Wednesday, September 07, 2005

OpKid Beginnings

So many people ask me where Operation Kid Comfort came from, and the simple answer is:

“from love, compassion and patriotism.”

My son-in-law, Mike, was deployed to Iraq at the onset of the war. His son, eighteen-month-old Christian, had no understanding why his Daddy was not coming home from work each evening. Christian had tantrums, became withdrawn, and hoarded photos of Mike in his room. My heart broke, seeing how much my little grandson missed his beloved Daddy.

As a quilt artist, I’ve used photography in my quilts, and made Christian a quilt so he could hold his Daddy close. It worked…and he dragged that quilt everywhere. Christian loved showing the images of him and Daddy at the beach, playing on the floor, at the park, and with Mommy too.

Christian’s little friend, Mikey, also needed a quilt. Mikey’s Dad was serving with my son-in-law, and his mother was in Afghanistan. It worked for Mikey too. His grandmother wrote:

"Thank you so much for making a quilt for our grandson Michael. When his father left for Iraq, Michael was lost, but one month later his Mom left for Afghanistan - he was devastated...One night, I heard him talking upstairs in his bed. I listened at the door to a conversation between this precious 2 1/2 year old and his Mommy's and Daddy's pictures on the quilt...I know having this wonderful quilt has eased the separation and will make the reunion of this family so much better."

I made one for another child…and another…and a few kids later, the reality of how important these photo-transfer quilts are to the children of deployed soldiers, and to the parents who now felt relief that they would not be forgotten by their little ones at home. Many children could benefit from a photo-transfer quilt, but I could not do this alone.

The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) of Fort Bragg/Pope AFB loved the idea and welcomed the opportunity to help me found Operation Kid Comfort. The ASYMCA staff, Lynne Grates, Peggy Mikol, Deborah Graybeal, Deborah Hall and Melanie Spangler have all worked so hard to make Operation Kid Comfort a reality, while maintaining the many other programs that the 'Y' offers to the Fort Bragg and Pope AFB community.

As a non-profit with more than 150 years experience assisting America’s military and their families, I knew the ASYMCA as an organization that could see my plan to Comfort! Create! and Unite! to the end. Our mission: to provide FREE photo-transfer quilts and pillows to children of America's deployed service men and women, and to offer an opportunity for America to unite in support of military families.

A chance meeting with Dr. Kathleen Gruben at a weekend car rally, led me to her Georgia Southern advertising students. During the Fall 2003 semester, Georgia Southern University’s advertising class took on Operation Kid Comfort as their project. These remarkable young minds created marketing strategies and advertising campaigns; they developed plans for fundraising, and did all of this according to geographic region. Bases across the country now have a guide for establishing Operation Kid Comfort specific to their region. So much of our marketing process is derived from their exceptional talents.

The support Operation Kid Comfort has received has been nothing short of phenominal. In Fall, 2003, Karey Bresenhan, Quilts, Inc. President, the International Quilt Market and all its vendors pitched in and contributed more than $16,000 of fabric, batting, thread, and quilting necessities to get us started.

Local cleaners and laundries washed and pressed all the fabric.

Home Depot of Fayetteville, NC donated cabinets to store it in.

Anthony Battista of HP's Army Print Division found two printer/scanners for us. Anthony continues to support us with regular donations of ink to keep those photos printed.

Through the compassion and patriotism of so many other contributors and volunteers, and under the direction of the Armed Services YMCA, Operation Kid Comfort was formed.

In May, 2004, Operation Kid Comfort was awarded the Raytheon's Best New Program of the Year at a congressional luncheon on Capital Hill. Also that month, CNN American Morning highlighted the success of Operation Kid Comfort in their weekly Extra Effort Series.

Since then, Operation Kid Comfort has been the subject of many news and magazine articles: locally, nationally, and even internationally, from the Fayetteville Observer to the Army Times to Quilter's Newsletter Magazine. We have enjoyed the attention of publications and programming from all corners of America.

Just since January, 2005, more than eighty volunteers have donated more than 2,000 hours to make Operation Kid Comfort quilts and pillows. As of June, 2005 we had served more than 850 children through the Armed Services YMCA of Fort Bragg/Pope AFB, and expect that number to multiply by years end.

It was January 2002 when I made that first quilt for my grandson Christian. Now his Daddy prepares to leave again, and I will make a quilt for his little brother, Joshua, who will be eighteen months old when they are separated. I don't relish the need of another quilt for another grandson, but I am glad to know all of us at Operation Kid Comfort (volunteers, ASYMCA staff, and contributors) are choosing to Make A Difference for so many military families.

I'll make Joshua's quilt on October 22nd, Make A Difference Day 2005 and Operation Kid Comfort's second anniversary. On that day we will celebrate our success with our second annual Operation Kid Comfort Quilt-A-Thon (a great idea from our Georgia Southern students that proved so successful last year). We'll spend the day printing, and cutting, and sewing, and quilting and most of all...HAVING FUN as we celebrate this very important anniversary while MAKING A DIFFERENCE for the Fort Bragg community. Think about joining us...last year's event proved enjoyable, memorable and productive.

This is just one story…and there are many other OpKid stories to tell. If you have an OpKid story to share, whether it be how your child received his or her quilt, or a touching moment in an OpKid workshop, or just a funny anecdote that relates to your Operation Kid Comfort experience, please use the comment link here (the little envelope icon). And of course, we always welcome your words of support. We all look forward to hearing from you and reading about your instances of

"love, compassion and patriotism".

And please don't hesitate to contact us via email at
We look forward to hearing from you.

Ann Flaherty
ASYMCA Volunteer and Proud Military Mom