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It is our honor to announce the recipients of the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award.

“These seven award recipients are among the best of their generation in terms of scholarship and service to their communities.  What is even more remarkable is that they make a profound difference in the lives of others and perform spectacularly in the classroom all while demonstrating resiliency in the face of the challenges inherent in military life,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront. “We had nearly 400 nominees for the ninth annual Military Child of the Year® Awards who personified resiliency, leadership, achievement, and strength of character. Their families, their communities, and our staff, volunteers, and corporate partners at Operation Homefront are justifiably very proud of them.”

Without further ado, here are they are!

 

Henderson Heussner, Army Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-army-henderson-heussner-225-x-281-pixelsHenderson’s family moved to Florida from Colorado as his father was deployed to Afghanistan and as the family was caring for Henderson’s terminally ill grandfather. Henderson, recipient of the 2017 Army Military Child of the Year® Award, shouldered the emotional burden and set a leadership-by-example standard for his peers. A student-athlete and member of the Estero High School varsity baseball team – who worked tirelessly to rebuild his strength after he suffered two broken vertebrae during his sophomore year – Henderson spent many hours alone in the batting cage in August 2016 in the sweltering Florida heat. He was not alone for long because he led one teammate after another to join him in putting forth the same spare-time voluntary pursuit of excellence. That is but one example of Henderson’s leadership and can-do spirit. Henderson also devoted 240 volunteer hours in the year leading up to his nomination as a tutor and mentor for at-risk children and teens at the nonprofit New Horizons of Southwest Florida. Henderson, a onetime American Legion Boys State delegate and West Point Summer Leadership Experience participant, also served multiple terms as class president and as Student Government president. He has spent hundreds of hours as a youth group leader, Sports Camp counselor and Sunday School teacher at Summit Church.

 

Alexander McGrath, Navy Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-navy-alexander-mcgrath-225-x-281-pixelsAlexander McGrath, the 2017 Navy Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, in addition to spending time with his friends, spends some of his spare time reading U.S. Supreme Court opinions as well as books about the U.S. Constitution. It is a fitting activity for this 17-year-old Severna Park Senior High School senior, who has established a laudable track record of influencing public policy in the state of Maryland. As first vice president of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, which represents more than 80,000 county students at all levels of government, Alexander organized 700 students to lobby in favor of three education reform bills that would come before the Maryland General Assembly, which is the name of Maryland’s state legislature. He instructed his peers on the legislative process and on the effective use of talking points. He also arranged meetings between the hundreds of public school students and state lawmakers. Ultimately, all three bills got to committee and two became law. Alexander has long advocated on behalf of students from military families as well, personally bringing the needs of military children, notably those needs protected under the Interstate Military Compact, to the forefront of the Maryland State Board of Education’s attention.

 

Jackson Beatty, Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-marine-corps-jackson-beatty-225-x-281-pixelsJackson Beatty is an 18-year-old senior at Lejeune High School and recipient of the 2017 Marine Corps Military Child of the Year® Award. He began studying Kenpo karate at the age of 4 and achieved his black belt at 16. He has served as captain of the high school wrestling team. He competed at the 2017 North Carolina State Wrestling Championships and placed third in the 1A 106-pound weight class. He has qualified for the State Championship for the last three years and that was his best finish. He has been captain of the Marching Band drumline. He has a near-perfect GPA and has an outstanding track record of volunteerism, thusly giving back to the community, especially to children. Jackson has achieved these milestones through his skeletal dysplasia, a condition which hampers the growth and development of bones and joints. Working in conjunction with the Semper Fi Fund, which serves the children of wounded warriors, Jackson has been a mentor to other students participating in the Outdoor Odyssey Leadership Academy. Jackson is a Lejeune High School Band Booster, raising money for competition and band necessities. Jackson teaches karate to children in his spare time at Wright’s Mixed Martial Arts.

