Breathe Some Oxygen Into Your Marriage for a Stronger Family

Noel Meador with Ed and Karen Matayka at the USO Caregivers Conference

USO/Stronger Families Oxygen Seminars are one- or two-day relationship workshops for wounded, ill and injured service members and their significant others. The seminars focus on helping the couple ease common relationship challenges, such as how the dynamics of relationships often change after an injury or illness. Through a non-threatening environment and interactive exercises, couples learn how to respond to and relate to each other, to express appreciation, to increase and improve communication, and to create a relationship plan for the future.

“The Oxygen Seminar… has given me hope that things will work out where I had lost hope and patience. Most of all, it has given me a fresh set of ideas to change things that were stagnant,” said a military spouse who attended an Oxygen Seminar near Fort Drum.

Stronger Families Executive Director Noel Meador recently spoke with the USO about our partnership at the recent 2012 USO Caregivers Conference. “The greatest asset our military has to sustain the past decade of war and the future battle is a strong family. This starts by offering hope and help to couples who are struggling in their relationship. This is what Stronger Families has developed through its Oxygen For Your Relationships program. ”

Together The USO & Stronger Families plan to host 30 workshops in 2013, to include the general active duty population as well. We are happy to report that results from a recent surveys showed that 100% of attendees felt that after participation their relationship would be more resilient! Visit StrongerFamilies.org for more info. – Vyque White, USO Director of New Media

Daddy Comforts From Afar

As parents, we know that reading to our children is not only an important contribution to their development, but a powerful opportunity for emotional connection.  So when a military parent deploys, the parent is challenged to continue their vital role, despite a long separation. Father’s Day is just one of the many special holidays that a military family may not get to spend together.

United Through Reading’s Military Program is one way a military parent can remain engaged over the course of a deployment.  As this awww-inducing video from a United Through Reading beneficiary family shows, children are never too young to benefit from the soothing sound of their parent’s voice, and a dad is never too far away to comfort his son in this simple way.

Want to help? Simply like OshKosh B’gosh on Facebook and they’ll donate to help fund this great program!

The Perfect Gift for the Military Dad

Whether they’re deployed, supporting a child who is serving or holding down the fort while mom’s away- there is one thing our nation’s military dads can count on this Father’s Day- the support of the USO. While people across the country are thinking of ways to make this Father’s Day special, the USO has made it possible for everyone to show we have not forgotten the moms who won’t get to see their children, wives or possibly even hear their voices this June 17th because they are making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  Here are three of the many ways you can show a military dad your appreciation from the USO Wishbook:

1. A Phone Call Home – Give a dad the gift of hearing his child’s voice this Father’s Day.

2. Team Up With Troops – Sports are a great way for dad to relax and stay fit. Send all the equipment they need for a game of football, baseball, kickball and more.

3. Tech to Connect Whether it’s emails back home or special Skype sessions to watch their babies being born, today’s latest technology keeps our military dads connected to their loved ones.

A Cinderella Story for Military Mom

Sherry Haley is ready for her close-up!

Sherry Haley always puts her family first.

“Normally everything we do is the whole family, all five of us,” says the 32-year-old military wife.

While her husband, Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Haley, works long hours at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Sherry spends all day at home with her three kids, ages 4 to 12.  Taking a break for herself is rarely an option.  She home schools her oldest boy, and all three children have special learning and health needs, making it difficult to leave them with a babysitter.

But after seeing an email about the USO’s Project Cinderella at Fort Meade last month, Haley decided to treat herself to a Saturday on her own.

She wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  What she found was like a fairy tale—a full day of primping and pampering for 120 military wives and active duty servicewomen, with free massages, facials, food, entertainment, prizes, and a high-end goodie bag that included a pashmina and a Coach brand wristlet.

“Normally that’s a little bit out of our price range,” says Haley. “A lot of the things they did for us, it’s not something we normally do.”

“If you’re not going to be the one to do it for yourself, the USO will do it for you!” says Queen Waddell of the Fort Meade USO.  “It’s okay to take some time for yourself.”

Waddell conceived Project Cinderella as an extension of another USO Fort Meade program called Cinderella’s Closet—literally a closet full of new and almost-new gowns available free to servicewomen and military wives who need formal dresses for mandatory military functions.

Project Cinderella is a one-day annual event that takes it to the next level, with a selection of 600 gowns, plus shoes and accessories, bra fittings, advice on dressing for your body type, a tea party for young daughters and tips on military etiquette like how to introduce yourself in a receiving line.

