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.
So, what the heck does that mean?
Well, to fully explain this I have to go back about a decade and into the middle of the Mojave Desert, Fort Irwin California. It was back in 2010/2011 and I was stationed with my Army husband in one of those places that military families always say “if I ever get sent there, my service member is going alone” or something to that effect.
I actually remember driving down the long, 34 mile lonely desert road with my husband and coming over the final road “summit”, looking down at this dust bowl of a post that I was about to call home for the next 2 years and my husband said, “I am so sorry! Our kids are going to hate me!”
It was at the moment that I said, “it’ll be fine” but clearly thought, “I’m going to freaking hate you”. It was during my first week on Fort Irwin that I remember seeing all these military spouses, almost every morning, running in packs all over post...literally running. Like, they ran for fun. One day I finally got up the gumption to join them and I learned that yes, they did run for fun and they
also would sign up for half marathons and other races all over the area and go on fun girls’ weekends together to get away. So, I drank the Kool Aid and joined the “fun”.
Through this awesome group of ladies I was introduced to an even awesomer (I know that’s not a word but go with me on this) human being named Kevin Childre. Kevin was a Navy EOD officer who would work on Fort Irwin during the week and commute back to San Diego to be with his wife on the weekends. He heard about this crazy group of running spouses on post and offered to help us train for our races. He would meet us at 5am and conduct speed training sessions on the track, he would cheer us on and encourage us from the side of the road during our long runs and give us advice to properly train and not hurt ourselves.
Through it all, Kevin had his huge smile and positive attitude, even though some of us weren’t the most pleasant people in the wee-hours of the morning. Kevin didn’t do this for money or for recognition, but just because he enjoyed helping people. For every positive, helpful Kevin story we have, there are literally 100s of stories out there from countless other people that Kevin’s kindness impacted.
Unfortunately, while on a 630 mile bike ride from San Francisco to San Diego in an effort to raise money and awareness for the EOD Warrior Foundation, Kevin crashed and suffered a severe brain injury and died in May of 2015.
Now, through the voice of his best friend, his Goldendoodle Tucker, and the efforts of his wife, Margaret Lum, Kevin’s kindness lives on everyday but especially every year on his birthday. Tucker and Margaret ask people on November 3rd to go around living life as Kevin would, being kind. They have a
hashtag of #RandomActsOfKevness hoping that those that knew Kevin and those that didn’t, will spend the day honoring him.
Myself and the amazing friends I made out in Fort Irwin spend this day remembering the sweet running “coach” that took so much time to make our lives a little brighter out the middle of the desert. My hope in sharing this story with the Inspire Up crowd is that you too will join us this November 3rd and spread some intentional kindness in memory of Kevin.
About the Author:
A steadfast supporter of the military community, Yvonne Coombes brings almost
two decades of expertise to the Operation Deploy Your Dress (ODYD), a 501(c)3 that re-deploys new and gently used formal wear to military dependents. As the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Coombes manages the company's overall resources and operations.
In March of 2020, Yvonne was named the Armed Forces Insurance Army Spouse of the Year and was also named the Northern Virginia Heroes at Home overall Honoree in 2019 for her hard work and dedication to the military community as a whole. Yvonne loves to show everyone that her efforts about more than a dress. She is working hard to uphold military traditions, encourage camaraderie, build community, and boost morale. Currently, Coombes calls Fort Carson, Colorado home. She and her husband (Mike), an active duty Army officer, have two sons (Jakob and Jackson).
Hope is Absolutely Why We See Holiday Displays So Early
By Sarah Seweryniak
It happens every year. When we should be enjoying the final days of summer, Christmas decorations seem to be exploding out of aisles in retail stores.
I was on the phone with my friend talking about how it seems each year the displays come out earlier and earlier. When COVID-19 hit, we were starting to take bets on if it would happen sooner. The truth is, when I hear people complain about it, a piece of me giggles inside, probably because I’ve been planning my winter display since July.
While it’s clear corporations are trying to capitalize on the season of giving, I do not think that’s the answer to why we see the Christmas decor so early. I think the market is taking advantage of something greater. It’s our need to fulfill ourselves with the magic of the season. It’s the one time of year where there are feelings of enthusiasm and excitement. As one year gets ready to close, another is about to start. There are feelings of promise and optimism during this enchanting time.
