There are many memorials scattered throughout this beautiful land of ours, dedicated to the sacrifice and honor shown by our men and women in uniform. At these monuments, crowds gather from all over the country to pay their respects on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
But there’s a memorial, located in Anthem, Arizona, that is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing — the Anthem Veterans Memorial. It’s truly a spectacular sight and it makes an annual appearance on social media. Every year, at around 11:11 AM on the 11th of November, the light shines through it perfectly, spotlighting an image of the Great Seal of the United States of America.
It’s a beautiful and breathtaking thing to see, surely, but with so much attention on that single, annual moment, many intricacies fall to the wayside. In actuality, every tiny, little detail of the site is symbolic — here’s how.
Located just north of Phoenix, Arizona, the Anthem Veterans Memorial was first envisioned in 2009 and finished in 2011. It was created by Renee Palmer-Jones, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. (Retired) Ron Tucker, and James Martin to give the city a way to honor the veterans within their community.
The memorial consists of five pillars, each bearing the insignia of a branch of the Armed Forces, stacked in order of Department of Defense precedence: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The pillars are made of white marble, arranged on red brick, and stand against the backdrop of the blue Arizona sky — the colors of Old Glory.
Once a year, when the light shines just right, the pillars cast a combined shadow that perfectly encircles the Seal of the United States, symbolizing how the joint effort of our armed forces support this great nation.
Surrounding the Great Seal are 1750 red paver bricks — over 750 of these pavers bear the names of the servicemen and women who have supported our nation. On the outside of the pavers are two rows of bricks called the “Soldier Rows,” which symbolize the unbreakable defense our troops offer.
The knowledge of math, geometry, and astronomy required to get the monument right was intense. Construction began in June, 2010, which meant there was only one single moment (November 11, 2010) to make sure everything was just right before it was officially unveiled on November 11th, 2011. On any given year, the perfect circle will happen at 11:11:11 AM, give or take 12 seconds.
Each year, on Veterans Day, crowds will gather, unblinkingly, waiting for that perfect moment, honoring those who fight or have fought for our nation.
‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.
For the Bright-eyed Hope Machine in your squadron:
~ a bag from the brand that’s turning military surplus into vet success ~
Emily and Betsy Nuñez — sisters and co-founders of Sword Plough — represent the kind of entrepreneurial venn diagram that a truly bipartisan American government would engineer in a lab to ensure a Better Tomorrow.
Growing up at West Point with their father, a 30-year Army veteran, Emily and Betsy were inculcated from an early age with the military life. Emily was one of only three students at Middlebury College in ROTC and would go on to serve on active duty as an intelligence officer with 10th Special Forces Group.
She would also be one of the first women to attend Ranger School.
At the same time, she and Betsy were laying the groundwork for a classic millennial start-up, a sustainable bags and accessories company dedicated to repurposing materials and people for the betterment of all. Since 2013, they’ve been operating at the energetic epicenter of 21st century feminism, social entrepreneurship, sustainable business modelling and post-9/11 veteran affairs.
But if there’s one anecdote from the early days of Sword Plough that, above all others, may have foretold the relentless success the company has enjoyed since its founding, it’s this one, from Emily:
Well, just before launching on Kickstarter, we did another business plan competition…at the Harvard Business School, their Pitch for Change Competition. And I got leave from the Army to attend the contest. It was just an amazing experience. We pitched to the audience and the judges and we won first place and the Audience Choice Award, which was just incredible. [But] we almost actually didn’t even have the chance to do the pitch because there was a blizzard that weekend [in Boston] and we were having a really hard time finding a cab…so we ended up hitching a ride with a snow plow…
Uh…hold please. I grew up in New England. Snow plows stop for no one. How did you pull that off?