 

Jamal Braxton, Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-air-force-jamal-braxton-225-x-281-pixelsVarsity swimming. Varsity cross country. Varsity outdoor track and field.  Jamal Braxton, the 2017 Air Force Military Child of the Year® Award recipient and future United States Air Force Academy Class of 2021 cadet, has been an achiever in them all.  This 18-year-old senior at Northridge High School in Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is distinguished, above all, by his selfless service to others. Jamal fills numerous leadership positions at the Red Cross, including Northern Utah Youth Co-Chair for Services to Armed Forces, Northern Utah Youth Co-Chair for International Services, Student Staff for Red Cross Leadership Development Camp, Member for the American Red Cross of Northern Utah Board of Directors, and the Northern Utah Youth Co-President. In these capacities, Jamal oversees monthly veteran house visits, youth group and leadership group meetings, numerous activities related to the armed forces, the recruitment of future Red Cross Youth Services leaders, and numerous fundraisers, including the International Measles & Rubella initiative fundraiser. He also educates youth on International Humanitarian Law. Serving military families abroad as well as domestically, Jamal earned the Commander’s Leadership Award from the 52nd Fighter Wing Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, in 2013 and in 2014. Jamal in the U.S. and overseas has been a champion for the nonprofit New Eyes for the Needy.

 

Molly Frey, National Guard Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-national-guard-molly-frey-225-x-281-pixelsAlthough only 16, Molly Frey is a senior at Pickerington High School North in Pickerington, Ohio, and recipient of the 2017 National Guard Military Child of the Year® Award. She has been accepted to Capital University, where she will major in biology, with an emphasis on pre-med, and will play golf for the Capital Crusaders. For her academic excellence, Molly received a letter from President Barack Obama that read, in part, “Students like you will chart the course of our country’s unwritten history…” As a figure skater, dedicated to causes that benefit the troops, Molly and her coach in 2012 created the inaugural and annual figure skating show Tribute to the Troops, a program to honor the military and to collect donated items to send to deployed service members. She also raised funds and participated for five years in Skate for Hope, accumulating more than $6,000 for Breast Cancer research. Beyond the arts, Molly has served in the leadership group Students Serving Students, which is designed to improve character, bolster school climate, and organize events.

 

Mary Kate Cooper, Coast Guard Military Child of the Year® Award

for-website-coast-guard-mary-kate-cooper-225-x-281-pixelsMary Kate Cooper, the 2017 Coast Guard Military Child of the Year® Award recipient, is a 17-year-old junior at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Va. A triple threat, Mary Kate is a scholar who is taking AP Calculus B/C as a junior and has a weighted 4.7 GPA. She is a star multi-sport athlete of national and international acclaim and a community activist who has devoted countless volunteer hours to the betterment of her peers and to strengthening a broader understanding of those with disabilities. That description does not even scratch the surface of Mary Kate’s life, which is practically the definition of resiliency. Mary Kate is a below-the-knee amputee from birth who has only known life with a prosthetic leg. She has transitioned from playing recreational soccer against able-bodied kids to competing at the highest level in Paralympic sports. In addition to earning All-American High School status in Track and Field from the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Olympic Committee, Mary has become a top swimmer, competing on the international level in the Can-Am Swimming Open. Mary Kate was one of the few athletes to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Trials in more than one sport. While Mary Kate did not earn a spot on Team USA last year, in her best swimming event, she ranked 36th in the world.

 

Sophie Bernstein, Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton

for-website-innovation-sophie-bernstein-225-x-281-pixelsRecipient of the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation, Sophie Bernstein, a 17-year-old junior at Clayton High School in St. Louis, is passionate about food and about social justice. Sophie’s twin passions propelled her award-winning Innovation. Committed to improving the health of her community, Sophie has built, planted, maintained and harvested 22 raised vegetable gardens at low-income daycare centers and shelters in the St. Louis area. Sophie’s innovation has raised awareness of childhood hunger in the community, and it has increased the volume of fresh and healthy produce available at food banks and at child care facilities. Sophie had donated more than 13,570 pounds of produce to local food banks and to families in need by the time she was nominated for the award in the fall of 2016. Sophie’s project has been a hands-on learning lab for children as she has led 225 science technology engineering and math (STEM) botany and plant science workshops for young children throughout the year. In the process, students at low-income pre-schools are engaged in building, planting and maintaining produce gardens.

