By Sarah Kemp
For Airman First Class Eric Chun, volunteering with the USO started as a high school requirement. Christopher Wignall was “voluntold” by his mother when he was a teenager and it was Alexis Hurtle’s way to earn her Silver Award in Girl Scouts. For Tori Roberts and her mom, spending time together meant donating their time to the USO.
All four teens discovered volunteering with the USO for their own reasons, but what they ultimately found was a new perspective.
While growing up in Guam in a civilian family, Chun began volunteering at the USO to beef up his college application. What he found was a family. “Without the USO and all the volunteers that have given me advice over the years, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” said Chun.
Because of his years of dedication to the USO, Chun was named 2015 USO Volunteer of the Year, Overseas. His time volunteering inspired Chun to pursue a career in the military. Now he works on F-16s in Japan. Just two short years ago, he was in high school math class hearing them fly overhead.
Christopher Wignall’s mom, Karolina, worked for the USO in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Wignall would tag along with her to events afterschool. While contemplating an Eagle Scout project, Wignall realized the USO Warrior Center, which serves as a respite for wounded service members recuperating at nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, needed landscaping help. By holding bake sales, Wignall raised the funds needed to overhaul the landscaping and to plant pine trees, lavender plants, a rock garden and more.
“It was a nice thing to look at, especially the patients who had been there for a couple of weeks,” said Wignall. “Hard work does pay off.”
Wignall is now excelling as a junior at Vermont’s Norwich University, which is the oldest private military college in the United States.
Alexis Hurtle and her fellow cadettes of Girl Scout Troop C716 wanted their Silver Award project to endure long after they had completed it. As military children, they knew life on base was a lot of beige and cinder block walls. They decided to create holiday box kits for USO Kaiserslautern at Ramstein Air Base’s AMC Passenger Terminal.
The troop created a reusable box of decorations for each major holiday that included banners, window decorations, tabletop décor and more to bring smiles to all that visited. They also helped deep clean all the toys in the children’s area of the center once a month. Some of the girls in the troop donated more than 100 hours – enough to earn their Silver Awards twice over.
“Being overseas for volunteer opportunities for the kids is very limited, compared to being in the states. Having opportunities like this for the girls is beneficial for them,” said Alisa Hurtle, Alexis’ mom and Troop S802 leader.
Alexis Hurtle is now a Senior Girl Scout in Troop S802 still giving back to the USO by cleaning the center before the holidays, and the USO center is still utilizing the decorations she and her fellow Girl Scouts created.
Tori Roberts and her mother Cassie are members of the Carolina Lily Chapter of the National Charity League (NCL). The NCL fosters mother-daughter relationships through community service, leadership development and cultural experiences. In the Cary, North Carolina, area NCL members have partnerships with 17 different philanthropies, but the most popular request is to volunteer with the USO.
Patricia DeZetter, USO of North Carolina Triangle Area director, said the NCL helps her USO center expand its reach. The NCL volunteers help out at Family Fun Days with face-painting booths, organizing sack races and manning bouncy houses. They also deliver cookies to the center every Monday in single-serving size bags with inspirational messages on them.
The biggest event that the mothers and daughters spend all year preparing for is “Holidays in the Hangar.” Last year, the group sewed, decorated and filled more than 1,600 stockings for military children to receive at the event.
“Stockings go from felt laying on my living room floor, to handing them to a child whose parent may be deployed,” said Cassie Roberts, president-elect of the Carolina Lily Chapter of NCL.
Most of the NCL members do not have an immediate family member serving in the military. For these mothers and daughters, it allows them the opportunity to interact with military families.
“I got to talk with a lot of military children; the ones who were around my age said it was always hard for their parents to be away from home, but they were proud to have a member in the military,” Tori said.
Tori’s mother, Cassie, said it is important for them to invite female military leaders to speak to their daughters. It helps them see outside their own perspectives and witness women in powerful positions who give back to their community.
Cassie said that while currently all the daughters in the group are in 7th to 12th grade, she hopes in the future, “when they get to college and they see a USO, they say I want to go volunteer there.”
Tori, 14, reflected on the stories she heard from military kids her age and said she feels fortunate to have her parents right next to her every single day.
“I won’t ever take that for granted again.”
–Sarah Kemp is a center manager at USO Stuttgart in Germany.
You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.