Category Archives: give back

The Hidden Heroes of Veteran’s Day

Hidden Heroes of Veterans DayTrue heroism is a quiet thing. It does not seek the spotlight nor is it dependent upon the recognition of others. It comes from a place of selflessness where doing the right thing is the only option. And yet no hero stands alone. Behind each is a hidden hero, a quiet corps of support and caring there in times of peace and struggle.

This Veteran’s Day, as I pay homage to those who came before me, served alongside me, and currently serve, I choose to also honor the silent heroism of the military caregiver. Having been both an active duty servicemember and a military spouse, now a Marine mom, I know firsthand that service is not a solitary undertaking. And yet I have little grasp on what it means to be the caregiver for a wounded warrior in a post-9/11 world.

Hidden Heroes of Veteran’s Day: The Post-9/11 Caregiver

In the United States there are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers. Of these, 1.1 million (nearly 20%) are caring for post-9/11 veterans.

These caregivers tend to be younger than those of other eras. They are caring for a younger veteran often with debilitating injury, mental health or substance use condition.

Most are employed, and not connected to a support network. Many are caring for other non-military family members as well – such as children.

Many of these people experience care and/or stress related health issues, report strain in family relationships, and incur workplace difficulties.   

Imagine the strength of character and spirit this takes to be this person, then try to not use the word hero in describing that.

Ever so slowly, more people are starting to see that these caregivers deserve to be honored for their service as well. That recognition can be as simple as lending a hand with daily tasks to take some of the burden from their shoulders. Better yet are those out there fully embracing these heroes, supporting them, and lifting them up through programs designed to help care for the caregiver.

Vail Veterans Program - Healing on the Slopes

The Vail Veterans Program, founded by Cheryl Jensen -a thankful American with no military ties– in 2004, began as an adaptive winter ski program. That first season there were just seven wounded warriors finding strength and healing on the slopes. Over a decade later the program has welcomed into the fold 500 severely injured veterans and over 1,000 family members and caregivers.

This unique program, founded by one person with a passion for honoring those who serve, has promoted physical and emotional healing for so many. This year Cheryl and her team have launched a program focused entirely on the Caregiver Hero.

Over the course of three days in a world-class resort, these heroes lay down the mantles they carry and allow themselves to be cared for, lifted up and renewed. Here they will partake in self-awareness programs, yoga, meditation, outdoor recreation, and spa treatments. This is not pampering, it is rejuvenation to strengthen them in their mission.

Hidden Heroes of Veterans Day

One of the things I remember most about my days of service was the way a meal {usually lousy, ugh Galley food} shared helped to wind down a day’s work. At the time it just seemed like everyday stuff, but looking back I understand what was happening, we were bonding and drawing strength from each other. Hearing that group meals were part of this caregiver program made me understand that Cheryl and her team have an understanding of the importance of bonding through shared experience even over something as simple as a meal.

I was moved to find out that all services provided by the Vail Veterans program are 100% free. Not one dime is paid by these heroes. In Cheryl’s words, “They’ve given enough.”

If you’d like to join me in honoring these hidden heroes this Veteran’s Day {or any day, seriously a random Tuesday out of the blue is perfect for taking time out to be thankful, one day just isn’t enough in my opinion} here is a list of organizations that help military caregivers and how you can help through donating funds, time, dedication.

Vail Veterans Program - Helping Hero Families

Vail Veterans

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)

Women of Valor

The Fisher House Foundation

Love & Compassion For Nepal

nepal
With each refresh on my laptop the tragedy in Nepal grows by unfathomable proportions. Waiting for word from friends in Kathmandu is nothing short of heartbreaking. The Khata I’ve kept in a small box in the antique steamer trunk in our sitting room, now sits out on the table.
 
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”~ Dalai Lama
My hope is that prayers are heard – no matter our spiritual affiliations.  Yet prayer seems to fall short when faced with so much detestation and grief.  Perhaps compassion will go further?

To that end, I’ve done some research on organizations both on the ground in Nepal and those providing aid remotely. My hope is that gathering together the compassion, building the swell of kindness and care, a difference can be made. Even if it is only to relieve the suffering of one. 
 
UNICEF – providing supplies, including water purification tablets, hygiene kits, tarpaulins and nutrition supplies, and is working with government and other partners to meet children’s immediate needs in the areas of water and sanitation, child protection, health and nutrition.
 
World Food Program – providing food to those effected. Be sure to check their matching programs, there are many companies that will match the donations of employees. 
 
