Co-authored by Jatrice Martel Gaiter, Executive Vice President, Volunteers of America
Mockingjay Part One, the next installment of The Hunger Games franchise, opened just in time for Thanksgiving.
Katniss Evergeen wanted to protect her little sister, so she volunteered to take her place as a Tribute in the Hunger Games.
She put her life at risk to protect her family, to save those she loved.
Katniss' unselfish act mirrors today's men and women in uniform. They volunteer to serve and protect our country and the families they love.
Our military and their families make tremendous sacrifices. And while we may wave a flag during a Veterans Day parade, we must do more to honor their service and support their families.
As we give thanks and look forward to the holiday season, let's give support, attention and comfort to the generations of vets in our families and communities.
How? Be creative. Here's what other have done.
Mentor or tutor a child.
According to the Military Child Education Coalition, there are more than 1.1 million military-connected students. On average they move and change schools three times more frequently than their civilian counterparts. Intergenerational tutoring projects for children of active duty and veterans can go a long way to enhance literacy skills, particularly in the current environment when military members may be repeatedly deployed and unable to reinforce literacy and social development for their children at home.
Grant a wish.
Based in Pennsylvania, Twilight Wish Foundation includes an intergenerational Veteran's Program. Young people are paired with an older veteran. They interview them and learn about their dreams, what they wish they could do. The young wish granters then make a plan and decide how they can fulfill their older friend's dream. They do the fundraising, organizing and, ultimately, the wish fulfillment.
Record a story, tell a story.
Storytelling bridges generations. In Illinois, the Generations Serving Generations Program connects teens with veterans to record their stories and preserve their experiences while teaching a personal view of history to a younger generation. Across the country, the Digital Clubhouse Network connects young people with older vets to record their stories and produce a video about their lives. Many of these have been archived at the National Museum of American History.
Offer a few hours of respite.
If the family has children, volunteer to babysit so parents can have a date night. If the family is caregiving for an injured vet, step in so they can take a break. There are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers in our country, including 1.1 million who support our newest generation of post-9/11 veterans. According to a study commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, many of these caregivers don't have much of a support network for themselves, and over time, the physical, logistical, and emotional demands of caregiving can take a serious toll. In fact, caregivers report more strains on their relationships at work and at home than non-caregivers. Often, their own health suffers, and they are at higher risk for isolation and depression. There are financial consequences too: military caregivers wind up missing a few days of work a month -- and that means lost income as well.
Keep an eye on grandparents.
More than half the people in the military are married and 42.2% are married with children. If it's a dual military family or a single parent, responsibility for the children often rests with the grandparents. If a parent is killed or unable to parent when he or she returns, the grandparents go from short-term caregivers to permanent grandfamilies. They deserve a break. A support group can be helpful, but sometimes all these grandparents really need is someone younger who can take the training wheels off and teach their grandchild to ride a bike safely.
Katniss Everdeen went on to inspire a revolution. Most who serve in the military return home inspired to continue service in the families and communities they love.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let's take time to remember and give thanks to those who protect our freedom and the families who serve with them.