Thanking the Thankers: Celebrating Service (and a 5th Birthday!)

For most kids, turning five is kind of a big deal. For one Texas family, celebrating their son’s birthday with a Marine Corps-themed party and the collection of donations to support Operation Gratitude instead of presents, made it unforgettable.

I recently was honored (read my previous blog to learn why I have the best job at Operation Gratitude!) to speak with Ashley and her husband Dalton, a 6-year Marine Corps Veteran who deployed to Iraq in 2009. When I learned how their family decided to give back by turning their son Maddox’s birthday party into a lesson in service, sacrifice and the importance of volunteerism, I knew I had to share that story with you!  

When planning Maddox’s party, Ashley and Dalton requested Care Package “Wish List” items to send to Operation Gratitude instead of birthday presents. Maddox, a huge fan of the Marine Corps, was all for it. To make the event even more meaningful, they invited Sgt. Nakano from the USMC Recruiting Station in Arlington, Texas (where Dalton was first recruited to join the Marine Corps) to join the party! Sgt. Nakano designed an obstacle course for the kids, giving them a “real life” taste of the Marine Corps.

Maddox’s mom told me: “Our son loves the Marines because his Daddy is a Marine and Daddy’s job was to protect others, something our son is ALL ABOUT. My hope with the birthday party and gathering donations for Operation Gratitude was twofold. One, to acknowledge that while he can celebrate his birthday with his Dad at home, many other Service Members don’t get to be at their kids’ parties. And two, I wanted my son to learn that when you are blessed with the opportunity to give, you give.”

Showing our children what service looks like and teaching them to honor and respect those who put their lives on the line is an honorable and beautiful salute to all who serve our nation at home and abroad. Operation Gratitude is grateful to the Carroll family both for Dalton’s courageous service to our country and for their thoughtful and generous support of our Care Package program.  

Maddox’s party not only honored the Marine Corps and his Dad’s service, but the donations collected there also helped fill Care Packages sent to Service Members representing all branches of the military deployed throughout the world. The Carroll family is just one example of thousands of Operation Gratitude volunteers who have found creative ways to express their thanks and support.  

Want to get involved with our mission to “Thank All Who Serve?” Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Coordinate a community-wide letter-writing event at your workplace or your child’s school.
  2. Collect loose change for a “Cents for Service” Drive.
  3. Organize a Collection Drive for “Wish List” items at an event.
  4. Donate your childrens’ extra Halloween Candy to our Halloween Candy Give-Back Program.

You can visit our website to learn more ways you can help.

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Channeling the Holiday Spirit this Summer

Amidst the heat of the summer, an image of logs crackling in the fireplace and casting a glow on stockings hung above is probably the last thing to come to mind for most people. But for Operation Gratitude and our growing army of volunteers nationwide, the holiday spirit is always in our thoughts.

More Than Just a Hug

When I look back at my journey over the past 3 years and 8 months as the CEO of Operation Gratitude, the one thing that sticks out the most are the hugs.

They are etched in my memory forever — literally thousands of hugs at hundreds of service projects and community-building events — on too many trips, and in too many cities to count, from sea to shining sea.