Crowdrise: Celebrating Dan – Google Exec Dan Fredinberg was among the climbers killed on Mt. Everest in the aftermath of the quake. He was climbing in-part to support a charity he was passionate about. 100% of all donations to the Crowdrise campaign set up by he his freinds go directly to relief efforts and the children effected by the disaster.   Learn more about OrphanGift.
 
International Urban Search and Rescue Task Force – The Task Force began its humanitarian response relationship with the US Agency for International Development – Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID-OFDA) in 1986 following a tragic 1985 seismic event in Mexico City.  They are our elite team when it comes to earthquake search and rescue. Though they are a funded organization, there is a support network for their families who are often left with little to no communication with the team while activated.
 
 

365 Small Things

Waxing philosophical about the closing of the chapter known as 2014? Me too. Admittedly in years past I’ve been a tad bit snarky about the making of resolutions. The roots of my disdain for the public deceleration of one’s intent to “fix” things in the New Year may stem from my inability to waive away the cheese platter for more than a week. If I had a pound for every new year in which I resolved to lose weight… that would be great. Certainly better than the 10 pounds I’ve got now. 

This year rather than being crotchety, contrary, or committing to resolve nothing, I’ve chose to think small.

It seems to me that the bulk of resolutions made by the masses invovle some sort of commitment to ‘Self’. While I wholeheartedly agree that I can do with innumerable improvements, I also accept that those are going to take far longer than a twelve months. Why not try looking outside myself this year?

Something I’ve noticed in my decades on this rock hurtling in orbit around a cosmic bonfire, is that it feels damn good to make other people feel good. (Not, that… come on people, lets be adults. Okay, I giggled too) The great thing about this is that it doesn’t take much. Time, money, effort… not much.

Yes, this is not the newest of ideas. Random Acts of Kinds, The Happiness Project, The Hug Tour, 100 Good Deeds, and the whole Social Good movement – all awesome, all came before me. 

I tend to be a big thinker I want to do ALL. THE. THINGS. That desire eventually gets me mired down in details and – to be honest – I don’t end up getting much done. What I need some small, with a dash of that not much of any of those.

Here is the plan: find some small thing to do each and every day of 2015 that makes someone feel happy, supported, appreciated, puts a smile on their face, makes them laugh themselves into tears, or gives them that extra boost they need.

Totally. Doable.

Along the way I’ll post a few photos on Instagram using the hashtag #Small365, if you’d like to follow along… or hey JOIN IN!

Small 365 Do ONE Thing a day for someone else

If you have a really lousy day, or an epically awesome one, know someone who needs a nudge to bring out that gorgeous smile, or that quite super hero that needs a spotlight, Let me know! I will be thrilled to send along some ‘Small’. 

Kicking things off early, let me start with a Thank YOU.

I’ve been spewing my random wordage all over this blog for over ten years. Some of you have been with indulged me since the very beginning. Others may just be taking their first spin on my personal tilt-a-whrill. Each and every one of you that stop by, read a post or two, leave a comment, enter a giveaway, like a pin or pic, pop in on Facebook or Tweet with me have given me a gift beyond measure – your time. For that I am thankful beyond expression. Which is saying something when we’re talking about a girl who suffers from chronic wordiness.

 

Study Abroad Because…?

White House Travel Bloggers Summit - Gingerbread House in the State Dinning Room

The White House was decorated for the Holidays, beautifully picturesque and embodying all that is good, familiar and comfortable in our country.  Traditional vignettes were everywhere; the smell of freshly cut pine, the sumptuous float of color on mantels, the brilliant shine of ornaments and the inviting twinkle of lights evoked a yearning for the Rockwellian innocence of American Christmases past.

It would have been easy to become swept away in the grandeur, delighting in my snug little box of national pride.  But, that’s not why I was there. 

I was there to consider the value in sending American children to other countries as part of the White House Travel Bloggers Summit.

America is the land of opportunity, right? So why encourage your precocious progeny to pursue knowledge beyond our borders in a place where those “A’s” they earned in foreign language classes might not be so impressive? Why?

Because it will change  their life, yours and maybe the world.

Study abroad is for everyone and we must prepare our future leaders — American students of all backgrounds — for the global workforce and to be global citizens.” ~ Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs

Studying abroad opens minds and doors for our children, providing better job opportunities, making the connection between what is found in a textbook and how it translates into application on a local and global scale. And frankly, it makes them far more interesting.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s address summed up eloquently, the core reasons why both travel and study abroad should play a key role in the education of all Americans,

“…travel outside our borders can add a new dimension to a person’s social and cultural intelligence – and one’s knowledge of how people abroad interact and do business with one another…In this day and age, more and more employers want to hire people with a true “world view” with the adaptability and openness that comes with having experienced other cultures.”

