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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ViktorVolPicA Heart The Size of Texas:

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

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

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

 

ErikaVolPicA Born Volunteer:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’” Martin Luther King, Jr.

This third Monday of January, we recognize the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Over the years, it has also become a day to honor his legacy by encouraging a day of community service, “a day on, not a day off.”

A common theme expressed throughout his speeches is simply recognizing the value of each other. That we all have worth, that we all can be a driving force for change, and that together, we can overcome the seemingly impossible. One way to do that is through service and giving back.

military-counsellingMaking a difference is not just about money, or time, or goods supplied, although all of those certainly have the most immediate impact. The support that helps us fix a family’s only car while dad is deployed, or helps an injured soldier keep the roof over his family’s head while he recovers and navigates the VA leviathan is critical. But what is often overlooked is the enduring impact that the support of our community has: the connection we make with another human being at a time when they are most vulnerable and even hopeless.

Dr. King’s words often expressed the feeling one has when they don’t feel they have options, or value. When they feel overlooked or abandoned. Our families are always relieved and grateful for the financial assistance they receive, but what they often remark upon, at times, quite emotionally, is how much it matters that someone cared. That they are not alone, and how, when ready, they intend to pay it forward.

This is how we begin to change the world. One family, one hand lifting up another, one message of hope that can be passed on.

Through service and giving back, we see each other more clearly, and achieve deeper understanding of our individual journeys. Volunteering brings together people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to meet. It is in these encounters that we weave the connections that strengthen our communities and help begin solving what can seem overwhelming.

It will take more than one day, once a year, but today can be a start.

Here are some links to help you find opportunities near you:

For information on getting involved with Operation Homefront’s mission, click here http://www.operationhomefront.net/getinvolved

Points of Light has helped millions of volunteers change the world. They mobilize people to take action on the causes they care about through innovative programs, events and campaigns. Points of Light is creating a culture of volunteerism, one that celebrates the power of service. http://www.pointsoflight.org/

VolunteerMatch strengthens communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect. The organization offers a variety of online services to support a community of nonprofit, volunteer and business leaders committed to civic engagement http://www.volunteermatch.org/

Serve.gov, the online home of United We Serve, is managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency charged with promoting and fostering volunteering and national service in America http://www.serve.gov/

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Are you ready to have a “Goode” time giving? Giving Tuesday donations made to Operation Homefront at Answer the Call will be matched, up to $100,000, thanks to some “goode” friends of ours!

Our friends at Murphy Goode like to say that they take their wine seriously, but “ourselves not so much.” Having been honored to work with their amazing team over the last few years, we know they combine world class winemaking with world class wit.

Jump over to their Facebook page, and you will see that not a “holiday” goes unnoticed by the Murphy Goode crew. “National Bad Poetry Day.” Check. “National Nut Day.” Yep, they’re on it. We’re pretty sure if you emailed them with a picture of your cat and one of their vintages, and asked them to help celebrate your kitty’s birthday on their social media, they might just consider it. They’re sassy and cheeky and always up for fun, but throughout it all, you can see that deep down, the Murphy Goode team holds a collection of huge hearts and a zest for life.

Part of that passion includes the desire to give back. And all kidding aside, there is no a doubt that what they do take seriously is support of our country’s military families and veterans.

For the last several years, Murphy Goode has been an exceptional supporter of Operation Homefront’s mission to provide emergency support and other assistance to the families of our service members and wounded warriors. From hosting special events to honor families to the creation of a special wine with a portion of proceeds going to Operation Homefront programs, they have demonstrated that the same care and attention, passion and joy that they exhibit in making wine is the same they give to making a difference for those who sacrifice so much for us.

So when we sent out an invitation to #AnswertheCall, they did. In a very special way. And thanks to their very generous support, you can #AnswertheCall today and have an even greater impact. As part of a large effort to raise awareness and support for our military families, today, Giving Tuesday donations made to Operation Homefront at Answer the Call will be matched, up to $100,000.00!

Supporting military families and veterans is a natural fit for Murphy Goode. Winemaker Dave Ready, Jr shares why giving back to military families is so important: “My family has a long military background dating back to World War I, where my great grandfather Bill Ready served in the Army. They were proud to serve our great country and would all be excited about helping our returning soldiers that gave so much for us.”

