Our Favorite Moments from 2018
2018 was such a wonderful year! Because of all that we do, we know there were stories and experiences we just didn’t share with you this year. So, we asked our team to share their favorite moment of 2018. Here’s what they had to say.
January 3, 2019
As we kick off 2019 and close the book on 2018, we thought we would do some reflecting. It has been such a wonderful year! We celebrated our 15 Year Anniversary (in a BIG WAY), expanded support, grew our seasonal programs, and so much more. Because of the dedication of our staff, angels, donors, and sponsors we are able to do so much! And because of all that we do, we know there were stories and experiences we just didn’t share with you this year. So, we asked our team to share their favorite moment of 2018. Here’s what they had to say.
Amy Palmer – CEO, Soldiers’ Angels
“My favorite moment of 2018 was probably our 15 Year Anniversary. More than the event itself though, I will never forget that night. After the event was over it took hours to clean up everything and we were working late into the night. Everyone was dragging or limping or had injuries or just felt sick from exhaustion. After being up very late the night before preparing for the big day, then waking up at the crack of dawn to start the event, and then working nonstop for 15 hours straight—everyone was whipped out, even me. But, everyone who was there came together, supported each other (even if it was by making fun of each other just to lift spirits – right “Chappy”?), and got it done. Teamwork at its best! Thank you to all staff, volunteers, board members, and Angels who worked so hard.”
Ann Backhurst – VA Representative, Biloxi, Mississippi
“One special moment that stands out is when I went to give a resident of our CLC on the VA Biloxi campus a Hygiene kit. I told him it was from Soldiers’ Angels, and he responded that he could not accept it, that he had not been a soldier, that he had been in another branch of the military. I explained the Soldiers’ Angels was the name of the organization and we served all members of the military regardless of the branch they were in. A big smile came across his face as he then accepted the kit and told me he just wanted to make sure he was entitled to the gift. I told him he gave the best gift of all to us – his service to our country. (He has his Purple Heart displayed in his room.)”
Tamie Jones – Regional Director
“It is hard to name a favorite moment because when you are working with such a great group of people, there are many fun times to be had. Our local veterans are also fun to talk to and they always have amusing stories to tell and they love to joke around. However, there is one moment that I will never forget. I attended a Veterans’ Day celebration at a local donor’s event. I was one of the speakers at the event along with a beloved local TV news anchor. She is a lovely young woman and there were many people eager to get their pictures taken with her. Many times I assisted by taking the pictures for them with their cameras. At one point during a brief break, she and I got to talking. We were enjoying our conversation (and the break) when along comes another woman who asks if she can get a picture. The news anchor happily obliges and moves to pose with the woman. Then, the woman says, “No. I meant I want to get a picture with her.” Much to my delight, she is gesturing to me. It turns out that her uncle attends our veteran mobile food distributions and she has heard a lot about “The Boss Lady” (the moniker the veterans stuck me with ages ago). She said she couldn’t wait to tell him that she met me and show him our picture. The news anchor looks at me in surprise and with a smile says, “Well, way to put me in my place!” That was definitely one of my favorite moments.”
Irvin Arnold – Fort Wayne Indiana VA Hospital
“I was visiting 16 veterans at a VA nursing home to distribute blankets and talk. About a week after my visit, I received a card in the mail from the Activities Director. She said the vets appreciated the new blankets but what they enjoyed most was talking to ‘that nice young man’. It really makes you feel warm to have compliments like that when ‘that nice young man’ is 71.”
Jackie Wymer – Angel Bakers Team Leader
“My greatest moment of 2018 is when I flew to Texas to be a part of the 15th Anniversary. I met so many amazing people and gained so many friends. The love that is put into this program by everyone is truly amazing. And I am proud to be a part of it.”
Tracy Curran – Deployed Support Teams Program Manager
“I’ve had so many favorite moments this year, but like many others of my Soldiers’ Angels co-workers/volunteers, I would have to say that my favorite moment was the 15th Anniversary Celebration. Getting to meet so many Angels in one place was fabulous. It truly was an amazing day of watching Angels do what they do best…support our service members both active duty and retired.”
Below is a photo of some of our team leaders at the 15 Year Anniversary Event with founder Patti Patton-Bader. From Left to right: Jackie Wymer, Tracy Curran, Kaleena Gharky, Patti Patton-Bader, Vanessa Vinton, Delaney Mott, Jerry Mott, and Pat Fried.
David Campos – Outreach Coordinator
“I can’t point out my favorite moment of 2018…..My favorite moment has to be the year 2018 itself. Not only was I hired full time staff but I was also presented another opportunity after my full time hire to represent Soldiers’ Angels in a much bigger way than I have ever imagined as I became an Outreach Coordinator for our organization. Because of the exposure of our organization, I also began to expose myself and my PTSD without FEAR. This past year is the most I have ever opened up about my PTSD in 15 years and began a renaissance of sorts for a new outlook on life as I began spreading the word on PTSD to other Veterans as this great organization allowed me to. I’ve touched so many Veterans and so many have been very grateful that I can share my story and comfort them as I let them know they are not alone in this fight against PTSD. I have now been back from the horrors of war for 15 years and have never felt so alive and with so much purpose. 2018 was a great moment for me and I am just getting started.”