As summer slips away, we start noticing the days are getting shorter. Night falls upon us earlier and earlier. Everything is starting to go dormant. It’ll start to get colder.
It makes sense to want to add warmth to our long winter days and nights. A strand of illuminated lights offers a glow, and the added sparkle creates a beautiful and magical winter wonderland. It is making a season of light and hope when otherwise, it would be a season of darkness.
As we age, we tend to lose that childhood wonder we once had with the year’s most magical time. When we start seeing decorations pop up, our inner child is trying to break out somewhere deep inside us—trying to find the hope and wonder of yesterday. As we age, don’t we wish for the simplicity of our youth?
I know I’ve have often found myself slipping away to memories of simpler times. Inspiration is needed now more than ever as we are in the middle of a global pandemic with COVID-19. Our essential workers have worked tirelessly. Families have had to cope with a new normal. Whether it’s dealing with the illness first-hand or adjusting your lifestyle with children remote learning. We’ve also seen the country in unrest. We’re in a time where kindness is needed.
Each time our communities face tragedy, we often see house light bulbs replaced with a specific color to either honor someone or a cause. Countless times we’ve seen family and friends support loved ones who are elderly, immunocompromised or were stricken with COVID-19 by buying food and supplies. The impact of a simple act of kindness is significantly felt in a community. When the effects of COVID-19 were first felt in the United States, many people started to place Christmas displays in their yard to inspire hope and kindness, because we are all in this together.
If there is one thing that I have learned in my life, we all have a purpose and a reason for being here. Whether it’s volunteering with an organization you believe in, or just putting a smile on someone’s face - your life is an opportunity where you can make a difference.
We are not the same people we were at the start of the year. A world that moved very fast has started slowing down. Proof that even in trying times, there is good. Next time you see a Christmas display before its season, look at it a little differently. Instead of cringing, let it fill you with warmth, optimism and inspiration.
About the Author:
Sarah Seweryniak was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. She received her bachelor’s degree in Communication Media Arts from Hilbert College. Sarah’s writing career has spanned over a decade, writing for local newspapers and online publications. She loves writing pieces that connect, inform, and inspire. In her downtime, she loves spending time with her husband and daughter. Read more of her work at www.sarahseweryniak.com
You can follow Sarah on Facebook and Twitter by clicking the icons below!
When you are kind, YOU feel good.
Let’s talk about times that we show kindness and how it makes us feel. Have you ever pulled a child off the angel tree at your local Walmart or Church? How did it feel when you were out shopping for your ‘angel’? How did you feel when you thought about how much they would enjoy their new treasures?
What about preparing a meal for your neighbor who just came home with their new baby. Did you try a little harder on your meal prep? Did you think back to when you were just bringing home your children? When you stopped by their house to bring your meal, did you enjoy those smiles. How did you feel as you walked or drove away? Content? Happy?
When is the last time you bought that perfect gift for your spouse? When was the last time you did something truly awesome for them? Did you wash their car? Buy them the perfect gift? Maybe you picked them up a drink at a candy bar at the gas station on the way home from work?
How did you feel when you were serving others? I bet it felt good! My mom has a weird way of describing this feeling… so I ask: did you get a big warm fuzzy feeling on the inside?
When you are kind to others, THEY feel good.
How do you feel when someone does something for you? Do you think those on the receiving side of your kindness feel good when you share kindness with them? That child you bought Christmas presents for… How do you think that made them feel? That family you prepared a meal for… do you think you made them smile? Do you think they appreciated not having to worry about shopping, cooking, etc. that evening?
How happy was your husband when you bought him that new watch? How happy was your spouse when you washed their car? What about that time you brought home that cool new game for your child?
Let’s talk about the ripple effect,
Now… what do you think happened with each of those situations? Do you think they kept that feeling of happiness and contentment to themselves or do you think they shared it?
Often, when someone does something nice for us, it causes us to want to give that feeling away. Do we only do something nice to the person who did for us, or do we pay it forward and show kindness to others we encounter? Just like a ripple in a pond, I feel with each one act of kindness, there is a multiplying effect further reaching than we could imagine.
What if we were all kind?!?