I sprinted up to him. I was wearing high heels and a dress and I just told him…”We only have 20 minutes to get to Harvard Business School to pitch our idea to repurpose military surplus into bags and to work with veteran American manufacturers and donate part of our profits to veteran organizations!” [H]e waved us in and gave us a ride. It was a pretty lucky moment…
Was luck really the deciding factor? I doubt it. Faced with such a hyper-specific onslaught of enthusiasm, purpose, brains, and brass, what snow plow man — no matter how grizzled — could say no? Who among us would be so gripped with frozen-hearted pessimism that he’d turn such a pitch aside? It’s unimaginable.
The Nuñez sisters have created a recipe that is impossible to deny. Their products are excellent, unique, and sustainable. Their company is staffed by veterans at every level. Their profits are charitably apportioned. Their eyes are on the horizon and their mission is to serve.
Vietnam Vet says we have to take care of each other
A familiar face to Milwaukee-area Veterans and the Milwaukee VA is doing his part to make sure people get the COVID-19 vaccination.
John Ziegler, 74, is one of a handful of Milwaukee residents featured in the Healthy MKE multimedia outreach campaign designed to reach people reluctant to get the vaccine.
“I feel it’s doing my duty,” he says in one of the commercials. “The more we get vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to doing what we want to do. We have to take care of each other. That’s what life is about.”
A Navy Vietnam Veteran, Ziegler is the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ state representative to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. He has logged thousands of hours volunteering at the hospital and works tirelessly to raise funds and whatever else is necessary to help Veterans.
When he was approached to take part in the campaign, he didn’t hesitate.
Supports the science – vaccinations best path forward
“If it helps get the word out, it’s worth it,” he said. “The more people that get vaccinated, the quicker we get out of this thing, I hope.”
While he supports the vaccinations, he believes getting the shot is a personal choice and understands why some are hesitant. But he supports the science, saying vaccinations are the best path forward.
Ziegler got his shots as soon as possible earlier this year. Having been exposed to Agent Orange, he has diabetes and has “Only one working lung, and that’s at half capacity.”
That condition put him at high risk for COVID-19 and he responded by spending the past year being as safe as possible. He has limited outside interactions with others, dutifully wears a mask and keeps his distance among others.
Targeting residents who are still undecided
According to Healthy MKE, a coalition of local government, nonprofit, health care, public health and community organizations, the campaign targets residents of Milwaukee County who have been “disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are undecided about receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.”
“This campaign recognizes the importance of hearing authentic, relatable stories from local members of the community, from schoolteachers to retired Veterans, health-care workers, clergy, small business owners and more,” said Mara Lord, chairwoman of the Milwaukee area vaccine communications and community mobilization efforts. “It’s a way to both honor their unique perspectives and show how getting vaccinated is a way to express personal strength and commitment, so we can all get back to the people, places and things we love.”
“At least we tried.”
The campaign includes TV, radio, digital outdoor billboards, online digital outreach, and social media.
Ziegler realizes some people won’t get the vaccine. Though vaccine is plentiful and available for free to all who want it, clinics are having trouble filling time slots.
“We now have more vaccine than Vets who will take it,” Ziegler said. He added he hopes the ad campaign is successful but realizes some people won’t get the vaccine.
“I don’t know if this will change anybody’s mind. If it doesn’t, at least we tried.”
“I was inspired as I learned about their food traditions and offered them comfort through food,” Lidia said in her PBS video Lidia Celebrates America.
One of her stops included a visit with some of We Are The Mighty’s veterans who shared some of their fondest food memories while serving in the military.
For Edith Casas (U.S. Navy), it was missing her mother’s meals during deployments. For Bryan Anderson (U.S. Army), it was the meals he prepared in the barracks. For Mike Dowling (U.S. Marine Corps), it was sharing his last meal with Rex, his military working dog.
By the time Nate Ellis reached the sixth grade he knew there were two things he wanted to do with his life: make movies and fly airplanes for the military.
Ellis was raised in a family with military experience. His father had joined the Coast Guard during the Vietnam era as a way to avoid the draft and his older brother had joined the Air Force ROTC program as a way to pay for college. He says he was the first among them to go in actually motivated to serve.
