November 18, 2016
By Judy McSpadden
As we approach the holidays, the “Season of Giving,” someone will no doubt say something like: “Everyone’s so nice this time of year. Why can’t it be like this all the time?”
We might respond with, “Well, I want to give, but I just can’t do it all…all of the time.”
Seasons help us compartmentalize — help us organize our calendars, closets, traditions, and the many causes to which we might like to contribute. When the leaves change color, Americans tend to pull out their coats and gloves, shop for turkey, watch football games, or go hunting.
At Our Military Kids, this is the time of year that some of our dedicated volunteers take charge of their own program. It’s called “The Holiday Gift Wish Program,” and it’s an unofficial volunteer effort to connect OMK supporters with families of wounded warriors, whose children received grants for sports, arts and tutoring activities during the previous year.
According to Gloria Schaefer, an OMK volunteer for more than 11 years, the wish program began in 2010 when volunteers asked to “adopt” military families for the holidays. “We knew there were wounded warrior families with increased financial need, and we wanted to connect with them this time of year,” Ms. Schaefer said.
“Connecting” meant different things to different volunteers. The first wish program matched 36 grant children with OMK volunteers, who gave gifts, dinners, and cards, or, sometimes, paid visits. For Bob Nelson, another OMK volunteer, the first wish program happened around the time he coordinated his first “Military Monday,” a dinner he and some friends held at the Old Brogue Irish Pub in Great Falls, Va., to raise money for Our Military Kids.
“I always had a lot of respect for those who serve,” said Mr. Nelson, a 26-year veteran of the Foreign Service. “We raised $200 for Our Military Kids that first dinner. Then, we had another dinner the following month for other military causes, and the rest is history.”
Mr. Nelson has coordinated Military Mondays every month (except July and August) ever since — that’s 7 years. The list of causes has lengthened, and a variety of people have attended the dinners. All those in attendance have had one common interest, a desire to help military people and their families.
The dinners’ increasing popularity required that Mr. Nelson add another dinner time slot — one at 5:30 p.m. and the other at 7:30 p.m. — to accommodate everyone. Over time, the list of donation recipients grew to include the Semper Fi Fund and the Gary Sinise Foundation, among others. November’s recent meeting raised $14,000 for Stop Soldier Suicide, a civilian nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing active and veteran military suicides.
Through Military Mondays, Mr. Nelson has extended the season of giving to a year-round effort where gratitude for the military goes beyond particular times of the year. What began as a thank-you to military kids at Christmastime has sent ripples out to the larger military community and society all year long.
Ms. Schaefer has finished collecting family names for this year’s wish program. Now she needs to ensure there are volunteers to help all of them. This year, there are 153 families on her list. After the holidays, she and her fellow OMK volunteers will return to their other projects — such as data entry, hospital visitation, and mail processing.
When asked why she volunteers, Ms. Schaefer is caught off guard. There’s a catch in her throat as she says, “I’ve seen what these people are going through…I just want to say ‘thank you.’”
The official National Volunteer Week isn’t until April (which, by the way, is also “Month of the Military Child”), but we really don’t need a specified season to recognize special people and say thanks, do we? Now might be a good time to not only consider the underprivileged and underserved, but also those who volunteer to make life better for them and others…all year long.
(Please email comments to JSMcSpadden@ourmilitarykids.org.)