Publisher's note: Please join me in welcoming our newest contributor to BCN, Kathy Manos Penn, a native of the "Big Apple", by way of the "Peach City" - Atlanta. Kathy, a former English teacher, authors The Ink Penn blog and is now happily retired from a corporate career in communications.
Once again this year, my husband will march in the Georgia Veterans Day Parade with members of the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association (AVVBA), and that evening we'll attend the Freedom Ball. The parade kicks off on November 12 at 11:11 hours in Downtown Atlanta. Though Veterans Day is always on November 11, the parade typically occurs on the nearest Saturday.
Last year's ball honored Vietnam Veterans, and this year's honors the USO as it celebrates its 75th anniversary. What does the USO do? Many of us recall seeing Bob Hope and more recently Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band entertaining the troops, but that's just one small part of what this organization does for the members of the military and their families. The mission of the USO is to "strengthen America's military service members by keeping them connected to family, home, and country, throughout their service to the nation."
Established in 1941 before our country entered WWII, the USO was created by bringing together several service organizations into one entity to support our troops. Those service groups included the Salvation Army, Young Men's Christian Association, Young Women's Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board.
Today's USO operates over 180 centers in countries on every continent except Antartica. Those centers are operated by staff and volunteers and are located at or near military installations, even in combat zones. Airport centers like those at the Atlanta and Charlotte airports provide a space where service men and women can connect with friends and family via Internet or phone, play a video game, watch a movie, have a snack or just plain relax.
Not only does the organization support our troops, it also supports their families. For example, "[t]he USO partners with the Comfort Crew for Military Kids to send motivational speakers on tour to promote self-confidence and resiliency in military children ages 6 to 15 years old." The Comfort Crew helps these children deal with issues such as bullying and adjusting to life during and after deployment. And, of course, supporting military children helps their parents to feel confident that their children are getting the best care.
I was touched when I read about the United Through Reading program which allows parents to read aloud stories to their children. The USO records story time on camera and mails the DVD and book home so that children can watch and listen to their parent anytime. The caring circle is complete when families send back a photo of the child or children watching and listening to the DVD. In 2015, USO delivered over 14,000 recordings.
I've described just a few of the services the USO offers our military families, and you can learn more at https://www.uso.org/75. You can also donate there. When you volunteer or send a donation, you too support our troops.
Here in Dunwoody, Georgia, many residents donated multiple times this summer when VFW and AVVBA members collected funds outside the local Kroger, helping the Dunwoody group to raise $10,000 and win the district competition for the third year in a row. The fact that the Dunwoody gang beat the second place location by $6,000 is a testament to the generosity of our community. Hats off to our USO supporters!
To read more of Kathy's columns and blogs, visit her website theinkpenn.com where you can also purchase her just published book "The Ink Penn, Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday."