While I may not have grown up in a “military” family, I have always been surrounded by family members who have dedicated a part of their life to serve our country in the U.S. Military. Growing up, I always heard the stories of both of my Granddads’ and my own Dad’s military adventures. Their stories of serving during wartime have always made me proud. However, it wasn’t until I visited a veterans’ hospital with my Dad, who was there for a medical appointment, that I fully began to realize the sacrifices our military men and women make to serve our country. It was there in the halls of the Dublin VA Medical Center that I began to ask myself, “What can I do to give back to them?”
What stood out the most to me in those hallways, were the lonely faces and the lack of smiles. My Mom will tell you that I am one of the most smiley people she knows. So it hurt my heart to see so many faces who had lost a sense of hope and didn’t have much to smile about. One of my favorite quotes by former 4‑H’er Dolly Parton states: “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours!”
It was at that VA hospital I realized that we all love to get cards, and because of my love for art, I felt like this was the perfect way to bring smiles to those hurting men and women. Hearing the stories of my family members who have served our country helped me to understand that military service in and of itself is a sacrifice. However, seeing those men and women in wheelchairs, some with very serious injuries, and many with no family or friends to visit, made me realize that those of us that have benefited from the service of our Veterans can be the difference in bringing a little bit of joy back into their lives.
For the last five years, I have organized teams of volunteers to create handmade cards, pack and deliver care packages to the long-term patients of the VA Hospital in Dublin. Additionally, once a year, 4‑H’ers come to our delivery to provide Music therapy through singing and playing instruments. And because of this, joy is what Operation: Veteran Smiles has brought to more than 4,000 Veterans of the Carl Vinson VA Hospital in Dublin, Georgia since 2012.
Support Operation: Veteran Smiles
Donate a care package to a veteran in need by purchasing a Smile Kit. Each kit will be hand-delivered by a volunteer, providing much-needed positive social interaction and support to isolated veterans. Kits include essential toiletries, a get-well card and a deck of playing cards.
Visit the Operation: Veteran Smiles page to donate a kit or learn how to start a program in your community.