Just think of all the “Goode” we could do together. You+Operation Homefront+Murphy Goode=Perfect Match!

MGlogow_est_winery_OL

 

 

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587px-Omaha_Beach_wounded_soldiers,_1944-06-06The call. They have answered the call since before we were even officially a nation. They answered the call to form a union and then a century later, to preserve a union. They are our service members.

They have answered the call to go to foreign shores: Europe, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Afghanistan and most recently West Africa. They go to fight enemies, defend freedom, and provide emergency response and crisis intervention for those facing unbearable odds. They lay at rest in Arlington, and in small towns, and in places with names like Aisne-Marnes, Belleau Wood. 17,000 in Manila, almost 3,000 in North Africa.

Over 80,000[1] remain Missing in Action.

On average, 22 a day are lost to the ghosts of war that came home with them.

We at Operation Homefront answer calls every day from active duty and wounded, ill or injured veterans. They reach out through email and our social channels. Others reach out for them, becoming a voice when they can’t find theirs. We understand the high cost exacted from service to country. And we are honored to be the one they turn to when they need help. That we can do so is in no small part because there are those who answer the call in other ways. Through donations, volunteering, raising awareness.

Battle-BuddiesWe are dedicating the rest of 2014 to those brave men and women now and over the centuries who have honored us with their service by honoring theirs with our #AnswertheCall campaign.

From January through October 2014, Operation Homefront provided over $4 million in emergency financial assistance to military families, a 23 percent increase from the same time last year. We are meeting more needs than ever, which is why we need your help. Help us #AnswerTheCall this #GivingTuesday

How?

GIVE: Visit our special Answer the Call page for ways to show your support for our military men and women, our wounded warriors and their families. Tomorrow, Giving Tuesday, we’ll have a special announcement on how you can have an even bigger impact on meeting the needs of our military and wounded warrior families. Be sure to check in with us on our Facebook page and blog.

RAISE AWARENESS: Tell us why you will answer the call on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We will showcase messages on our Get Social page. Be sure to use #AnswerTheCall.

VOLUNTEER: Without the dedicated support of volunteers, we would not be able to accomplish our mission. From our special event volunteers to our staff-level volunteers, each person makes a life-changing and immeasurable valuable gift to our families. Find your local Field Office at www.operationhomefront.net

Military life is challenging, and the holiday season can be even more so. Help us let our military know they are not forgotten, and that when they need us, we will be there. Answer the call now.

[1] http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/summary_statistics/index.htm

 

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It’s National Volunteer Week. What can we say about volunteers…

They are the heart and soul of not just our organization, but of every organization that strives to make a difference and have an impact in their corners of the universe.

As the quotes goes… “Volunteers are love in motion”. And we’d like to share some of that love (and some favorite quotes) with you as we say “Thank You” to the thousands of volunteers across the country that help Operation Homefront make a difference in the lives of our military families and wounded, ill or injured veterans.

 

“A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles.”- Washington Irving

A young volunteer gives back to our military families at Holiday Meals for Military 2013

A young volunteer gives back to our military families at Holiday Meals for Military 2013

 

“If you want to touch the past, touch a rock. If you want to touch the present, touch a flower. If you want to touch the future, touch a life.” ~Author Unknown

Every day, our volunteers are out in the community raising awareness of our mission and support for military families

Every day, our volunteers are out in the community raising awareness of our mission and support for military families

 

“The world is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers.”~ Everett Mámor

 

Volunteers help welcome the newest members of our military families at Star Spangled Baby Showers for military moms all across the country.

Volunteers help welcome the newest members of our military families at Star Spangled Baby Showers for military moms all across the country.

 

“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” ~James Matthew Barrie

The wonderful mother and daughter teams of the National Charity lend a helping hand to the Easter Bunny visiting military families in Texas 2013

The wonderful mother and daughter teams of the National Charity lend a helping hand to the Easter Bunny visiting military families in Texas 2013

 

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” –Benjamin Franklin

The wonderful mother and daughter teams of the National Charity lend a helping hand to the Easter Bunny visiting military families in Texas 2013

The wonderful mother and daughter teams of the National Charity lend a helping hand to the Easter Bunny visiting military families in Texas 2013

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To learn how you can Get Involved with Operation Homefront’s mission, click here or visit www.operationhomefront.net and find the Field Office closest to you. Also check out Points of Light, a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of volunteer service.

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