Close your eyes with me and imagine… well, wait til you are done reading - then close your eyes and imagine.... if we were all kind, every single one of us putting only kindness out into this world. Kindness ripples could stretch anywhere. Affecting anyone and everyone in their path. So I ask you this - what would it look like if your entire household, your entire street, your entire community, showed kindness to everyone… for one day, for one week, for one year, forever?
It's a beautiful vision.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Brianna Grace Cooley 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.
The power of simple words...
It was seven in the morning and I had laced up my running shoes and pulled my hair back in to a tight ponytail. I had my running app open and ready to go as I grabbed my wireless headphone from the charger and headed out the door on a Saturday morning. I won’t say that I was overly excited about this morning run. In fact, I was kind of dreading it.
You see, just 4 weeks earlier my family tackled another summertime move (number 7 and our 3rd in the 4 years) with the U.S. Air Force. Only this one was considerably different. As we are all well aware of, there is this global pandemic happening at the moment. When you add that and all the Covid-19 precautions to the chaos that already is a military move, you almost certainly have a recipe for feeling all the BIG emotions.
Moving is hard as it is. Leaving relationships behind, the actual moving part, the discovery of all the things that were damaged, lost, or broken during the unpacking process and how to make them fit in to the new house, registering kids for school, learning a new city, state, and then the trying to make new friends part… when you put it all together it doesn’t matter how solid of a human being you may be, at some point you feel isolated.
This year was no different, except that because of a 14-day restriction of movement that we had to complete once we arrived combined with the fact that everyone is staying home, it has been magnified and I have felt more isolated and alone than I have ever before. Finding ways to combat that isolation and loneliness, I won’t lie, it has been really tough. Even more so when I think about the fact that both kids have been home with me, full time, for 5 months now. What I do know is that I always feel better when I move my body.
So, this particular Saturday morning I knew I needed to get out and move for my physical health and to clear my head but.... I was not really motivated to do it.
I started down the driveway and around the first turn and I ran in to a couple out for a morning walk. They smiled and said hello as we passed each other at an acceptable social distance. I kept going, still dreading the next 28 minutes that I had planned to be moving. About a quarter of a mile later I passed a mother and daughter out for their morning walk with their four-legged canine friend and they smiled and gave me a cheery “Good Morning” as we passed each other, to which I replied with an excited “Good Morning to you too!” and we went on our separate ways.
Another half-mile down the road I exchanged a simple smile and a quick runner’s wave to another 30-something mama who had for sure escaped the Saturday morning crazy just like I had to grab some alone time with the pavement. It was about this time that I realized my mentality about this run was changing. Another half mile later and I come upon a mom out walking with her two kids, and I blurt out, in between inhales and exhales, “GOOD (inhale) MORNING!” She cautiously looks at me with that “this lady is crazy” face and then it happened. In a fraction of a second, her facial expression went from “crazy lady” to a grin a mile wide that said, “thanks for seeing me.”
You see, what had happened was that the first 5 people I had passed on my run blessed ME with a positive gratitude. And by the time I got to the mama with her two kids, I wasn’t waiting for someone to say something to me, I was energetically blurting out a “GOOD MORNING.” I was no longer dreading being on that 3 mile run and I was passing on positivity to someone else. Since that run, I have had the family out walking, biking, and scootering many times. One of my kids the other day said, “Mom, I really like that when I wave or say hi to someone here they say it back” (insert my heart melting into a puddle of mush riiiiiiight here).
These small things: a simple wave, a caring smile, a cheery “Hello”, a “Good Morning” are what can be the difference maker in someone’s day. They can completely re-frame your sense of self and belonging. These pleasantries, no matter how small they seem, can revolutionize a person’s attitude or experience and make them feel seen.
Even more simply put: words are kindness in action.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cat Vandament is the 2019 Armed Forces Insurance Scott Air Force Base Spouse of the Year and the 2018 AFI Fairchild Air Force Base Spouse of the Year. She was born and raised in Coppell, Texas where she met her high school best friend and married him after he graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and her from Kansas State University. Cat is a mom of two, a pilot’s wife, a public speaker, and an infertility warrior. As an adoptive mom and former teacher, Cat has taken her passion for teaching outside the classroom, to educate and advocate for families that have journeyed through infertility and are navigating the adoption process. She is taking it all one step further and is currently pursuing a Master of Social Work degree with the University of Central Florida.