Haley was also selected for a full head-to-toe makeover.  A team of stylists rolled her hair, applied makeup and helped her choose a dress.  At first she rejected their fashion advice.

“With my size I like to stick to darker colors,” says Haley.  “And they said, ‘No, you just find an outfit that accentuates the right things.  You don’t have to dress in black.”

She chose something completely outside her comfort zone, surprising herself and her entire family.

“My four-year-old opened the door and the first thing she said was, ‘Oh Mommy, you’re so boo-tiful!’  So I started crying right away.”

The storybook magic didn’t end there.  Haley won a $500 gift card—with the condition she spend it only on herself.  A few shopping trips later, she’s expanded her wardrobe with new styles, moving beyond basic black into a rainbow of blue and pink and purple.

These days, she takes a little extra time with her hair and makeup, and she credits Project Cinderella with boosting her confidence and sense of self worth.

“It was just like Cinderella. It really was,” she says, “Only when midnight struck, I didn’t lose everything.  My gown got to come home with me, my shoes, the jewelry, and I came away with knowledge of how to do stuff like that for myself.” – Malini Wilkes, USO Director of Story Development

Baby Shower for 125 Military Moms

A volunteer carries a new car seat for Amanda Avant as she leaves the Bundles and Boots Baby Shower hosted by the USO of Missouri and Operation Homefront.             Army photo by Brittany Carlson.

It’s been a year of big changes and long separations for Amanda and Michael Avant.

After getting married, 19-year-old Amanda stayed home with her family in Arkansas while her husband, Army Cpl. Michael Avant, lived in the singles barracks at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

Two weeks before Michael deployed to Afghanistan, they found out Amanda was pregnant.  They decided she should move into family housing on the base so she could prepare for her husband’s return in June and the baby’s arrival in August.  She made the move, all by herself, earlier this year.

“It’s going to be different– my husband coming home and me being eight months pregnant.  Last time he saw me I had no belly, and now I have this huge belly, and also I’m emotional, so he’s going to come home to an emotional wife!”

Avant says her husband is upset that he’s missing so many milestones.

“He’s never been in our house before.  He’s never seen it.  He’s never been to a doctor’s visit. He’s really nervous about it, but he’s excited.  He says that he’s proud of me, just being a regular Army girlfriend to being an Army wife and a mommy and moving on post all by myself.”

Lisa Yenter, wife of the commanding general at Fort Leonard Wood, thinks it’s important for young soldiers’ wives to make friendships and connections as soon as they arrive on post.

“Plug into the community,” she says, “Get them plugged in so they can navigate through the military system.”

That’s why she wholeheartedly supports events like last weekend’s Bundles and Boots Baby Shower.

The USO of Missouri and Operation Homefront hosted the all-day party, where 125 new or expecting moms mingled over displays with parenting information, baby supplies, books and food. There was even a “craving” table loaded with pickles, ice cream and other goodies for the pregnant palate.

“Every pregnant woman got four packages of diapers, and everybody got a free car seat—brand new, still in the box,” says Avant, “It was really neat.”

Soldiers helped the moms carry out their boxes and bags, and certified experts were available to install the car seats.

“When you’re far from home and you don’t know many people and you’re going to have a baby, maybe you just don’t have that baby shower,” says Yenter.  “But every baby should be showered.”

Meantime, Avant is storing all her baby items in the nursery, but she’s waiting for Michael to come home before she sets anything up.

“I’m not putting up the crib because I figure my husband would want to do that,” she says.  “I don’t want to set it all up without him being there.  Because he’s so sad that he’s missing out on everything.”

 Today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day.  Join us in wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to all our military moms and families with loved ones far from home. – Malini Wilkes, USO Director of Story Development

Flowers for Mom

For Military Spouse Appreciation Day and Mother’s Day, flowers are almost a given – they’re a time-honored symbol of love and gratitude!

Luckily for all of you FTD Flowers has paired up with the USO to provide some unique (and patriotic!) ways to show you care while supporting our troops and their families! Just shop their USO Collection for beautiful arrangements and gifts and FTD will donate 15% of the sales to the USO!

And, in case you had a specific arrangement in mind, any purchase made through FTD.com/USO will result in a 15% discount and 5% donated to the USO!

But wait, there’s more! If you like or share this FTD World’s Greatest Mom picture on Facebook, they’ll also donate to the USO! For each of the first 5,000 shares and likes they’ll donate $1 and, then $500 for every 5,000 more.