“All I wanted to do was Army aviation,” he said.
Ellis attended Austin Peay State University in Tennessee on a ROTC scholarship and wound up the top-ranked cadet nationwide among aviation selectees. Three days after graduation he found himself at Fort Rucker ready to start flight school. A year or so later he was a Blackhawk pilot.
In time he found himself in Afghanistan, stationed at Shindand Air Base in the western area of the country as part of the 4th CAB contingent there. He was assigned as the “battle captain,” overseeing all of the unit’s air operations, a position of great responsibility.
He was also flying Blackhawk sorties, and one night he launched as part of an air assault package comprised of three Blackhawks and two Chinooks. The helicopters carried a total of 99 troops — Italian special operators and Afghan National Army regulars — for a raid to capture a “high-value target,” one of the Taliban’s bad guys.
The helicopters touched down at the LZ around 3 AM, and after the troops jumped out they immediately came under fire. The helos took off and held nearby.
“We were at the holding point listening to the chaos, waiting, burning gas,” Ellis said. “It was the worst.”
There were two Apache attack helicopters on station, but one ran out of ammo and the other took an enemy round through the cockpit. The ground force, facing overwhelming numbers, wanted to get out of there immediately. But, by the helicopters’ operating procedures, it was too hot for them to fly back in to pick them up.
The mission commander, a lieutenant colonel, made the call to go in, but only after taking a quick survey of his fellow pilots over the radio to see what they thought about the risk.
“We went up and down the line, and all aircrews said they wanted to go in,” Ellis remembered. “But everyone was concerned at the same time. Everyone knew what they were getting into.”
The LZ was in the middle of a valley, what Ellis described as “the worst place to fly into.”
He saw the gunner in the Blackhawk ahead of him return fire on a group behind a wall as his own gunner froze, unable to pull the trigger. Sixty of the troops came running at them trying to load up. The Blackhawk only had room for 12 of them, so Ellis’ crew chief heroically jumped out and sorted the situation out as the bullets landed around them. After “the longest 3 minutes of my life,” they lurched back into the air at the Blackhawk’s maximum takeoff weight.
“Because we were heavy we couldn’t yank and bank,” Ellis said. “We had to fly straight ahead. My missile warning gear was going off the whole time.”
Once he was out of harm’s way, he had an epiphany.
“I was more present than I ‘d ever been in my life,” he said. “It was like all of the bullshit in my life came to the surface and skimmed off. I heard my inner voice: ‘Life is short. Live with a purpose. Do what you love.'”
And Ellis realized — along with flying Army helicopters — that he loved making movies, something he’d continue to dabble in even during the most demanding parts of his military life.
“I was always working on something while I was in,” Ellis said. “Short films — writing and directing. I’d edit them on my computer and post them to YouTube or wherever.”
After his war tour, he was stationed in South Korea while his marriage to another Army helicopter pilot came apart. “Long story short, we were separated for 18 months,” he said.
He was ready for a change in his life. So after 7 years of active duty, he resigned his commission and entered USC to get a master’s degree in filmmaking. While he immersed himself in the curriculum, he also found himself processing a lot of anger.
“I’d lose my temper if somebody jumped in front of me at a bar or cut me off in traffic,” he admitted. “I felt this sense of entitlement, like, who are they to treat me like that? Don’t they know who I am and what I’ve done?”
By his own account, it took him three years of grad school to process his emotions.
“I don’t want to be that person,” he said. “I don’t want to feel that way. Now it’s more like who cares? That guy, that girl, they have their own thing going on. They have their own path.”
He made a name for himself among the talented grad students at USC. He created five short films, including “10,000 Miles,” his thesis film that had a $30,000 budget plus a $350,000 Panavision grant.
Ellis also made “The Fog,” which he describes as “very personal,” another short that won a faculty screenwriting award and “Best Narrative Short” at the 2016 GI Film Festival. “The Fog” was also a semi-finalist for the student Academy Awards.
