Coming of Age

This past Friday on the 18th anniversary of Operation Gratitude, I stood next to our Founder, Carolyn Blashek, and spoke to our Blue Shirts — some in-person donning masks and some by Zoom, unable to join us due to the pandemic. A few minutes later, I watched a couple dozen of our longest-serving volunteers and Carolyn assemble care packages for deployed troops. 

I got choked up thinking how one dedicated woman created a grassroots movement 18 years ago — and it all started with a simple act of gratitude and kindness. 

A few hours earlier, I watched with pride as California Air National Guardsmen assembled hundreds of care packages and paid it forward to their brothers and sisters overseas. I also got a chance to serve side by side with our newest employee and OG’s newest Blue Shirt, Amber Myszka, and her husband, Kyle, a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Amber joined our team for the same reasons Carolyn started Operation Gratitude — to say thank you to all who serve and to build bridges between civilian, military, and first responder communities. 

As our PR and Media Manager, Amber also came to OG to tell our story, which is why I asked her to help me write this Weekly Briefing. Thanks to Amber (and Kyle) for joining our movement and the Operation Gratitude Family!

1LT Kyle and Amber Myszka – Operation Gratitude 18th Anniversary Assembly Event

18 Years of Impact – Coming of Age
Written by: Amber and Kevin

18 years. It’s a milestone for the American teenager — a coming of age and culmination of nearly two decades of learning and growth that declares a young adult ready and capable of leaving their mark on the world. 18 years ago, Operation Gratitude was in its infancy, as well, when a small group of friends gathered around Carolyn Blashek’s dining room table in California to assemble four care packages to be sent to soldiers deployed to a combat zone. Four packages turned to many more, and as awareness and support of Carolyn’s and the other volunteers’ efforts grew, so, too, did the impact of Operation Gratitude.

Last year, our nonprofit touched the lives of 620,000 men and women in uniform through 1.2 million service hours. While our one of a kind care packages delivered to deployed Troops filled with snacks, heartfelt Handmade With Love items, and personal letters of appreciation remain the backbone of our operations, our impact has expanded to include military families, veterans, first responders, and healthcare workers. The motivation behind our work also remains the same — “to say thank you to all who serve.” Yet we recognize the importance of going a step beyond and asking ourselves the question: “How can we foster meaningful engagements that build understanding, empathy, and ultimately bridges with our men and women in uniform and their families?”

2020 was a more difficult year than most with a pandemic that placed incredible demands on medical personnel and drove Americans into physical isolation, as well as civil unrest that challenged law enforcement agencies nationwide. In these circumstances, it would have been easy for Operation Gratitude and our hundreds of thousands of volunteers to put our hands up, step back, and wait for the dust to settle, but instead, we pressed forward and consistently made an impact, day in and day out. 

If ever there were a more appropriate and imperative time to address the disconnect that exists between service members of any capacity and those they’ve committed to protect, that time is now.

Operation Gratitude’s 18th birthday does not mark the end of its maturation or potential. In fact, we are poised to have an even greater impact in 2021 and beyond. Despite the pandemic we will continue to allow and encourage all Americans to take action and say “thank you” in a hands-on way. 

The value of Operation Gratitude’s signature care packages isn’t measured in dollars and cents. It is measured by what it represents to both the service member and the volunteers who prepare them. For those on the receiving end, the care package is a priceless reminder that — as our nation’s longest war stretches on; a pandemic overwhelms our healthcare systems; and civil unrest threatens to tear communities apart — those on the frontlines of these battles are not forgotten. For the volunteer, it’s a tangible way to give back, as well as an act of service that restores the human connection, creates common ground, and builds bridges between civilians and those who serve.

Operation Gratitude is so much more than what we’ve heard some people refer to as “just a care package organization.” It is mobilizing individual citizens and passing along the hard-earned wisdom it has gained in its first 18 years: that the pathway to uniting communities may not be bold and flashy, that it, in fact, may be long and challenging, and that every single one of us has a role to play in getting us there.

Volunteers from the Army, Marine Corps, Air National Guard, and LAPD joined our Blue Shirts and Founder to assemble care packages over four days in celebration of our 18th anniversary.

A Simple Call to Action – Dedicate Your Birthday to Deployed Troops

In celebration of our “coming of age” and to help us send care packages to tens of thousands of deployed troops in 2021, I’m asking you to dedicate your birthday this year to Operation Gratitude. You can create your own fundraiser with the help of our team or on your own Facebook page! 

If you answer our call to action, OG COO Paul Cucinotta and I, together, will donate $15 in honor of your birthday and sponsor one of the 18 care packages (or more) you help us send to deployed troops around the world. We pledge to do that for every single OG supporter who hosts their own birthday fundraiser in honor of Operation Gratitude’s 18th anniversary!

In a very simple and tangible way — by raising $270 on your birthday — you will help us send 18 care packages to service members deployed around the world and call on your family and friends to join our movement, too. 

Our 18 years of consistent impact as an organization are a direct result of Americans, like you, who want our service men and women to know they are appreciated and never forgotten.

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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.