By Kayla Clark
It’s a Thursday evening on Naval Station Rota, Spain, and USO volunteer Jennifer Anderson is prepping 30 “puppachinos” and “pawty favors” for the upcoming Puppy Palooza event for military families and their furry companions.
She’s organized everything to the very last detail – a puppy obstacle course, puppy paintings and paw print crafts, an adventurous scavenger hunt and tons of homemade delicious treats. Just as she finishes folding all the red, white and blue USO bandanas, which will be part of attendees’ arrival gift, she takes a moment to pause her work, look at the event set-up and think “this is awesome.”
Anderson became a USO volunteer shortly after her arrival to Rota, having PCS’d at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. What began solely as a way to get out of the house and meet people quickly morphed into a passion: delivering happiness.
“My favorite part about volunteering is seeing the happiness and joy in the community members at the different events and knowing that we are responsible for that joy,” she said.
From her own personal experience as a military spouse, Anderson knows the challenges of military life: moving away from support systems and friends; transferring the kids to new schools; trying to find a way to connect with others in a country where you may not know the language; planning a PCS move solo while your spouse is out on patrol; etc.
But volunteering with the USO provided her with an opportunity to deliver happiness and smiles to others in the community and let them know that they’re not alone.
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“Being overseas adds another layer of complexity to an already complex military lifestyle for kids and spouses, and the USO fills that gap by bringing joy, excitement, activities to do and connecting families together,” she said. “That all helps the transition and makes living in a foreign country easier.”
Since July 2020, Anderson has served over 275 hours with the USO in a variety of capacities. From storage cleanout and furniture-building, to the infamous Puppy Palooza, to delivering cookies in an elf costume to standing watch on Christmas Day through Operation Cookie Drop, she has done it all. In many ways, Anderson has truly embraced and supported the community as herself – a military spouse, a volunteer and a Force Behind the Forces®.
“I most recently helped a couple of friends PCS for a homeport shift while their spouses were out on patrol. This was super challenging for them because the ship schedule kept changing, so it made planning difficult for them. They ended up having to plan to do everything without their spouses,” she said.
“I stepped in … by helping to clean prior to pack out and entertaining their small children so they could get things done. I also helped clean after the pack out, got them to their hotel and [then] to their airport with their luggage. No matter what challenges you face as a military spouse, having a good support system of friends makes anything possible.”
That’s where the USO comes into play, too.
The organization is here to strengthen service members by connecting them with family, home and country. But by taking care of the family – to include military spouses and kids – the USO is ultimately taking care of that service member too, so that they can focus on their mission, knowing that their family is supported.
By providing military spouses with meet and greets and fun events where they can connect, the USO is helping to build that foundation of community.
Through ongoing family activities and kids’ craft events, the USO is helping the entire family enjoy their time here, thus ultimately making that transition overseas easier for every member of a military family.
“It’s the little acts of kindness that the USO provides that makes this military community awesome.”
So, when you see USO volunteers like Anderson out in the community in costume, handing out coffee, giving our furry family members some treats, or providing children with crafts, it’s not just about that specific gift: it’s all about delivering happiness, empowering the community to stay strong and encouraging the little acts of kindness that end up making one more person smile.
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