This weekend my family and I drove past the 4 bedroom, 2 1/2 bathroom house where I grew up with my five brothers and sisters. The grass is a lot less green and the house less well-kept, but my memories of childhood under its roof are intact.
This is where my parents taught me the importance of serving others, to love my neighbor, to be empathetic and walk in someone else’s shoes, to always do the right thing even when it is hard, and to strive to make a difference in this world.
With a father who is a Marine and a mother with an unshakable faith in humankind, those things are always possible.
While I visited my hometown this past week, I saw my parents, my siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins – many for the first time since COVID struck our nation. In greeting each of them and then saying goodbye, I hugged them tightly — like it was the very first time and perhaps the last time I would see them.
As I was leaving I overheard one of my nephews say, “Uncle Kevin gives the best hugs.” This brought a smile to my face because it reminded me, like everything else foundational in my life, this was something I learned from my mother and father. During my greatest accomplishments and my biggest failures, they both hugged me that way. They wanted me to know how proud they were of me, no matter the circumstance.
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.
I hope our team and the thousands of volunteers, service members and their families, veterans, and first responders I hugged will remember those moments too, and realize it was more than just a hug.
For other members of our team, our volunteers, and myself, when we hugged a fellow volunteer, a first responder who just lost a close friend in the line of duty, a Vietnam Veteran who had never heard the words “thank you for your service,” or a military family member who was missing their loved one, those hugs were more than just an act of holding them tightly in our arms to express gratitude, care, and admiration.
We may never truly know the extent of the impact of our actions and those hugs for our recipients and volunteers. However, we will always remember and cherish each and every one of those moments with the realization that the impact of those hugs will be felt for the rest of our lives.
I wish I could give all of you reading this Weekly Briefing a hug, too, so you know how much I appreciate you and serving alongside you as part of the Operation Gratitude family.
Thank you for your continued support of OG. I am forever grateful.
With Gratitude and Semper Fidelis,
Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (Ret.)
Chief Executive Officer, Operation Gratitude