Yoga for the USO

“It really bothers me that we’ve been at two wars for 10 years and the direct impact for seeing it in our community isn’t there.”

Karen Citow, owner of a Chicago-area yoga studio, is willing to go to the mat for our troops and their families. The 34-year-old mother of three was looking for a tangible, meaningful way to show her support, so she decided to donate all her profits for the year to the USO of Illinois.

“My husband and I are in complete awe of the bravery and dedication of the men and women who volunteer for our armed forces,” she says.

Karen in action

Citow, a former licensed clinical therapist, believes that yoga makes people kinder to themselves and others, resulting in an outpouring of goodwill and good deeds.

This taut, toned and relentlessly optimistic entrepreneur opened Breathe…A Yoga Oasis in 2010 as an entirely philanthropic venture. She draws no salary, and each year, she picks a different charity to receive any studio profits.

Leslie Wooten, associate director of development for the USO of Illinois, thinks the idea is “totally new and totally awesome.”

“It’s about paying it forward and supporting causes that matter in the world,” says Wooten.

But Citow knows she has skeptics. To date, her business hasn’t actually generated any revenue beyond its operating expenses, so she’s had to come up with other ways to raise money. Once a week she teaches a Dedication Class, with all the revenue—usually more than $100 per week—going directly to her chosen charity.

In 2011, that amounted to nearly $5,000 for a local cancer foundation. In 2010, Citow raised more than $13,000 for UNICEF, with a boost from a successful Halloween, trick-or-treating fundraiser.

She hopes to come up with new fundraising ideas this year, and she believes her business will finally be in the black, allowing her to give even more generously to the USO of Illinois.

Citow chose the USO because of its reputation for supporting active duty troops and military families. She worries that too many Americans have no connection at all to the men and women who defend our freedom.

“I try to make sure that our kids are really aware this is happening, and to be grateful and thankful … that people are sacrificing and serving.”

Citow knows that most other small business owners can’t forgo their salaries or give away their profits. She calls herself fortunate—her husband is a successful surgeon, so she doesn’t have to work. Her studio allows her to use her time and talents to promote the benefits of yoga, while giving back for all her blessings.

“I hate to say I wanted to make the world a better place, but it’s true!” she admits with a laugh, “I’m proud of what I’m doing… and I love yoga and believe that if more people practiced yoga the world could be a healthier and kinder place.” – Malini Wilkes, USO Director of Story Development

Heartwarming Stories From the Troops

One of the greatest comforts you can give our troops is letting them know their families are taken care of while they spend months serving their country far from home.

These words from one military wife offer a glimpse of that special feeling our troops get:

“The night before my husband left for deployment he was reading the children their bedtime story, but in the middle of it, he broke down. He hugged them and told them he was just going to miss bedtime stories with them. Our son put his arm around his dad’s shoulders to comfort him and said, ‘It’s okay, Daddy. Remember? You can still read to us on the DVDs that you send…just like last time!'”

Through your support for the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading’s Military Program, you can help deliver powerful moments like this to tens of thousands of our troops. It would mean so much to them.

Help make more special moments possible for our troops by donating $10 or more to support the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading’s Military Program, hosted at over 70 USO locations worldwide.

Your support will allow our troops to read a bedtime story to their children and then send a personalized DVD recording of it back home. I asked one troop to describe what this program means to him, and his response nearly brought me to tears:

“The USO and United Through Reading® filled a communication void with my two-year old son. He interacted with the video of me reading, and my wife reported back on the parts of the story that he responded to and what he said. I felt like I was having a dialogue with him that I couldn’t have had by any other means.”

There’s nothing more powerful than a parent’s love for their child. And nothing more touching than knowing you’ve helped a parent in the military play an important part in the life of their son or daughter.

Make a donation to connect more troops with the children they’re missing back home through the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading®.

It’s the least we can do for these selfless and brave individuals who sacrifice so much to serve our nation and protect our way of life.

Thanks for making this amazing program possible – Kelli Seely, Senior Vice President, Chief Development Officer, USO

P.S. — Thanks to people like you, the USO has been able to join forces with United Through Reading® and deliver over 240,000 bedtime videos and storybooks over the last five years. Please help us keep reaching more troops and their families.

With Parents Deployed, Military Toddlers Confront Monsters

He’s the baby on the block, but he already knows his A, B, C’s; his 1, 2, 3’s; and his Do-re-mi’s. He’s perpetually turned 3-and-a-half for nearly 20 years, but he’s still “got new shoes.”

For toddlers, he’s an A-List celebrity. For parents, he’s nothing short of a red felt superhero.

Elmo is back with the Sesame Street gang in the USO’s longest-running traveling show and the first-ever designed specifically for military families.

