Posts Tagged ‘volunteers’

Guest blog by Angela Costa, Community Investment Analyst, CSX

As part of CSX’s Pride in Service initiative, which is focused on supporting the military community, veterans and first responders, I’ve been fortunate to volunteer at some really moving events that not only touched my heart, but positively touched the lives of many families. My latest service experience — and one of my favorites to date — was the Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade here in my hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. This was a special event, not only because of COVID-19 and the new “drive-through” protocols, but because I got to meet some amazing families and volunteers. In fact, I got to sit down with Sarai Pagan, an Operation Homefront volunteer who — along with her seven kids! – have also benefited from the program in the past. I love how she is creating a cycle of service by giving back to others like her. In hearing her story, I learned firsthand what this program means to military moms. Check out our conversation!

When did you learn about Operation Homefront?

My brother is a Marine, and as a military sibling I joined a pen pal program where I met my husband, David, who is in the Navy. As our family grew, we became involved with Operation Homefront when my husband was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. Since then, we’ve lived in various locations including Virginia, Guam and now Jacksonville, where we’ve stayed in touch with Operation Homefront.

Both Angela Costa & Sarai Pagan prepping for military families to receive their school supplies at the 2020 Jacksonville Back-to-School Brigade.

How did Operation Homefront support you and your family?

While stationed in California, we heard about the Holiday Meals for the Military, Operation Homefront’s kits for military families that include everything you need for a holiday dinner. As a young, growing military family, having a meal given to us meant that we could repurpose that money on rent or other bills and still have a wonderful holiday. This served as a huge financial benefit, but it also meant a lot to receive such a thoughtful gift. We also participated in an Operation Homefront Star-Spangled Babies baby shower where we received a rocking chair, which was a great feeling as this was the first one I had for any of my children!

What made you make the transition from benefiting from these incredible programs to volunteering to help other families like yours?

While we were stationed in Virginia, my husband moved up in rank in the Navy, and our family became more financially stable. We wanted to pay forward the support we’ve received and help younger military families that needed it now more than ever. I jumped in full force – I made myself and my family fully available for Operation Homefront for anything they needed, from picking up supplies, to volunteering at events, and even organizing our own events.

What has stood out to you the most, as a volunteer?

While my family and I were on the USS Gerald Ford, I organized and set up the ship’s first-ever Star-Spangled Babies baby shower. Operation Homefront helped contribute to the baby shower in which everyone went home with about $350 worth of items for each of the families participating. These families weren’t expecting anything of this magnitude, and the way Operation Homefront showed up was truly incredible. Every family walked out with items they needed to start their families, including car seats, strollers, and pack ’n plays. They no longer had to worry about how to pay for these items on their own.

How has the need for these services changed or increased due to COVID-19, and how have other military spouses been handling the pandemic?

Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigades help alleviate the anxiety for families struggling to pay for supplies like backpacks, notebooks, etc., for the upcoming school year. It has been devastating to see the pandemic take a toll on military spouses – many of whom lost their jobs and critically need this support. This, plus the uncertainty surrounding school this fall, makes these events even more meaningful this year. I’m also familiar with Operation Homefront’s other services, such as Critical Financial Grants for basic family needs like bills and car repairs. This organization has really supported military families throughout the pandemic.

Sarai and her husband, David at the 2020 Back-to-School Brigade in Jacksonville, Florida.

What advice do you have for other military families who may have similar needs that you did?

As both a past beneficiary family and a current volunteer of Operation Homefront, I’ve learned that the support from this organization is unlike any other. It’s really important that military families, especially young ones, take the help that is given and not be prideful, rather than face the financial and emotional challenges of being a growing military family alone.

Thank you, Sarai, for your insights and for taking the time to share your story. From all of us at CSX, we thank you and your family for serving our country and perpetuating that service through your support of other military families.

Through Pride in Service, our signature community investment initiative supporting military, veterans and first responders, CSX supports Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance grants, Back to School Brigades and Star-Spangled Babies programs. I had no idea when I met Sarai that she or those she knows had benefited from each and every one of these awesome outreach efforts! With organizations like Operation Homefront and community members like Sarai, we can connect our country’s military, veterans and first responders to what they need, when they need it most.