To learn more about Cat, follow her on Facebook or Instagram below -- or shoot her an email to say hello!
2020...Whoa…am I right?
Inspire Up was launched on April 1st, 2020 - after our absolutely life changing experience leading the Giving Tuesday Military campaign. When we reached 2.5 million people with intentional acts of kindness on December 3rd of 2019, we just knew that our mission couldn’t be limited to just one day each year.
We wanted so much more.
In our quest to figure out what was next, one of our epic and amazing Kindness Warriors messaged us and suggested the hashtag, #GivingAlways and that quickly became our new mantra.
We had found our purpose; Inspire Up was born.
Kindness without boundaries or limits was going to change the world, we were sure of it.
Then, COVID-19 came on the scene. Looking back on this year, my best analysis without getting into the thick of things is that everything is a bit bananas. I so long for last year, when we all had a sense of normalcy and knew exactly what the mission at hand was. This year has been rampant with fear, anxiety, strife, divide and hurt. Suddenly, our call to kindness had an urgency to it - lifting one another and getting back to that deep sense of community.
I find myself searching out pockets of love and light on social media in spite of so much anger/discourse on the general feed. I dive into those happy videos of golden retrievers and Panda Bears so I can smile on my most stressful days. But it is the stories of inspiration, kindness and compassion that bring me back to center - giving me hope that yes, everything will be okay.
A few weeks ago I had breakfast at our local beach. As I was walking to my car, I saw a gentleman playing cornhole in the sand and his shirt caught my eye. The shirt read: “Being Kind is Cool”. I left my car and dug down deep, because how could I have choose to let that sign from the universe pass me by? I quickly introduced myself to my fellow Kindness Warrior and asked if I could take a picture with him. He kindly obliged; and that moment changed my whole day.
It inspired me to go on a Quest for Kindness. What moments of kindness was I missing because I wasn’t truly looking for them? How could I purposefully search out kindness to shape my day and that of others?
On the way home I passed a roadside library, part of Little Free Library nonprofit organization, and turned my truck right around. HARD.
I just had to meet the owner! Yes, at this point my kids most definitely thought I was nuts after my antics at the beach and now this! The woman running this local passion project was just lovely and definitely a spot of inspiration for our community. I hope to share her story with our audience in the next several weeks.
It was incredible to me that in pondering the events of that morning, how changing my mindset allowed these opportunities that I wasn’t expecting to move into the forefront of my day, all because I was intentionally seeking out positivity, light and hope.
Those were the favorite moments of the day, hands down.
If you have followed Inspire Up and watched any of our Facebook lives, you will hear me say “kindness is the currency of love”. It's one of my favorite sayings. I truly believe it will be the force that heals and unites us all - especially after so much division. One voice in a crowd is lonely, and quiet, but if we join together our voices will sound like a chorus of love.
I desperately want YOUR Voice and I want to hear YOUR stories! Let’s light this world up…together.
Want to help me curb my Golden Retriever and Panda video habit? Ready to fill our social media with inspiration? If you are a kindness warrior, then you are exactly who we have been looking for. If you are interested in writing for our blog, (which will be filled with stories of hope, kindness and community building) click here and email me... right now. Together, we'll make the world kinder.
INSPIRED by kindness: Watch this general deliver ice cream in his homemade truck to combat quarantine bluesRead Now
As the United States approaches two months in quarantine, people from all walks of life are starting to feel the effects of social distancing and continued isolation. Retired Air Force Lt. General Stanley E. Clarke III, his wife Rebecca and their daughter Kelly Reynolds, decided to change that narrative.
With an ice cream truck.
Reynolds shared that the family lives in a strong community committed to always supporting each other. Things like kids writing sweet words in chalk on the sidewalks and adults creating fun scavenger hunt games have been the norm during their quarantine. After listening to her mother describe neighborhood ice cream trucks to her 6-year-old son one day, she had an idea. “I turned to my mother and said we should take ice cream to everyone, that it would be so much fun,” said Reynolds.
The idea expanded to creating an actual ice cream truck using Clarke’s old Chevy Apache to distribute the sweet treats. All the grandchildren jumped in to help. Together, the family quickly went to work creating handmade signs and colorful decorations for the truck. They even fashioned a special tube for distribution so they could safely hand out ice cream while still practicing social distancing. Then they waited for a sunny day, spread the word and hit the road.