 

What’s next?

Each award recipient will receive $10,000 and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for a special recognition gala on April 6, during which senior military leaders will present the awards. In addition to the $10,000 cash award, the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation award recipient will receive a mentorship by Booz Allen Hamilton employees to scale or to advance the recipient’s project.

We would like to express our thanks to our presenting sponsor for the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Awards Gala, United Technologies Corporation, along with sponsors Booz Allen Hamilton, Murphy-Goode Winery, La Quinta Inns & Suites, MidAtlanticBroadband, and the Military Times.

Check back with us as we shine a spotlight on our recipients over the next few weeks and stay tuned for details on how you can join us LIVE from the April 6th gala on our Facebook page.

Find out more about our Military Child of the Year®  Award program at www.militarychildoftheyear.org

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teamdepotblog1Mission. It is something that comes up almost immediately when we talk about what we do here at Operation Homefront.

In deeper discussions, many of us in the non-profit community will bring up another word. Calling. Most all of us in the Operation Homefront community have met one or more military or veteran families that have had a profound impact on us individually. Sometimes, fate, or destiny, brings that message home in away that moves us deeply and reminds us that there is a greater purpose to our existence. The time when being in the right place at the right time changed a life.

Last month on our blog, we wrote about how a chance meeting between a weary traveler and a soldier on Thanksgiving Eve led to thousands of holiday meals being distributed to families ever since through our Holiday Meals for Military program. Recently, the right place at the right time for one struggling veteran family was the plumbing aisle of Home Depot in Hiram GA.

A caring employee at the store finds a woman sobbing while surveying plumbing fixtures, clearly at her wit’s end. The employee could have walked on by. But he didn’t. What poured forth from the woman was heart-breaking: her husband was a veteran with severe PTSD and physical injuries. They had four children, one with special needs. She was struggling to handle it all in a home seemingly falling down around them.

teamdepotblog2The “we-help-veterans” ethos in Home Depot stores is imbued in every staff member, so he brought her to the store’s Pro Desk to see what could be done.

Fast forward a few months. Operation Homefront, along with partners Home Depot Foundation and ServPro, came to the rescue to remediate mold, repair rain-damaged drywall, install a new water heater, replace hole-laden and uneven flooring, and install new and working cabinetry.

Together, we were able to make their house not just “livable”, but love-able.

teamdepotblog3These repairs won’t fix everything that troubles this family, true. It doesn’t fix the service member’s health issues. It doesn’t address the special needs of this woman’s fourth child. There is still much ahead for this family to tackle. But now the family has a safe, clean place in which to live so they can move on and up to a stable and secure future.

Thank you to our friends at The Home Depot Foundation for seeing that this family deserved more and making it happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did you choose to support Operation Homefront?

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

cvsinthecommunityblog3Which Operation Homefront programs resonated with CVS most?

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

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

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kenruffblog

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

By Erin Patterson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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kathy-cox-blog

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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walmartblog1

By Emily Schmid
Director, Walmart Digital Communications
November 11, 2016
(reprinted with permission. Original article can be found here.)

Twelve years ago, Michael del Rosario was a Captain in the U.S. Army looking to make the transition back to civilian life. He loved the military, but wanted to focus on starting a new chapter with his family.

An officer with years of experience, Michael had no shortage of job prospects in the private sector and it wasn’t long before he had a decision to make. But after a series of interviews with Walmart, Michael knew he had found the perfect place.

So in 2004, Michael began his new career as an Operations Manager in Tobyhannah, Pennsylvania. It was a big change at first, but the support from his fellow associates helped.

“There were some prior service veterans that I had the good fortune to be reporting to, and they would sit down with me and make me feel that I had all the time in the world to talk about any of the struggles that we all have,” he said.

Drawing on his military leadership experience, Michael brought a unique perspective to his new role. Today, he is General Transportation Manager at a Walmart distribution center in Woodland, Pennsylvania, where he oversees everything from maintenance of vehicles to the safety department that ensures the well-being of his team.