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A shining example of Operation Homefront’s core values, Yvette performs with excellence and gratitude. She’s an inspiration to Operation Homefront’s Region 4 staff and volunteers, as well as to her family who serve alongside her.

It is National Yvette Peterson has been a superb volunteer with Operation Homefront for five years. The decision to volunteer came after she and her husband, a medically retired soldier, were awarded a mortgage-free home in 2013, through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program.

“We decided that we needed to help other military families,” Peterson said. “Going through Operation Homefront, we would be able to be a part of something on greater scales than we could ever do on our own.”

Yvette has made a significant impact since joining the Operation Homefront volunteer force. She planned, organized, and executed the annual Back-to-School Brigade event at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2019, distributing 1,000 backpacks full of school supplies to military children. Yvette received the shipment of backpacks, collected donated school supplies from 10 Dollar Tree stores, and set up the Fort Bragg event.

Yvette also successfully distributed 22 pallets of Procter and Gamble products to military families in Fayetteville, NC, despite multiple logistical hurdles. Her “can do” attitude resulted in a seamless Holiday Meals for Military in Fayetteville that included visits with Santa, toy distribution, and holiday crafts for 265 families.

In order to serve as many military families as possible, Yvette has developed strong relationships with Dollar Tree and Walmart store managers and their staff. She says she appreciates the opportunity to help families who are in stressful positions she can relate to.

“It’s awesome to be able to be a part of an organization that strives to help military families,” she said. “As the wife of a medically retired Army veteran, I know all too well that it can be a struggle both financially and emotionally.”

A shining example of Operation Homefront’s core values, Yvette performs with excellence and gratitude. She’s an inspiration to Operation Homefront’s Region 4 staff and volunteers, as well as to her family who serve alongside her.

Operation Homefront wishes to thank our volunteers all they do for us. Volunteers help bring both the “what we do” and “why we do it” aspects of our mission to life. Simply put, you help build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities – OUR communities – they have worked so hard to protect. 

Thank you for all you have done, continue to do, and will do for our service members and the families that serve alongside them. They are counting on us and we are proud to say WE DELIVER!

Want to know more about how you can get involved with Operation Homefront? Visit our Get involved page here www.operationhomefront.org/getinvolved

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Navy Hipsley full rez wcc operation homefront

Meet Hipsley!

It began with the need to do something.  To make a difference.

A dedicated group of volunteers with the Mid-Atlantic Field Office of Operation Homefront, concerned about the heartbreaking statistics surrounding veteran suicides, approached the Field Office staff with an idea. As part of their annual fundraising efforts, they wanted to support Operation Homefront – and support the training of a service dog for veterans recovering from physical and psychological wounds.

Though not a need addressed by Operation Homefront programs, the Operation Homefront Mid-Atlantic team knew they could help, as they are active in supporting the needs of families at Walter Reed and Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir. They also knew an organization that worked with service animals. And so began a unique partnership between Operation Homefront, the community, and the non-profit Warrior Canine Connection.

After 18 months of planning and fundraising solely by the volunteers with support from Operation Homefront, their wish became reality Wednesday as Operation Homefront presented Warrior Canine Connection with a check for $25,000 to cover the cost of training a puppy named Hipsley at Fort Belvoir.

Navy Hipsley full rez wcc operation homefront mom in memory

Jane Hipsley, herself a “puppy parent”, after learning that a puppy will carry on the name and legacy of her son, Sgt. Christian Hipsley.

Hipsley is named in honor of Army Sgt. Christian Joseph Hipsley, an Army medic who graduated from Hannah More Academy in Baltimore in 2000.  He was known as an individual who cared deeply for people and who found uncommon courage.  Sgt. Hipsley’s 13 years of service entailed three tours of duty in the Middle East, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.  Sgt. Hipsley was awarded the Bronze Star in 2011 for his efforts in saving five Afghan National Army soldiers after the caravan he was riding in was struck by consecutive IED blasts.  When the book was closed on his Army career, Sgt.  Hipsley had earned the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguished Valor and the Army Commendation Medal.  The soldier lost his battle with PTSD in 2014 at age 32.