It was a huge hit.
The excitement on the faces of all surprised by the ice cream truck was contagious. “It was like an infection of joy being spread. To be a part of it was so much fun and to know that what we did had an impact was incredible,” said Reynolds. She explained that their family resides in a quiet neighborhood in Kentucky, which is filled with medical personnel. Knowing that their surrounding community is battling the pandemic on the front lines made their idea to give back even more special and important to them.
Clarke agreed and shared that he was personally inspired by a group of military spouses who founded the GivingTuesdayMilitary movement. Three women, who were named “Spouse of the Year” for their respective branches, launched an initiative to inspire over one million intentional acts of kindness. Clarke is currently the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Armed Forces Insurance, which owns the Military Spouse of the Year award program.
“This is exchanging ice cream for smiles because how many people are smiling out there, particularly during a crisis? How cool is that?” he said. Clarke said he feels that doing things like this can really make a difference, especially now. Reynolds expanded on that to explain that people really don’t need to do anything extravagant or big, but that it was the little things that truly matter.
Studies have shown that social isolation can eventually lead to poor health outcomes. The rapid progression of COVID-19 has forced states to implement social distancing and stay at home orders to save lives. Communities around the country are finding ways to come together to engage with each other safely while also inspiring hope with kindness. General Clarke and his family are one example, and they truly hope to inspire others to do the same.
“Find a small way to spread kindness and joy and just do it. It will impact people,” Reynolds said. She feels that these are the kinds of things that need to be seen on social media. Messages of kindness and hope to lift people during a time of fear. “The biggest impacts we can have on people are the ones we don’t even know we are creating,” she shared.
This family’s story of kindness is having an impact. Word is quickly spreading about their homemade family ice cream truck. Several leaders of military bases loved it so much that they talking about starting their own ice cream truck caravans. This demonstrates how one act can have a ripple effect, with no end in sight.
That is the power of kindness.
Author: Jessica Manfre
The global COVID-19 pandemic has so far dominated the year 2020. The news cycle is filled with statistics, new restrictions, and a suffering economy. The current pandemic is also causing rising symptoms of depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. A few women decided to change that narrative. They are encouraging others to live in a space of purpose and love.
Victoria Griggs is an active duty Army spouse living in Seattle, Washington – the area of the United States first impacted by the pandemic. She shared that she has a son with a rare blood disorder which requires frequent hospital visits, despite the shelter in place order. Her mom lovingly made her family masks to utilize during their hospital trips. “I took a quick picture and made a Facebook post thanking my mom for the masks and sharing that more could be made for anyone in need. I never dreamed it would turn into what it did,” said Griggs.
Less than 24 hours later, she was fielding hundreds of requests for masks and offers to help make more. She quickly realized that there would need to be a team to make this work and a nonprofit would need to be formed. Marine spouse Jill Campbell and Army spouse Sophia Eng came on board. Then Becky Blank and Ruthi Nguyen, who are civilians, joined in too. All of them realized they had a unique opportunity to make a difference.
We Have Masks was live within weeks.
Once established as an official nonprofit, they began receiving monetary donations. All of the money raised goes right into the mask making. They are now supporting multiple groups throughout the country with supplies and shipping costs that are sewing masks. They have made over 7,000 masks to date thanks to the efforts of 400 sewers. We Have Masks also has a group volunteering their time working with 3D printers to make tools for mask makers. Every piece that put We Have Masks together is based on a shared devotion to serving others.
On the other side of the country, Megan Brown was doing the same thing.
Her mask making all started as a way to support her fellow Air Force families at her husband’s base in Georgia. Very quickly it morphed into sewing masks for military families and first responders all over the country. Brown was open in sharing that the original idea for Milspo Mask Makers was Sarah Mainwaring’s and she was “lovingly pushed” into doing it alongside her and then eventually leading the cause. They have now made 1,200 masks to date with no end in sight.
“We are challenging the military community to stand in the gap,” Brown said. She went on to explain that her deep faith pushed her to say yes to this. Brown also shared that she couldn’t just organize this, but believed deeply that she had to be making the masks as well. “True leaders do so from the front,” she said. Brown and all of the Milspo Mask Makers are challenging the military community to make 10,000 masks by the time GivingTuesdayNow rolls around on May 5th, 2020.