The Rood family and the Mowry family got a chance to meet the whole gang back stage, May 16, at the Wallace Theater on Ft. Belvoir. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Families like the Roods, who saw the Sesame Street/USO Experience at Fort Belvoir just three weeks before moving to a new duty station. Their 2-year-old son Deyvian may be too young to absorb what’s happening, but his older brother, 4-year-old Marques, will have to make new friends for the first time.

“I think it’s pretty cool how they incorporated a new character to talk about relocation,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Rood, who came with his two sons and his wife, Kimberly, to see the show May 14 at the Wallace Theater.

Make no mistake—Marques and Deyvian are both diehard Elmo fans. But they might find they have a lot in common with the new kid on Sesame Street.  Her name is Katie, and she’s a 6-year-old military child moving to a new place. She is confronted with the same concerns of today’s real life military families like the Roods—the separation and anxiety of a deployment, and the stress of packing up every few years and relocating to a new base, a new city or a new country.

Ella Terry, 5-year-old daughter of Navy LCDR Ronald Terry, connects with Sesame Street character Katie, a 6-year-old girl who understands what it’s like to move to a new duty station. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Ella Terry is just 5 years old, and she likes that “Katie had a daddy in the military too.”

“I am a military child and you are a military spout (spouse),” she said, pointing to her mom, Beth, wife of Navy LCDR Ronald Terry.

“Ella has already moved from Maine to San Diego to Washington D.C. in just her first 15 months of life,” said Beth Terry. “And though the transitions were great and she had no idea it was happening, in a couple years we will move again, and I appreciate being able to remind her of Katie.”

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Mowry is currently deployed to Afghanistan. His 2-year-old daughter, Keirah, attended the show with her mom, Crystal. At night, Keirah dances with her Rock and Roll Elmo doll and spins around giggling every time she hears him laugh. Her mom recalls doing the same thing when she was young.

“I remember learning so much from Sesame Street,” Crystal said. “Now, being able to watch her enjoy and grow up with the same characters, it is just incredible.”

Before the show, the Mowrys and the Roods had the chance to actually meet Elmo, Katie and the whole gang face to face. After her one-on-one with the not-so little red monster, Keirah was elated.

When asked what her deployed daddy would think about her meeting Elmo, her jubilation quickly subsided and her brows began knitting. She responded quietly, staring down at her feet.

“Daddy’s far, far away for work,” she said. ~ Story and photos by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

***

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour has performed more than 371 shows on 115 installations in 33 states and 12 countries – lifting the spirits of 222,000+ military families. Tour dates, character bios and tour information can be found at www.uso.org/sesame

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Romy Rides Again

Kangaroo Express’ Salute Our Troops campaign is back for a second year to help the USO. The campaign — which goes from June 27 through September 4 — invites guests of 1,600 Kangaroo Express stores across 13 states to donate funds to support the USO’s mission of lifting the spirits of troops and their families. To help raise awareness and excitement, they’ve sent out a caravan on tour featuring custom patriotic vehicles — including a very special motorcycle.

In Sept 2008, Romulo “Romy” Camargo was shot in the neck during a firefight in the mountains of Afghanistan. The bullet shattered his C-3 vertebrate, which left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Romy, a Coral Springs, FL native, is currently recovering at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa. With his wife Gabriela and their two-year-old son at his side, Romy became a mentor, providing inspiration to other wounded soldiers and their families that are just beginning the recovery process. Despite his paralysis, Romy’s dream was to ride again.

And so it become a mission for many. Izzy Izquierdo, owner of Lefty Brothers Motorcycles in Fort Bragg, NC donated his spare time to design and build a custom motorcycle for Romy. “As soon as I left the hospital, ” Izzy said, “I told my wife Barb I was going to build a bike to be dedicated to Romy.” Izzy spent countless hours designing a one of a lend custom bobber and attached sidecar that holds Romy and his motorized wheelchair safely. It’s done, and it’s now traveling with the Kangaroo Express Salute the Troops caravan, helping raise money for military organizations like the USO! –  Vyque White, USO Director of New Media

A USO Quiz

Was Johnny Cash in the military? Our troops love to connect back home, but how many minutes did they spend calling home last year?

Those are just a couple of the great questions in our new “Get to Know Our Troops” Quiz.

Think you’ll be able to guess right? Take the USO quiz now and see how well you know our troops!

As a USO supporter, you work tirelessly to provide comfort and support to our troops. And in doing so, you truly honor their service and their sacrifice.

We thought this quiz would be a fun way for you to learn a little more about our troops that you support all year long. We hope you enjoy it and hope you do well on the quiz!

Thanks for all you do!

Sharing the Love

The competition is heating up over at the Subaru “Share the Love” voting! The top two charities will will join ASPCA®, Make-A-Wish® and Meals On Wheels Association of America® as participants in this year’s holiday campaign.

Starting November 21, up to $5 million will be donated to five charities. The USO could be one of them. Vote daily – no need to like a page, download an app or even have a Facebook account!