Michelle Julazadeh Chavarin – Director of Marketing and Communications
“My favorite moment of 2018 was also one of my favorite moments from the last five years I have been a part of Soldiers’ Angels… It was the Veteran Mobile Food Distribution just before Thanksgiving in San Antonio on Tuesday, November 20th. It was a bigger than normal distribution since it was right before Thanksgiving– extra food to distribute to the registered veterans, as well as Tamales from our Tamales for Troops initiative with Las Palapas, candy from the Treats for Troops program, and, most importantly for many families, full-sized turkeys just in time for Thanksgiving. Once all the registered families were served, we called in some individuals from the waitlist— but, after serving several waitlisters, we had 10 more individuals to serve and NO more turkeys! There were plenty of other food items to provide for them, but somehow, a miscalculation led to not having those last 10 turkeys. The sponsor of that month’s event, Alliance Bernstein, had several volunteers attending to distribute food. Word spread to the Alliance Bernstein volunteers quickly that we were out of turkeys. Once they heard, they did not even hesitate— they asked how many turkeys we needed and one of their employees jumped in their car to run to the grocery store and buy the missing turkeys. The 10 individuals waiting for food sat in their cars patiently for what seemed like an eternity before a car full of turkeys arrived to save the day, courtesy of this amazing sponsor, Alliance Bernstein!
As if that weren’t already a great act of giving to witness… when the 10 individuals finally went through the line to receive their food, there was one car—a large, beat up old suburban— that caught my eye. Every seat in the suburban was filled with a person—from young children to teenagers to an elderly woman. In the driver seat was a female veteran and she was sobbing. With her head held down as often as she could and a hand raised over her face to shield anyone from seeing her tears, it was clear that her flood of emotion was filled with joy and gratitude for receiving all of the food, but also shame and sadness for being in a situation where she needed to rely on others to provide food for her family. Although I didn’t get to personally speak with this woman, my guess is that with such a large family to support, she knew in her heart that there was no way she could have possibly provided her family with a Thanksgiving dinner if it were not for the food she was receiving from Soldiers’ Angels.
Trying to choke back my own tears as I witnessed this woman’s struggle and nonchalantly taking photos of other actions at the food distribution so that I did not make her feel conscious of my camera, I was pretty sure that I was the only person at the event who noticed the pain and joy flooding from this veteran. However, when I glanced across the lane, I noticed tears leaking from another person’s eyes—an active duty female service member who had attended the distribution as a volunteer was also doing her best to choke back tears. Our eyes locked for a second and we both silently recognized that we had witnessed the same thing. Somehow in that moment, we shared an unspoken thought—we were grateful that this woman was among the lucky 10 to receive the miracle turkeys and we were happy that we were part of something that helped her and her family… but there was also more to that thought— Did we do enough for this woman and her family? What happens when the food runs out? What would it be like to be in her shoes? Why are there so many veterans struggling with the same issues?
Although that moment opens the doors to many larger issues faced by our organization and, more importantly, our country, it also solidified the knowledge that I am making a difference doing what I do. Soldiers’ Angels has grown so much in the time that I have worked here and it often feels like the problems we face are much larger than we are, no matter how big we grow. However, moments like those mean that we are—with the help of our donors, sponsors, supporters, and volunteers—making an impact on the lives of thousands of individuals who have voluntarily stood up for our families, our freedoms, and our countries.”
Susie Turner – Director of Volunteer Services
“There are many to look back on and remember.
Of course, the 15th Anniversary, getting to see familiar faces and meet new incredible people. When going back home and telling people where I had been and what we had done the look on their faces was an incredibly proud feeling.
It is always a favorite moment when I get to help an angel find his or her place within Soldiers’ Angels no matter if it is spending an hour or more on the phone or emailing back and forth several times being able to help someone find their niche is worth it.
While doing patient visits at the VA we came upon a Veteran doing “laps” in his wheel chair around the hallways. We introduced ourselves and talked to him for a little while, gave him a small baggie of candy (Treats for Troops) and continued to the next room. A little while late the same Veteran passed us quickly just as we were getting ready to enter another patient room and he turned and said, ‘Give me a few minutes so I can get back in bed.’ He turned, winked and said. ‘That will get me another bag of candy, right?’”
Travies Mims – Volunteer Coordinator in Atlanta
“Each day hundreds of veterans go without eating. I was able to assist with providing homeless veterans with a meal. Where other veterans go without eating. We are able to give some of them a nice lunchbox. I thoroughly enjoy helping our Nation’s Heroes!”
Randy Green – HQ Volunteer
“They are all my favorites. The best people, the best atmosphere, the best cause and the best feeling. I can’t even explain. It was the most wonderful experience for me.”
Vicki Sarracino – Sr. Director of Field Operations
“I would have to say my favorite moment of the year was being on stage with Susan Cookus seeing our Little Rock VA Representative receive the Nation Advisory Committee (NAC) Female Volunteer of the Year. This was not just the Soldiers’ Angels volunteer of the Year, but for NAC Volunteers across the nation. It is our first, but won’t be the last volunteer that received this prestigious award.”
Here’s a photo of Susan finding out she won the award.
Jennifer Cernoch – Vice President of Development
“My special moment for 2018 was the Celebration of our 15th Anniversary. Even though there were many long days and nights of planning, the success of the day was focused on what we accomplished through the generosity of many sponsors, donors, and volunteers – packing items for our deployed service members and low-income veterans. Individuals traveled long distances to ensure that our vision was accomplished – May No Soldier Go Unloved. Volunteers from all walks of life came together to show their support of our brave men and women in uniform and those who have fought so gallantly for our freedom in the past. Bravo Zulu – Mission Accomplished.”