Back in Seattle, Griggs was watching Brown and her mask makers. She reached out to her on a whim to connect and tell her how much she admired what she was doing. They both discussed their deep desire to bring joy to those in need and a feeling of purpose to those lost. “This is one of the darkest times in our generation. We are all going through what is essentially a group trauma,” Brown shared. Through community building and serving, they both want to help heal that trauma.
So, they’ve joined forces.
We Have Masks will begin to utilize and adopt the hashtag, #MilSpoMaskMakers to help Brown monitor their targeted goal of 10,000 masks. They are actively seeking more people who are willing to sew and support the mask making efforts. Both women encouraged those who can sew to sign up and onboard through the We Have Masks website. Those in need of masks personally or for their community can also utilize the website to request masks. Those who are able to donate to the cause can safely give there as well.
“I can’t wait to model collaboration to this generation of military spouses. It’s about meeting the need together – publicly, lovingly, and well,” said Brown. Griggs echoed that sentiment, explaining that she feels this is such a great space to be in and truly feels like they are making a difference. Together.
In a world currently filled with scenes of loss and unknowns, there can also be deep love and purpose. All it takes is a willingness to serve and the belief in the power of community.
Be the change.
Gomolka shared that she researched the signs and symptoms heavily, watching closely for fever or any shortness of breath. When she started with a cough and headache, she didn’t initially think it could be COVID-19. A few days later, the fever and body aches came. “In that moment, you are kind of stuck between the place of fear and disbelief,” she said. Gomolka said she just knew she had it. She quarantined herself in a guest bedroom, praying she wouldn’t pass it to anyone else in her family. A call to the public health department gave her the verbal instructions of self quarantine and presumption of COVID-19 based on symptoms, but there was no test available to her due to being considered low risk, and lack of other comorbid conditions.
Gomolka wouldn’t get one, until she ended up in the emergency room.
“Getting up from the bed to walk into the kitchen is not usually challenging. With this, there was an air hunger. It became a conscious effort to breathe in and out all day long. The feeling that I could never get enough air was making me live right under the threshold of panic,” she shared. Gomolka finally went to the emergency room when breathing became even more difficult and was placed on oxygen for hours. It was there she received her Chest X-ray, CT scan and COVID test, which revealed she did in fact have the virus. Then her husband, who had just returned from a long deployment overseas, started getting sick too.
Their family was quickly and officially served with mandated home quarantine paperwork by their local sheriff’s office, unable to leave their home at all. Contracting this virus and bringing it home to her family -- her biggest fear -- could have caused despair. Instead, she found the beauty in it.
“It comes down to perspective….. to find the opportunities for beauty. You have to choose joy,” she shared. Gomolka shared that having time slow down for her family was a blessing. Relationships were strengthened and hearts were lifted. What could have been a time of anxiousness was an opportunity to reconnect and spend time in a space of gratefulness.
Gomolka also shared that initially she hesitated in going public with their diagnosis, wondering if people would respond in a negative way. The result was completely opposite of that. “We had an entire community, local and virtual of people who just rallied around us and lifted my family up,” she said.
“We are trying to figure out how we make that kind of difference in someone else’s life and come to their aid in a way that makes impactful change,” she said. One of the ways she’s going to do this, is to immediately go back to work treating patients with emergent conditions and skin cancer. She and her husband also signed up with the New York Blood Center, the American Red Cross, and Upstate University Hospital with the National Plasma Antibody project, hoping they can give their plasma for use in critically ill COVID19 patients. They also plan to try to complete errands and shopping for members of their community who are immunocompromised or elderly.
“We are always going to encounter challenges, but how do you respond to them? Find the good,” she said. She continued on saying that this experience has broadened her definition of what a hero is. “As a military family we tend to think of heroes as someone in a camouflage uniform, but that has changed for me,” she said. Gomolka explained that now, her version of a hero are the people who run towards danger while the rest of us “hunker down”. The grocery store workers, health care professionals, and deliverymen -- to name a few.
When asked what she would tell those reading this article, she smiled and shared that although she knows her diagnosis and experience is not the same as others, she wants people to know that together we can make it through anything. She implored people to “pause, and take it all in and find the beauty”.
Author: Jessica Manfre