Ellis left USC with an impressive body of work, and an effective Hollywood network that included his USC-assigned mentor who also happened to be the president of a major studio. With his master’s degree in hand, he’s wasted little time in making some things happen. He wrote a screenplay based on “Chickenhawk,” the classic Vietnam-era story about a helicopter pilot, and he said Harrison Ford is “interested.”
At the same time, he worked as a production assistant on “The Wall,” directed by Doug Liman (who also directed “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Bourne Identity”), wrote another screenplay targeting both Chinese and American audiences, and co-created an animated web series called “Thrift Video” that he described as “‘Adult Swim’-type humor.”
And, somewhat ironically, Ellis’ work in Hollywood placed him behind the controls of a helicopter again.
“My USC mentor introduced me to the president of Studio Wings, Steve Stafford, a Marine vet,” he explained. “I’ve been flying a Huey, one of the types of helicopters I flew during my time in the Army.”
And the Studio Wings Huey is owned by one Vince Gilligan, the creator of the hit series “Breaking Bad.” Ellis and Gilligan have co-piloted the Huey on several occasions.
“Vince is a super-nice guy and very interested in my active duty experience,” Ellis said. “He’s also interested in my screenplay.”
Ellis is quickly learning that success in the movie business is about two things: who you know and how much talent you have.
“All this stuff is just coming out of the blue,” Ellis said. “But I love the non-linear aspect of Hollywood. You’re thrown into the big mix with everybody. How do you set yourself apart?”
Ellis has also learned when and where to leverage his military experience and the limits of it.
“The whole reason I’m flying helicopters with Vince Gilligan is because I flew helicopters in the Army,” he said. “But after that, it’s about the quality of my work.”
A&W restaurants are again giving away their famous Root Beer Floats on National Root Beer Float Day, Monday, August 6. The celebration is a way to say “thank you” to guests and to raise money for Disabled American Veterans. From 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., participating restaurants will serve free small Root Beer Floats, no purchase necessary. Guests will be encouraged to make a donation to DAV.
There are more than 630 A&W Restaurants in the U.S. and this is A&W’s sixth annual National Root Beer Float Day celebration — the second it has partnered with DAV.
AW and DAV hope to raise 0,000 for the organization, which serves more than one million veterans annually. Donations also can be made online at www.rootbeerfloatday.com. The 0,000 AW raised for DAV in 2017 provided an estimated ,000,000 in direct benefits to veterans.
“AW has a longstanding relationship with America’s Armed Services,” said AW CEO Kevin Bazner, who noted that AW Root Beer was introduced at a parade honoring returning World War I veterans in 1919. “The needs of our veterans continue to grow, which is why it is so important that we use a fun event like National Root Beer Float Day to also raise funds for DAV and to call attention to veterans’ issues.”
Since it started to celebrate National Root Beer Float Day, AW has raised more than 0,000 for veterans groups. “We are grateful to AW for supporting our ill and injured veterans through National Root Beer Float Day, donating 0,000 last year to DAV,” said Marc Burgess, DAV National Adjutant and CEO. “As both AW and DAV approach their centennial anniversaries, we are proud to join together again this year to support our true American heroes for their decades of service and sacrifices to keep us free.”
Every day, retired Col. Van T. Barfoot treated the American flag with the respect accorded to it by tradition and by the U.S. flag code. He raised the flag to the top of the 21-foot flagpole in his front yard every morning and took it down again – careful not to let it touch the ground and folding it into a perfect triangle – in the evening. But his Virginia homeowner’s association hated the flagpole, saying it brought down the curb appeal of the neighborhood. They told Barfoot to take it down. When he didn’t, they took legal action.
They messed with the wrong Texan. He wasn’t about to cave for some HOA. But they didn’t know that.
Barfoot joined the Army infantry in 1940, well before the start of World War II for the United States. In 1944, with the war in full swing, Barfoot was in Italy, flanking a machine gun nest by himself in a battle near Carano. In order to save his men from the deadly fire raining death on them, Barfoot had to book it through a minefield to kill the enemy and knock out the machine gun. He did that and took out two more. He brought 17 prisoners back to friendly lines.