Sgt. Hipsley’s mother, Jane, was in attendance as it was announced that a puppy would carry on the memory of her son by helping others.  Over the next 2 years, Hipsley and the other purpose-bred Golden and Labrador Retrievers will each empower 60 returning wounded combat Veterans. After this period, Hipsley will be permanently assigned.


Margi Kirst, Chief Development Officer for Operation Homefront with the newest member of the military family.


“The beauty behind this is the connection between the community and donors who take the initiative to get involved, and the collaboration between non-profits.  It is the community coming together,” said Vivian Dietrich, Regional Director. “And at the end of the day, our mission of building strong stable and secure military families will be realized through the work of Hipsley with the Fort Belvoir families.”

Cyndi Lucas, Communications Outreach Leader for Operation Homefront Mid-Atlantic added, “It was unique opportunity to capture the passion of this group of volunteers. (Hipsley) will touch so many lives”


“We are extremely grateful to the enthusiastic group of volunteers from Operation Homefront’s Mid-Atlantic region who dedicated so much time and energy to raise the funds to train Hipsley at Fort Belvoir,” said Rick Yount, WCC founder and executive director. “In our work to serve more than 3,700 Veterans since WCC started, we have seen firsthand the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy in combating symptoms of PTS and TBI.  We are fortunate to have partners, like Operation Homefront, who are equally committed to supporting our nation’s Veterans and their families.”


Working together to make a difference: Operation Homefront National and MidAtlantic staff with the “REDS” team volunteers.

About Warrior Canine Connection: Warrior Canine Connection is a pioneering organization that utilizes a Mission Based Trauma Recovery model to empower returning combat Veterans who have sustained physical and psychological wounds while in service to our country. Based on the concept of Warriors helping Warriors, WCC’s therapeutic service dog training program is designed to mitigate symptoms of PTSD, TBI, and other challenges, while giving injured combat Veterans a sense of purpose, help in reintegrating back into their families and communities, and a potential career path as a service dog trainer.  For more information, go to www.warriorcanineconnection.org.

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harveyThough they were unable to wear a military uniform themselves, Ken and Ruth have always deeply admired the valiant men and women who serve our country. So they decided to answer the call in the best way they could.

After the events of September 11, 2001, Ken and Ruth Harvey realized that the rights, freedoms, and safety—something they had taken for granted—were not guaranteed. The couple knew that the attacks would trigger a conflict that would require our American service men and women to fight beyond our shores to secure our nation’s safety. Ken and Ruth admired those who sacrificed so much for their fellow countrymen.

Ken and Ruth also worried about the health and wellbeing of service members and veterans who have returned from overseas service. ”You’d assume that the soldiers who are wounded or returning with PTSD would be given more post-action care. While there is a structure in place, it’s not at the level that we would expect,” Ken said. Ruth maintains that Operation Homefront is addressing the problem in a positive, helpful way. “For every dollar we give most of it is going back to military families, so that’s great,” Ruth said.

The Harvey’s strong desire to support the military inspired them to search for a nonprofit that would allow them to make a difference in the lives of service members and their families. Ken and Ruth researched military nonprofits from a leading charity rating agency, and as a result, they chose to give to Operation Homefront.

“Operation Homefront takes resources from a person or a company and channels it to the highest need. It’s hard to imagine a more efficient organization getting that done,” Ken said. One of his goals was to ensure that his money would truly make a difference in the lives of military service members, wounded warriors, veterans, and their families.

Vets-Day_blog_icontactRuth and Ken give to Operation Homefront programs, such as Homes on the Homefront, because they want to see the lives of military families transformed, and the couple wants to be part of that impact. “Operation Homefront is giving families the tools they need to help them manage their finances. Operation Homefront is teaching them skills, and it’s different than charity; it’s trying to create something that’s going to last throughout their lifetimes,” said Ken.

