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Another summer comes to a close and a new school year begins. For you lucky ones not going back until after Labor Day…enjoy some sun for us! But no matter when you start back, we have a message for you:

You’ve Got This!

These military kids from our BTSB event at Fort Campbell are ready to go!

 

We also have another message: Thank you.

 

 

Thank you to our military families for joining us at our Back-to-School Brigade® events at more than 60 locations across the USA in July and August.  Getting to meet all of you is one of our greatest joys.  Seeing some of you again is like a get together with friends.

 

Back-to-School Brigade at JBER Alaska served 200 military children.

Our Mid-Atlantic Field Office welcomed 1,800 military children at their events…1,000 at Norfolk alone.

These smiles! Priceless!

Our TNKY Field Office served 1,000 military children at Fort Campbell, and another 250 at Fort Knox.

No better feeling in the world than to know you made a child smile.

 

Thank you to our national partners Dollar Tree and SAIC who have been steadfast supporters of military families through our Back-to-School Brigade program. Dollar Tree, our partner for 10 years, collected donated supplies at over 6,000 stores nationwide over the course of the program.

 

Dollar Tree staff came out to help at BTSB Norfolk.

 

Thanks to these amazing organizations, our program just keeps getting better and better.

 

SAIC volunteers in Kansas City stuffed more than 300 backpacks full of school supplies for military kids in the Kansas/Missouri area.

We would also like to thank all of the community organizations around the country that attended our events and brought information and resources to our military families.

Thank you to our volunteers.  These events require a ton of planning and man-hours, and you are the reason that we can host over 60 events nationwide to support thousands more families at bases from Maine to Alaska, Hawaii to Idaho, and everywhere in between.

 

Our volunteers make the magic happen. Here are some of our friends at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Volunteers of all ages helped out at our events, such as this family team from Colorado Springs, CO.

 

You can find all BTSB2018 albums on our Flickr page.  We are still receiving and uploading event images, so please check back if you do not see your even yet.

Get out those cameras and snap your best “Back-to-School” image because we still have more fun waiting. Our friends at Procter & Gamble invite you to celebrate the start of the school year by sending your child’s “First Day of School” photo for a chance to win a $150 Amazon Gift Card! Go to https://startstrongpg.com/firstday for details and official rules. Deadline to enter is Sept. 7. Thank you to our friends at Procter & Gamble for celebrating military kids!

Have a GREAT school year!

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Deb Mullinex (left) with our Director of Volunteers, Charlotte Merriam (middle) and volunteer captain, Meleeza Brown (left). Deb and Meleeza are both long term volunteers with Operation Homefront.

Giving, caring and sharing is at the heart of every Operation Homefront (OH) volunteer and Deb Mullinax is a great example of that generous spirit. Deb has been volunteering for OH for over 16 years, first as a Navy spouse in Norfolk, Virginia, and now as a team captain in Jacksonville, Florida. She plans to continue helping military families because she remembers what it was like for her as a military child.

“I saw my mother struggle with three kids being military,” Deb said.  “I knew what it was like for her, and I know it hasn’t changed.  Until my father made officer, it was really hard.”  Deb’s father retired from the Navy after 30 years.

In October, Deb’s husband, Max, also retired from the Navy as a master chief with 30 years of service, including 26 years of sea duty.  She and Max married in 1992, were stationed in Norfolk for over 20 years, and moved to Florida in 2012.

The next event Deb helps with will be the Back-to-School Brigade (BTSB).  Each summer, near military bases across the country, OH distributes backpacks filled with most of the school supplies military children need to succeed in school. The supplies are generously donated by OH partners, like Dollar Tree, whose customers support the program at thousands of stores nationwide.  Since 2008, OH’s BTSB program has distributed over 300,000 backpacks to military families, saving them money and hassle because they often face special challenges such as frequent relocations and deployments.

Deb adores seeing the kids’ faces light up.  But even more, “I like to see the look of the young parent that can’t afford to buy stuff,” she said.  “The relief of the sailors themselves. That’s my satisfaction.  And that’s my husband’s satisfaction.”

Deb said it’s even harder for today’s parents because schools give them a two-page list of items their kids are supposed to bring.  “If you have a family of three or four, you cannot do it on their budget,” Deb said.  “Their pay has not gone up much at all.”

When military families get transferred to a new base, they are only allowed to bring belongings weighing a certain amount, taking up a certain amount of space, so sometimes they must leave behind items such as backpacks and their contents, Deb said.

Junior enlisted families receive priority registering for BTSB, for children 5 and up.  Not wanting to leave out kids under 5, Deb put together sacks for little ones too young to receive a backpack, using drawstring bags donated by Whataburger and various items she had left over from previous collections.  “They were ecstatic over it,” she said.  “They got their own ‘backpack.’  They wanted their picture taken with it and everything.  That was awesome.”

In early July, Deb contacts Dollar Tree store managers to arrange supply pickups.  With 10 stores to collect from, Deb might drive 100 miles or more over two days, filling their truck, at personal expense.  The couple has learned to live with stacks and piles of donated goods temporarily stored at their home.  The night before the BTSB event, Deb and Max arrive at the rec center to set up tables and organize.

Deb often works with another long-time OH volunteer team captain, Meleeza Brown, an assistant manager at Navy Federal Credit Union.  “I love doing it,” said Meleeza, whose husband retired from the Navy 18 years ago as an E-6.  “I really love to give back to the military family.”

Meleeza will keep volunteering because she remembers tight budgets when her husband was an E-3.  “We’ve been there — I know how it is.”  She can relate because the Browns have three grown children.  “When it’s time for back to school, when you don’t have enough to buy everything the kids need … it’s kind of difficult.”

Deb and Meleeza also help recruit and train OH volunteers, and assist with other Operation Homefront programs, including Holiday Toy Drive and Holiday Meals for Military (HMFM), which provide toys and holiday meal ingredients to service members and their families.

“I see that E-1, E-2, E-3 parent … excited that they got either food or what they need for their kids’ supplies,” Deb said.  “Just to see the relief on the parent’s face — my kid’s going to get a bike, my kid’s going to get that basketball.  When they come to pick up a meal, they don’t care what’s in it — they have something. … That’s why I do it. This is my passion.”


Registration for 2018 Back-to-School Brigade is now open! Check out our Events page to see if there is a Back-to-School Brigade event in your area. If you don’t see an event, thanks to our partnership with Dollar Tree, free school supplies may be available through your local FRG or participating organization. Be sure to build and/or check your profile for new events. IMPORTANT: If you already have a registration profile built, please make sure all information is up-to-date, especially your child’s grade, before you register.

You can also help support our Back-to-School Brigade by donating school supplies at your local Dollar Tree or by donating to our current need, Help Provide Backpacks To Military Kids Across the U.S.

Thank You, Dollar Tree, for 10 years of supporting our Back-to-School Brigade!

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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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