When three Nazi tanks came to retake the positions held by those machine gun nests, Barfoot took those out too. For his actions that day, he received the Medal of Honor. The man would later go on to fight in Korea and Vietnam before finally leaving the Army in 1974. By the time his HOA picked a fight with the old soldier, Barfoot was 90 years old.
“In the time I have left, I plan to fly the flag without interference,” he told the Associated Press.
Barfoot after receiving the Medal of Honor.
The HOA’s law firm even sent out a letter that ordered him to either remove the large flagpole from his property, or the firm would file a lawsuit to “enforce the covenants and restrictions against you.” But unlike the time he was running the minefields of Carano at a Nazi machine gun, Van Barfoot wasn’t alone this time. His story made national news. A heavy-hitting Richmond, Va. law firm offered to defend Barfoot for free, Virginia Senator Mark Warner offered his assistance, and even the 157th Infantry – Barfoot’s old unit – called to offer to help.
Not only did the HOA lose to Col. Barfoot like so many of his other fallen enemies, but the Virginia state legislature even introduced a bill that would prevent homeowners associations from banning flagpoles like Barfoots unless they could prove the harm it caused.
Barfoot died in 2012, two years after his row with the HOA. He will be remembered by many – especially the homeowner’s association.
Care packages are how troops stay connected with the ones they love back home. Most troops will have their family send them little trinkets or mama-made cookies to make things better while troops without families have their day brightened by a sweet, heartfelt thank-you card sent by a grade schooler.
These packages are the one constant that every troop, regardless of where or when they served, can depend on. But on January 21st, 2018, the shipping costs for postage to and from all APO/FPO/DPO addresses increased substantially. Thankfully, this increase can be reverted and the rate for shipping can be permanently fixed, benefiting the troops.
Nothing can bring joy to troops like a care package from home.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza)
The increases in shipping costs to APO/FPO/DPO addresses were part of an overall increase in the price for all mailing services, across the board. Rates for APO/FPO/DPO mailing addresses were hit hardest — almost doubled. In the defense of the United States Postal Service, the APO/FPO flat-rate box was only increased by five cents and they’ve always supported the troops, but a recently proposed bill can take that support further.
If there were a separate, fixed rate for all postage going to and from troops at APO/FPO addresses, it would be classified as Zone 1/2 postage from any CONUS location. Meaning, that if you were to ship a big ol’ care package not in a APO/FPO flat-rate box, it would cost the same as sending a letter to a soldier stationed in Germany.
But mainly, you don’t want to screw over the nice people who just want to help support the troops.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot)
In addition to offering a single, fixed rate for those who want to send a care package abroad that might not fit within a fixed-rate box, this could also open up companies to more readily offer online shopping opportunities to deployed troops.
This also means that troops would be more able to ship things from deployed environments back to the States. So, a deployed parent could pick up souvenirs at a local bazaar for their kid while crafty troops could ship certain personal belongings home before they return stateside so don’t need to wait for the connex to return months later.
The bill would apply to all troops everywhere, even if they’re sailing in the middle of nowhere.
(U.S. Navy photo by Lorenzo J. Burleson)
The bill that includes this fixed cost, H.R.6231 – Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018, has been introduced to Congress by Rep. Thomas MacArthur. It would permanently establish a single rate for mail and packages being sent to and from at APO/FPO/DPO addresses.
Congressman MacArthur has championed veteran issues since his assignment to the Armed Services Committee and its two subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces and the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. He also introduced the Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act, which would have allowed veterans to access any mental health care facility and eligible for reimbursement — but it failed to garner approval.
To help make sure that this bill makes it through Congress, contact your representative and let them know how you feel. Let them know that this bill will greatly benefit the morale of our fighting men and women. According to Skopos Labs, the bill only has a 3 percent chance of being enacted, so if you feel passionately about it, don’t wait; act.