Operation Homefront would not exist if it weren’t for donors like Ruth and Ken. They allow us to help military families in their hour of need. You too can make a difference and answer the call, in lots of ways, to support military, veteran and wounded warrior families. Find out more at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

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Today, AmeriCorps celebrates 20 years dedicated to making an impact in communities throughout the United States. Through AmeriCorps, more than 900,000 Americans have served more than 1 billion hours over the past 20 years. Thousands of communities and millions of Americans have benefited from their service.

At Operation Homefront, we have welcomed many AmeriCorps members inside our four walls. Each of them have brought their unique talents and insight to make our organization stronger. One such member, Vickie Starr, shares what the AmeriCorps experience has meant to her:


Vickie Starr, who worked as an AmeriCorps member for Operation Homefront, landed her dream job in our communications department.

At a non-traditional age, I completed my Master’s degree. And like most college graduates, I was eager to join the work force (again). And ready to eat something other than Ramen noodles.

Instead of moving in with my parents until I found a job, I moved in with my son. Resume’ in hand, I filled out many applications.

AmeriCorps called, and I was extremely interested…until I found out that I would be a volunteer and receive a small stipend. I had just scraped through four years as a college student, so I really didn’t want to be a broke AmeriCorps volunteer.

But there was a huge dilemma. The AmeriCorps position with Operation Homefront was my dream job. And I really wanted my dream job.

My son agreed to let me live with him for very little rent (I think he forgot his years of free rent under my roof). My car was paid off, my student loans would be deferred for a year, and my medical would be paid for. Financially, I could make it work.

On July 30, 2013, I joined AmeriCorps and Operation Homefront. Unbelievably quick, my year flew by. I learned so many new things and developed valuable skills. Certain moments and experiences will be forever etched in my memories:

  • One mother, Donella, told me that she cried when her son arrived home, as part of our program to fly service members home. And she cried when he left too.
  • Purple Heart recipients were given toolboxes by the Sons of the American Revolution. They were touched by the gift. I was touched by the sacrifices that many of our veterans have made for their country.
  • Too cute kiddies came to our Back-To-School Brigade in San Antonio for free school supplies, joined by thankful and grateful parents that had one less thing to worry about.
  • One young son, whose family had just received a mortgage-free home, flexed his muscles during a key ceremony. I think he knew that receiving a home would strengthen his family.
  • That first thank you letter I got from a family that received food assistance is something I’ll never forget.
  • I tried not to cry as I attended a Homefront Celebration and listened to Michelle Cuthrell speak about her life as a military spouse. I cried any way.
  • It was cold outside as we pushed buggies loaded with groceries out to the cars of service members during our Holiday Meals for Military program. But my heart felt warm.
Operation Homefront staff in San Antonio helped welcome some of our newest AmeriCorps members to our organization. We're looking forward to a great year of helping military families.

Operation Homefront staff in San Antonio helped welcome some of our newest AmeriCorps members to our organization. We’re looking forward to a great year of helping military families.


I could go on and on about my experience working with dedicated Operation Homefront employees who truly love their jobs and helping out military families.

Every story should have a happy ending. This one does too. I am now a full-time employee at Operation Homefront. Thanks to AmeriCorps, my dream job is now my reality.




In 2010, Operation Homefront (OH) began its partnership with AmeriCorps by bringing on board Michael Heymsfield to work in public relations. Since then, 29 AmeriCorps members have augmented Operation Homefront in needed areas. Currently, OH has 16 AmeriCorps positions and two AmeriCorps VISTA positions. We were happy to celebrate with a swearing in ceremony today in San Antonio.


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This is a memorable day for all of us. Even if we didn’t know a single soul lost in the terrorist attacks, the catastrophe touched us all.

Operation Homefront was founded in the wake of those attacks. Once service members started deploying, concerned patriots saw the struggle families faced. They banded together to find ways to help, and their movement quickly grew.

Today we have chapters across the country made up mostly of volunteers. Nothing can make up for the lives lost and the families torn apart on this day nine years ago, but the people who’ve stepped up to serve in the military and in nonprofit organizations are helping our nation heal.

So thank you — to our military members, to our volunteers, our supporters and fellow nonprofit agencies. Today we remember not just the tragedy of the attacks, but the heroism, generosity and compassion that followed the devastation.

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