By: Brittany Raines
Small Community, Big Village
Sounds contradictory, right? Let me explain. Both on the installation and off, our community is small in size but big in hearts, helping hands and compassion for our communities.
Here at Fort Drum, a village is easy to come by if you are open to it. Your village can be found within organizations such as the Spouses’ Club, youth groups, chapels, and other military services. Service members and spouses’ are easily connected to others who are like-minded. This cultivates a village for the time they are at this duty station. Further, there are groups like this outside the installation. Because the surrounding community is incredibly supportive of our service members, our villages extend beyond the gates. Having personal and community support empowers groups to make a difference together.
Giving Tuesday Military
This initiative started small--as many new programs do. Because our movement was so inspiring, we had individuals reach out to us even before our planning began. This is a testament to the impact of small acts of kindness and the potential a community has to grow.
While many people are preparing for the holidays or settling in from a recent move, we have more than twenty organizations ready to make an impact through kindness in our community. What’s better, we will be inspiring community giving, both inside the gates and in neighborhood schools and surrounding communities as well.
This year, our service opportunities extend far and wide. We have teamed up with the Red Cross to host two blood drives with the theme “Battle of the Badges” which has allowed us to work closely with the Department of Emergency Services. Once we got the ball rolling, our vision grew to a 24 hour day of giving. We are planning to deliver treats to first responders, hospital personnel, and teachers. We will also be committing small acts of kindness throughout the community that day. Our committee has developed food drives with a school for their backpack program and ZooNY in Watertown to benefit Feed Our Vets.
Further, our Spouses’ Club and housing communities partner on a coat drive to donate to the Urban Mission. Also, we are asking community members to write cards to support the Veteran Pen Pal Project-Operation Holiday Salute. This program delivers cards to veterans who are in hospice across the nation for the holidays to bring comfort and positive thoughts in their final moments.
The Girl Scouts will be writing inspiring messages at nursing homes. The Cub Scouts will also be delivering donations to the SPCA and first responders. Cornell Cooperative Extension has committed to kindness with their youth after school programs, and Starbucks on Fort Drum is encouraging paying it forward with paid post-it notes. Our Giving Tuesday Military committee has found incredible success this year in collaboration with organizations with whom many of us already have connections.
Not only are we offering countless ways to be involved in community service on December 1st, but we have several community sponsors who have assisted in making our projects happen. Some of these sponsors include First Command, AmeriCU, Armed Forces Banks, Stewart’s Shops, and other small, local businesses.
Sit for a minute and think about our ten committee members. Then think about the twenty organizations that have committed to a donation drive or volunteer service. Finally, consider the many lives each of those individuals will touch in one day. The hundreds of lives saved by our blood drive that one day. One day really can make a difference. Why does counting our acts of kindness that day matter? Because we are making a transformation; a transformation in mindset that will benefit our entire community and beyond.
The late screenwright, Howard Zinn, lived life to inspire others to make history. He stated, “small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” Our mission is just this. Your one act on one day may feel like a drop in the bucket. However, coming together as a community to make a change will create ripples, and the more drops, the bigger those ripples become.
This mindset of making waves of change cannot easily be stopped or forgotten. One act or one million, kindness matters.
About the Author:
Brittany Raines is the 2017 Armed Forces Insurance Fort Drum Spouse of the Year. Her family was named the 2020 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) National Volunteer Family of the Year.
An avid volunteer, Brittany prides herself on advocating for community needs and collaborating between organizations to serve others. She has taken networking to a powerful level at her current duty station, and has worked to increase connections to further bridge Fort Drum with the surrounding area. Currently, Brittany volunteers for the North Country Spouses' Club, Girl Scouts, the Chapel, the Resident Advisory Board, and her children's sports teams and schools.
GivingTuesdayMilitary holds a special place in Brittany's heart. After giving back to every community she's lived since childhood, this mission has provided a way to use her skills and connect them with her passion for helping others.
Make Your Own Windows
By: Brianna Cooley
Life is hard. Moving to a new installation or environment is tough and connecting with people and fitting in can be really challenging.
Transitions are hard, but being proactive can make it easier.
I moved to Barksdale AFB when I was in seventh grade. Middle school is already hard enough, but add in kids not being friendly, my brother and sister living away for college and Air Force Basic Training and being in a new place where I knew no one? Rough.
I went from being on homecoming court and involved in quite a few clubs in Alabama to not having any friends and no possibility of small groups here in Louisiana. But in eighth grade I started trying new sports and clubs and was finally able to gain an officer role in my school’s Beta Club. Ninth grade (16 months into our new duty station) was definitely my break-through year. I was able to be a Senator on Student Council and become active in both s2s and FCA.
Now as a tenth grader I am president of the sophomore class, president of s2s, working on completing my second semester of dual enrollment and a member of the varsity cheer, swim and tennis teams. Although I was constantly working to gain traction at school, but my community activities were what carried me through.
With everything that I was doing outside of school… my school inclusion issues became the least of my worries or my concern.