If you’re unsure of who your representative is, you can use this tool right here and let them know you support H.R.6231 — the Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018.
In early July, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center became the first VA facility to participate in an international clinical trial evaluating the therapeutic benefit of an immunomodulator drug, Tocilizumab (TCZ), as a treatment for Veterans with COVID-19 severe pneumonia.
“COVID-19 is known to cause extensive damage in the lungs,” said Dr. Lavannya Pandit, a Houston VA pulmonologist and critical care physician who is a co-investigator in the study. “This often leads to difficulty breathing and, eventually, pneumonia. Pneumonia triggers a hyperimmune response that we are seeing can be more detrimental to some patients than the original infection.”
Medical personnel have used TCZ successfully to treat hyperimmune responses in cancer patients. The trial results will help determine if TCZ has a similar effect in patients who are diagnosed with severe COVID-19 pneumonia.
The clinical trial is a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Both the investigator and participant are blinded to who is receiving the TCZ treatment. Eligible participants are patients who are in the hospital and who chest imaging has confirmed has severe COVID-19 pneumonia.
Veterans at Houston VA very willing to step up
Medical personnel will monitor Veterans in a clinical environment for their responses to the treatment. Responses may include disease progression, the duration of hospitalization and the need for critical care and other supportive treatments.
“VA offers cutting-edge treatments and top quality care for Veterans with COVID-19,” said Dr. Barbara Trautner. Trautner is a faculty member at the Behavioral Health Program, Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.
“Participating in this clinical trial allows our Veterans the opportunity to contribute to scientific progress,” she said. “So far, Veterans at the Houston VA have been very willing to step up and volunteer. We enrolled eight Veterans in the first three days of the study.”
Trial taking place in more than 50 locations
“The treatments we offer for COVID-19 three months from now will be very different than what we offer today because of scientific trials like this,” said Trautner.
In addition to Houston VA, the trial is taking place in more than 50 locations across the United States, Europe and Canada, including at the Baylor College of Medicine.
“I always find it an honor and privilege to care for our Veterans who have served our country,” Trautner said. “The Veterans we are enrolling in this study are eager to join the fight against COVID-19, and we are happy to provide them this opportunity and do our part.”
VA strives to provide Veterans with seamless care and encourages community providers to support these efforts by the timely submission of medical documentation within 30 days of providing services.
One of the best ways for community providers to submit medical documentation is to use HealthShare Referral Manager (HSRM), the main system VA uses for managing referrals, authorizations and medical documentation exchange.
Dr. Megan Stauffer, a community provider at In-Home Care Connection in Sterling, Ill., shares her positive experience with HSRM. “It has drastically cut down phone calls and faxes that I’m having to receive daily, because now all the information I need is there at my fingertips.”
In addition to HSRM, VA offers more options for community providers to submit Veteran medical documentation. Community providers can:
Send an e-fax by sending email to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) fax machine. For an e-fax number, contact the referring VAMC or consult this directory: VA Facility Care Coordination Contacts.
Using convenient electronic options to send medical documents to VA enables you to comply with the 30-day requirement for medical documentation submission.
It’s never too soon to start planning an epic spring or summer vacation. For disabled veterans living stateside, 2020 could be the best year yet for outdoor recreation. This is because the National Parks Service offers disabled veterans an amazing deal on their next visit. From Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to Dry Tortugas National Park and the Mt. Zion and the Smokey Mountains in between, they’re all at our fingertips – and it’s now totally free.
More than 330 million people visit America’s most beautiful parks every year, and the parks are about to see a huge influx from American veterans due to this partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Disabled veterans can get free access with an Access Pass on their cars, granting free access to anyone in that vehicle. On top of access, the access pass gives holders a discount on expanded amenity fees at many National Parks sites, which can include campsite fees, swimming, boat launches, and group tours.
