One of the things that struck me most upon joining Operation Gratitude three years ago was seeing volunteers of all ages come together in service. I remember being filled with emotion and pride when I stood side by side at my very first Assembly Day with Americans from every walk of life and all ages — from preschoolers to 100-year-old WWII Veteran, Steve Politis.
What I have learned is simple: a servant’s heart has no bounds. It is not limited by age or ability; it beats strongly in each one of us.
Operation Gratitude gives every American the opportunity to let their servant’s heartbeat stronger and more loudly with every act of gratitude and kindness. From our more experienced Handmade With Love crafters who have discovered a true sense of purpose with Operation Gratitude, to first-grade classrooms learning the value of service from their teachers, the heart of this organization is our volunteers, and they make a difference with every single beat.
Think about the 3 million service hours and the treasure and talent our volunteers have donated over the past two years. What began at our founder’s dining room table has grown to thousands of tables nationwide. We have created a grassroots movement and a community of passionate and dedicated doers who let their actions speak louder than words.
Take a minute to read Jake Kelly’s volunteer spotlight this week about Lil Bauer, a volunteer who has been with Operation Gratitude since it began in 2003. At 95 years young, Lil is one of our oldest volunteers and is still among the most active. With her father and siblings all serving in the military, Miss Lil has been serving, too, with Operation Gratitude for the past 18 years, and for one simple reason: she is able to show her support by directly giving back to the troops.
Taylor Curro’s motivation to serve with Operation Gratitude is very similar to Miss Lil’s. As a military kid with parents serving in the Air Force, this 18-year-old freshman at the University of Virginia wrote 2,020 letters of appreciation as part of the OG 2020 Challenge. When I called Taylor a few weeks ago to say thank you for her extraordinary and tenacious efforts, she asked exactly the same question that Miss Lil has asked since 2003: “How can I do more?”
When I told Taylor about our Ambassador program and the potential to lead a campus-wide service project at UVA, I could hear the excitement in her voice as she recognized the potential to make a far greater impact for our men and women in uniform. By sharing her own story, I explained, she can help create understanding and empathy for the service and sacrifices made by other military families.
In that moment, I realized Taylor is like so many of our volunteers who are building bridges between those who serve and their civilian neighbors. Just because she is younger doesn’t mean she won’t make the same monumental impact that an Airman named Jared made in Texas and a military spouse named Sara made in Illinois.
Her servant’s heart beats as loudly as our VP of Marketing and Communications Danielle Tenconi’s, who is bringing together dozens of military and civilian families near Austin to say thank you and forge strong bonds with first responders in communities that were devastated by the winter storms last month. And it beats equally as strong as the hearts of three veterans who bridged divides in NYC last week and lifted the spirits of 6,000 police officers and 9-1-1 dispatchers serving NYPD.
I have seen Taylor’s type of tenacity time and again at service projects led by military and civilian children in schools, scout troops, and youth service groups like National Charity League and Young Men’s Service League. I could share countless stories about OG’s youngest generation of volunteers and their servants’ hearts.
For example, I am reminded of the awe-inspiring dedication and service of Eagle Scouts like Krishan, John, and William, and Girl Scout Silver Award recipient, Anushka. Each of them has led multiple service projects in their communities, collectively yielding tens of thousands of donated items, handwritten letters, and paracord survival bracelets. Undeterred by COVID-19, they continue to lead service projects, executing all activities virtually and seamlessly, with hundreds of other civilian and military children their age, despite the obstacles. They are shining examples of how volunteers with servants’ hearts are unstoppable in their commitment to serve.
On March 19, 2003, our Founder, Carolyn Blashek, and a few close friends gathered around her dining room table to assemble the first four care packages sent to soldiers in harm’s way on the day the Invasion of Iraq started. In just a few weeks Operation Gratitude will celebrate our 18th anniversary with grateful Americans — young and old — who have donated their time, talent, and treasure to help us deliver more than 3.1 million care packages since then.
In honor of the grassroots movement that Carolyn started, I’m asking you to take part in our 18th Birthday Design Competition. Share your talent and your servant’s heart like Miss Lil, Taylor, and our Scout volunteers; and your design could be featured on a commemorative t-shirt and a special card to be included in our care packages for deployed troops.
Every American, from age 4 to 104, can take part! Every American, no matter their age, can serve and make a difference with Operation Gratitude.