The Secretary sited a survey by MetLife that found 65% of Fortune 1000 executives identified global awareness as “very important” or “essential” in order to be ready for a career.

Study Abroad is a relevant, important, life skill.

Applying this message to myself, I considered my own years abroad. My study abroad experience wasn’t traditional. There was no “convincing my parents” that there was value in it, that I was mature enough, able thrive living a content away in a country where I barely spoke the language. They didn’t have to struggle to find the funds needed to send me. A set of orders from the Secretary of the Navy rendered those points moot.

Yet the years I lived in Spain – explored Europe and North Africa, studied life – imbued me with the same depth of understanding of our oneness, illustrated firsthand the impact of global citizenship, and the power in person-to-person exchange of ideas and values. 

The knowledge I gained in my early adulthood travels is with me to this day. It is the spark that kindled my passion for travel,  my need to continue to build relationships with the people I meet – be that down the street or digging beets out of the ground with a farmer in Jamaica – and to help my children see the value in these experiences. It was the beginning of an unquenchable wanderlust.

Living abroad changed me forever, for the better.  It allowed me to explore and appreciate of our differences while becoming keenly aware of our sameness, of those threads that run through each of our stories that form the binding of a book this the greater anthology of humanity.

The summit was also used to announce the opening of the State Department’s new U.S. study abroad office, which will manage some of their premier study abroad programs. The office will join advocating for the benefits of study abroad, and bringing resources to those interested in participation. To that end, they announced a partnership with the Institute of International Education and College Week Live to launch the first ever Virtual U.S. Study Abroad Fair that will be taking place on February 25th on-line and everywhere. (for updates connect with the State Department Exchange Programs on Facebook )

In the midst of the busy holiday rush, as we shop and shop, furiously checking off the “wants” on Christmas lists and hunting down longed-for toys, I invite you to consider some “needs”. 

White House Travel Bloggers Summit - Christmas Tree in the East Wing

The need for shortening the bridge between cultures. 

The need for uniting the threads of our world into a tapestry of more peaceful understanding.

The need for living life fully, for contributing meaningfully to the creation of future history.

As you sip cocoa in the firelight this season and listen to the strains of “Joy to the World”,  I invite you to think of THE WORLD.

I’ll be back in Part Two of this series to share information gleaned in our family’s quest to find a the Study Abroad program that works with our resources and suits Kaytie’s (our teenage daughter) goals. She seems to have an ever-changing list of places she wants to go and things she’d like to focus on… none of which include cleaning her room.

Patent pending, Hyperactivate

Changing The Face Of Childhood Hunger In America

I could tell you the cold, hard facts about childhood hunger. Share that right here in the United States 1 out of every 5 children do not know where their next meal is coming from. Hit you with the numbers;

16 Million Suffer from Childhood Hunger

I could even bring it home for you and say that with numbers like that, it’s highly likely that someone you know is dealing with this. Or, I could tell you my story.

When I was in elementary school my dad lost his job. Saver of lives, a man who rescued people and fought fires – a hero, my hero – was laid off by the state of California due to budget cuts. In the blink of an eye our family of five lost the sole breadwinner in the house.

All I knew was that we got to play with daddy more. I thought that mom was hunting more because dad was home so much – driving her crazy. To me the time we spent as a family volunteering at the local food-share program was another way for my parents to teach us life lessons. The bonus always being that we got to bring home a big box of “leftovers.” My 8 year old self had no clue that, that was our only food. I didn’t know what my parents were struggling through to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies.

As an adult I look back on that time and my heart breaks for them. How could a man with multiple advanced degrees, years of experience,  who had saved countless lives and homes, EVER end up in a place where he didn’t know if he could feed his family? I can’t imagine looking at my own children and knowing I couldn’t feed them.

We made it through. Mom kept us all strong, held the family together. She was always our rock. Dad went back to work. I grew up not ever knowing how bad it had gotten. Sadly, not all kids can say that.

Today I’m joining with Unilever Project Sunlight in doing my part help shine a light on hunger in America. We need to change long-held notions of what hunger looks like, why it happens and to whom. Childhood hunger touches us all, in so many ways. Let’s talk about it, listen without judgment, and put an end to it. 

The families in the short video, “Going to Bed Hungry: Changing the Face of Child Hunger” have shared their stories – who they are, where they come from, will surprise you. I add my story to theirs and ask that you take a moment to watch (with some tissue nearby) and then take one minute more to spread the word. Help put an end to the hunger – we CAN DO THIS!