Once he finally felt established in his new life as a private citizen, Michael started thinking about how to give back.

“I figured it was my turn to reach backwards and pull somebody else up,” he said.

So he volunteered to join the Walmart Foundation State Advisory Council, which is comprised of managers across each state who help support local communities. Once onboard, he noticed that despite the strong veteran presence in Pennsylvania, no veterans’ organizations were applying for grants. That’s when he found Operation Homefront, an organization that provides financial assistance to military families and veterans.

He brought the organization to the council’s attention, and soon Michael was off to deliver a check himself. He and the organization’s regional director instantly connected over their shared passion. So well, in fact, that before he left that day, the director asked Michael to join Operation Homefront’s advisory board.

Ever since, Michael has made it his mission to make a difference in the lives of military families. Last year, Michael received the Walmart Logistics Community Champion Award for his work with Operation Homefront, which under his leadership, coordinated the efforts of more than 170 volunteers, 6,500 volunteer hours, and fundraising efforts that raised more than $350,000 for veterans in 2015.

Through his work with Operation Homefront, Michael also began working with Penn State University’s Military Appreciation Committee. Together they organize events like Seats for Service Members, which donates free Penn State football tickets to military families. Every year at a Military Appreciation Day football game, Michael assembles the volunteer forces of Operation Homefront, Walmart, and Penn State to throw a massive cookout for current and active service members and their families.

Earlier this month, 500 Walmart volunteers converged on State College to serve food to nearly 10,000 military families before the game.

“It’s just great to be able to show them that we have their backs, and that we haven’t forgotten what they’ve been through, and most of all, that we truly appreciate what they’ve done for our country,” he said.

Michael has received multiple honors for his support for veterans, but he’ll be the first to tell you that the recognition is the result of the teamwork from his fellow Walmart volunteers.

“It’s not just me,” he insisted. “It’s the teammates I’ve got around me.”

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yovonnie-wordlow-pic1U. S. Army Specialist Yovonnie Wordlow had one main reason for enlisting in the Army – to get her education paid for. Ironically, after enlisting, she realized there was no time to go to college. Nevertheless, Yovonnie grew to love her job as a chemical specialist in the military and took pride in being in the service as a soldier and as part of a whole battalion.

In 2015, after serving for ten years, she was medically separated with an honorable discharge. As a veteran and single mother, Yovonnie has had to juggle taking care of her own health while attending to the needs of her three children, ages six, five and four. Yovonnie copes with her service-related injuries on a daily basis, which includes a disability stemming from two hip replacements.

Despite her struggles, Yovonnie weathered several financial hardships until the home she was renting was sold and her family was forced to move in with a friend. Yovonnie was no longer sure what her future would be.

Through an active duty friend, she learned about Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. With the support of donors and dedicated corporate partners, this program provides mortgage-free homes and supportive services to veterans and their families. Once families are matched with a home, they work with an Operation Homefront caseworker for the next two to three years to help build up their savings, reduce their debts and establish a budget plan so that they are better prepared for home ownership.

Yovonnie saw that there was a home in the Little Rock area, near her family, so she applied and was awarded a mortgage-free home.

“It means everything for me and my family,” said Yovonnie. “It is a fresh start. I have had a lot of obstacles – it’s a new beginning and new start for us.”

yovonnie-wordlow-pic2In September, Yovonnie was one of five veteran families who were recognized at the Military Heroes Keys for Life event at the annual Five Star Conference and Expo, where Operation Homefront joined the Five Star Institute and Chase to officially award the homes to these deserving families.

“It will help me start a savings plan and college fund for my children,” added Yovonnie. “I want to be an asset for nonprofits and start helping locally. I can’t say thank you enough – it’s a blessing. Thank you for a new beginning.”

Yovonnie is now busy getting back on track towards a strong, stable and secure future. She is currently focused on growing her personal business and spending quality time with her children and is returning to school with plans to earn a degree in psychology and social work. Eventually, Yovonnie would like to pursue a career in life coaching and life mentoring, especially work with young teenage girls and women on their self-esteem and provide motivational speaking skills.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life

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