All a veteran has to do to be one of those who enter the parks for free is submit proper documentation of his or her service-connected disability, along with proof of identification and a processing fee. A Veterans Administration letter of service connection is enough to satisfy this requirement, and the passes can even be ordered online.
This could be you.
(Emily Ogden/National Parks Service)
On top of the disability award letter from the VA, qualified veterans can also use a VA summary of benefits, or proof of SSDI income to prove their disability status. Once proof of residency is also established, and the processing fee is paid, all the veteran has to do is wait. Their new lifetime access pass will arrive 3-5 weeks after sending the application. If online payments aren’t available to the veteran, the passes can also be acquired by paper mail or by stopping into an access pass-issuing facility. The documentation is still required, but getting the pass is a breeze.
The National Parks Service really is full of amazing natural wonders, which make this lifetime pass one of the biggest benefits of having served. The NPS is full of places you’ve always heard about, but likely have never seen: Big Bend, Arches, Denali, Sequoia, Crater Lake, Petrified Forest, Glacier Bay, Hot Springs, and so much more. Summer vacations will never be the same.
The spirit of giving is strong at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.
Carts filled with presents were wheeled out of the South Entrance and into vehicles waiting to take them to children and Veterans alike. The gifts are the result of a pair of outreach programs.
Employees in the hospital’s Logistics Department provided a bounty of gifts for 55 children served by Children’s Wisconsin’s Community Services Division.
Meanwhile, presents purchased via an annual giving tree organized by recreational therapist Sara LeClaire and the City of West Allis were bound for Veterans in the Community Living Centers, Palliative Care Unit and the Community Homes.
Gifts for children
“This is such a wonderful giving opportunity for us,” said Stacey Snyder, program support assistant in Logistics and chairwoman of the annual Children’s event. “During these times, when things feel a little grim, this is an opportunity to know every kid will get a gift.”
Volunteers load donated gifts into a car.
Like a traditional giving tree, Children’s provides names and ages of the children, along with a short list of items they desire. Employees then choose a child (or children) and purchases the gifts.
The children are typically involved in foster care, child and family counseling, child abuse prevention programs and special needs adoptions. Most live in poverty and have had “difficult and challenging” life experiences according to Children’s.
This is the fourth year for the outreach, which has grown to the point where Children’s runs out of names to provide to Snyder and her crew.
“Our motto is no one is left behind,” she said. “It’s become bigger and bigger. We have more people wanting to buy than there are kids.”
Snyder noted that one employee, who wants to remain anonymous, makes the event a family affair, selecting 11 children this year and involving his brothers, sisters and extended family.
Some employees write personal notes to the children.
“This creates a connection between us and the community,” Snyder said, noting that some employees grew up served by Children’s Community Services and are eager to give back. “There are some tears involved. This brings up a lot of memories for people.”
“This is wonderful,” said Sondra Russell, a social worker at Children’s after receiving the gifts Monday. “They’re very generous, and we’re very thankful.
“Our families will be very thankful as well,” added Children’s social worker Tanya Edwards. “Resources are limited for our families, so this is amazing.”
Gifts for Vets
Some employees wrote personal notes to accompany the gifts for children.
While Snyder and her crew loaded up gifts for Children’s, LeClaire and recreation therapy assistant Francheska Wallace were gathering gifts for Veterans.
For the last 10 years, LeClaire has organized the outreach with the City of West Allis. It also involves a giving tree, which went virtual this year due to the pandemic.
LeClaire provides a list of Veterans and crafts wish lists, enabling community members to select names and purchase the gifts. The list is based on each Veteran’s interests and needs.
This year, all of the names were snapped up within two hours of being posted, Wallace said.
“The organizer from West Allis called me and said all the tags were taken,” LeClaire said.
Many people buy more than one gift, seeking to fill out as many wish lists as possible.
“They buy them all. It’s amazing what we get. It’s really a wonderful program,” Wallace added. “It blows my mind how generous people are, and this year with COVID, they’ve been even more generous. It’s incredible and such a wonderful thing.”