. “We made the time,” she said. “It felt good.”

“We would have people over to our house on a daily basis because they didn’t have food,” Nataly said. Their dinner company included a lance corporal, his wife and their two young kids, and a sergeant, his wife and their two children.

“Usually, we’re the givers and we never take,” said Nataly, adding that’s why they were so appreciative of OH’s assistance. “Anytime that we receive anything from any kind of program, I cry because we’ve had some really rough times,” she said. “The kids have seen and have felt the rough times that we’ve had. To have people that actually care and they donate things, it breaks my heart. That meant a lot.”

In keeping with their giving nature, Nataly and Joshua chose where to live after he left the Corps, based on where they are needed the most.

Having met while both were on active duty, they each have family in their respective home states — Texas for Nataly and New York for Joshua. They chose Texas partly because of its lower cost of living, but mainly so they can help Nataly’s family. Her mom is sick with lupus and other health conditions; one sister is a single mom of three kids; and another sister has a child with special needs. “There’s a lot more need here,” she said. Her brother, a Marine Corps master sergeant stationed in Virginia, has kids who also live in north Texas. The third weekend of every month, Nataly cares for his kids, and takes them to their soccer games.

The family continues its volunteering with The Miracle League Dallas Fort Worth, for children with disabilities who want to play baseball, including Nataly’s niece.

Joshua works as a crane mechanic. He and Nataly hope his latest transition to civilian life goes better than a previous attempt. “We tried the civilian world for a little bit,” said Nataly, referring to the earlier stint in 2008, in between Josh’s active-duty and reservist periods. “It didn’t work out.”

Joshua first served four years on active duty, got out, and deployed to Iraq as a reservist for six months in 2006. During his 2008 stint as a civilian, he had found work as a warehouse manager. The company moved them to Mohave Valley, Arizona, “one of the hottest places I’ve ever lived,” and laid him off six months later, Nataly said. “We were stuck there. We had no money to move back home.” The only income was from Nataly working from home as a flooring estimator for her dad. “We were able to pay the rent, but we were behind on the cars,” she said. “We had a hard time with food. It was the worst year.”

Joshua was gone a lot after being laid off, trying to get back into the Marine Corps. After returning to active duty in early 2009, he deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in 2010. Another year-long deployment to Afghanistan followed in 2011 and 2012.

Nataly works as a pregnancy educator at the American Pregnancy Association. She also takes classes at both Tarrant County College and University of Texas at Arlington. She expects to complete her associate degree in December, and will apply for UTA’s social work program in the spring. She wants to work with veterans, using what she has learned and experienced to assist others going through trying times. “I want them to get the help that they need,” she said. “I want to be that one person who makes a difference. If anybody understands them, it’s another veteran.”

We are grateful for our veterans, those who chose to raise their hand when they pledged to defend our country. Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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Diana estimates Back-to-School Brigade™ saved her about $100 in 2013 and again in 2015.

Navy wife Diana Moyer saw information about registering for Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade on Facebook. At the time, she and her husband, Steven, were stationed at Great Lakes Naval Station, Illinois. “In Great Lakes, there were a couple web sites that were really great about getting the information out,” she said. Diana registered her oldest son for the Back-to-School Brigade™ event, held at the community center in the Moyers’ housing complex.

The Back-to-School Brigade™ program saves families money by providing backpacks and school supplies for military children. Since inception in 2008, the program has distributed over 250,000 back packs filled with school supplies to military children nationwide. As any parent of school-aged children can tell you, the cost of school supplies can quickly add up, especially in families with multiple children.

Not knowing what to expect from her first Operation Homefront event, Diana was impressed by how organized everything was. Though the line was long, “they were great with getting us through,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling like the kids were going to get lost.” School supplies were organized by grade. “Each kid was able to pick up the box they needed. They picked out their backpack.”

“It was great,” Diana continued. “We didn’t get everything we needed for school, but it was a huge help.” She estimated Back-to-School Brigade™ saved her about $100 in 2013 and again in 2015. The kids re-used their backpacks in 2014, which added to the savings, she said. Their son, Jaxon, now 5, wasn’t old enough to register, but received a backpack because organizers had extras left over.

Diana is looking forward to coming to our Back-to-School Brigade this year in Norfolk, where the family is now stationed.

Diana saw how helpful Back-to-School Brigade™ was for other Great Lakes families too. Recruit division commanders work such long hours during certain periods, “it’s like they’re almost deployed,” she said. “It’s one less thing, especially when you’re stationed away from family.” Not only does Back-to-School Brigade™ help alleviate some of the financial impact of buying back-to-school supplies, but also cuts down on errands. Minimizing the “runaround,” was a great help because at that time, Jaxon was newly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, so going anywhere was “a battle,” Diana said. BTSB enabled her to go shopping with just her older son, Connor, now 10, so he could pick out a few special items. “I only had to stop at one place,” she said. “I didn’t have to run to 900 places.”

Their daughter, Romayne, now 3, wasn’t old enough to participate, though OH provided something for preschoolers too so they wouldn’t feel left out: a little suitcase with coloring books.

Diana has registered for the 2017 BTSB in Norfolk, where they now live, glad for the support while Steven, a petty officer 1st class gas turbine electrician, is deployed.

The impact of Back-to-School Brigade™ goes beyond just the family. “I have a lot of teachers in my family,” Diana said. Knowing that the bulk of her kids’ supplies are covered, Diana would buy a couple extra boxes of tissues or containers of wipes for the class, she said.

Diana appreciates that Operation Homefront recognizes the importance of military service, respects the sacrifices that family members make, and shows that through events like Back-to-School Brigade™.

Registration for Back-to-School Brigade™ 2017 events is now open! This July, join Operation Homefront as we help welcome thousands of military families into communities across the county through our #1Mil1Fam Back-to-School Brigade.

 

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