I began starting my own initiatives in 7th and 8th grade. The first one was very small, B’s Birthday Surprises. This was where I would go around base and surprise airmen on their birthday by request of a family member that could not visit them here at their installation. Now, 2 years later, the initiatives are much larger. B’s Bags are hygiene/snack packs distributed to homeless friends around the US on our travels and Lil Warrior’s Kindness Krewe where we mentor children and promote community service is thriving. Through this serving I have met the greatest people… people that love me, encourage me and push me in ways I never knew possible.
Moral of this story is simple. Just like kids, you as a military spouse or civilian have probably had similar struggles fitting in, no matter what your environment was.
It took over two years for the school environment to come around and be better for me. Instead of waiting for that, it just forced me to open my own window and create my own opportunities to meet people and enrich my life.
If you are struggling with friends, neighbors, whatever at your new installation or current life situation… don’t give up! Keep moving forward, but always think of other things you can do keep your feeling connected and engaged. Make your own window.
About the author:
Brianna is military child focused on tackling suicide prevention through mentoring children of all ages to discover their purpose through community service, leadership, and showing kindness. As a leader with Every Warrior Network, Brianna serves as Director of the Lil’ Warriors Kindness Krewe where she mentors children and provides parents and teachers with tools and daily challenges to promote kindness and service. As the Barksdale AFB #GivingTuesdayMilitary ambassador and team lead Brianna lead the effort to send over 7,000 holiday cards to airman at BMT for Christmas 2019 and collected over 1,500 food items for our local backpack ministry for elementary aged students facing food insecurity, ultimately achieving 10,000 acts of kindness. Brianna is an honors student, a cheerleader, and a tennis player. She serves in leadership with Student Council, S2S, FCA, and JROTC at school and is an active member of Team RWB. A huge part of Brianna’s life is developing initiatives to address problems she has discovered in her communities. To date she has created 4 initiatives, earned 5 Presidential Volunteer Service Awards (Gold), was recently recognized as a Top 5 Air Force Military Child of the Year finalist, and has appeared on several podcasts, local televisions segments, and panels.
Kindness, compassion and a connection to those in need help us to rise from the ashes.
The prophet Jeremiah writes: “In this place of which you say it is a wasteland…. there will be heard again the sounds of joy and gladness…. the voices of those who sing.”
Guadalupe, Arizona, a town of 5,000 on the east side of Phoenix, was the scene of a tragedy 21 years ago. A father of 6 children shot their mother and then turned the gun on himself, leaving the 6 children to live with their grandparents.
The tragedy began long before the murder-suicide, however. Alex abused his wife, Rose, and children for years. Rose tried many times to escape and this time was deadly. Three of the children witnessed the massacre and three saw their mother and father lying dead when they came home from school.
The local news carried the story as I was cooking dinner. This horrifying act happened 3 miles down the road from my house. The reporter was interviewing the grandmother who was in shock. It hit me that this woman needed help with her 6 grandchildren. At the time, as the director of a youth ministry program at my church, I was able to call on the youth and people of our parish to lend a hand. My friend Flo and I knocked on doors until we found the house that was the scene of the tragedy. We found that 18 children lived in the house with 5 adults. There was a great need for food, clothes, and hygiene supplies.
Our youth program raised money within 2 weeks and delivered needed items. I made regular trips to drop items off the house donated by our generous parish and each time the grandmother would greet me in tears. She would barely raise her head. Finally, after 6 months she looked at me and asked my name. From that moment we forged a friendship and she trusted that we would help the children.
Flight 33 is an after school program that began tutoring 12 children in the family affected by the tragedy. In our 21 years the program grew to 250 children meeting at the local Tribal center.
Over the years, we have had great successes with students graduating that might never have reached that goal. At the same time, we have seen more tragedies in the lives of the children. And even though we know many of the children’s stories, we are just scratching the surface. Many of these children are survivors. They go to school day after day and never complain. They come to the after school program with a smile and are greeted the same way.
Kindness and compassion are hallmarks of Flight 33. The kindness of our volunteers who spend hours tutoring, playing learning games, or just talking with the kids. The kindness of strangers who donate money, food, clothes, school supplies, snacks, hygiene items, and blankets. The kindness of the parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, who are grateful and want to help. All go above and beyond to make life better for our students. Being kind takes inner strength and fortitude but carries a huge reward. Caring about others and showing them that they are valuable, helps us to care about and value ourselves.
Covid-19 has limited Flight 33’s contact with our students. The town was hit hard, and families lost loved ones. The hard-working people in the community have risen to serve their fellow towns people.
Flight 33 has been blessed to work alongside the people to help furnish needed supplies and provide learning activities for the children. There is no limit to what we can do when we work together to help others in need. The trauma continues and is forever present in the lives affected by devastating acts.
But, in the end... kindness has the power to transform these lives, giving hope and a reason to look to the future.
About the author:
Christine Puzauskas, a former teacher and youth minister, is the Founder/Director of Flight 33, Inc. a nonprofit that serves children in Guadalupe, AZ through education and basic needs assistance. Chris has a background in Education and began a youth ministry program in 1999, Flight, Freedom to Live the Truth. Flight 33 came out of that program. This nonprofit foundation is led by volunteers and has managed an after-school program for 21 years. Flight 33 currently collaborates with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe to hold the program in the local community center. Chris is married to John Puzauskas, a civil engineer. They have two daughters, Katie and Maggie, and 4 grandchildren with one more due any day.