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.

Honoring Military Mothers

Whether they’re deployed, supporting a child who is serving or holding down the fort while dad’s away- there is one thing our nation’s military moms can count on this Mother’s Day- the support of the USO. While people across the country are thinking of ways to make this Mother’s Day special for their moms, the USO has made it possible for everyone to show we have not forgotten the moms who won’t get to see their children, husbands or possibly even hear their voices this May 13th because they are making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  There are five ways you can show a military mom your appreciation:

1. A Phone Call Home and give a mom serving the gift of hearing her child’s voice this Mother’s Day or a mom or wife at home, the gift of hearing the voice of their child or spouse

2. A Military Spouse Appreciation Event and treat a mom serving to a day of pampering

3. Bedtime Stories and allow a deployed mom to record herself reading a bedtime story to her child and have that DVD recording and the book mailed back home

4. A Mother’s Day Box filled with gifts, pampering products and a personalized note for the wife, girlfriend or mother of a deployed service member

5. Recovery Along the River and help send wounded, ill or injured female service members on a positive, recreational trip that will provide them with a temporary sanctuary free of stress and uncertainty.

Princess Tea Party

Daughters of local metropolitan Washington D.C. service members became “princesses for a day” at a Princess Tea Party while their moms received some fashion and makeover tips, April 21, at USO-Metro‘s 2nd Annual Project Cinderella at Fort Meade, Maryland.

The girls learned how to be a lady and accessorized with tiaras, beads and rings before enjoying strawberries and apple juice while getting their nails done. — USO photos by Joseph Andrew Lee

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A Military Family’s Day Trip to Paris

The Conley family (Ashley, Andrew and Shane) at the Eiffel Tower while on a day tour to Paris, arranged by USO Stuttgart in Germany.

Every month it was a different adventure—Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy and France. To Normandy, where nearly 5,000 Americans gave their lives for European freedom. To Belleau Wood, where the Marines earned the nickname “Devil Dogs” during World War II.

High school teacher Ashley Conley and her 4-year-old son, Shayne, made a veritable history lesson out of Europe over the past two years.

As each new Saturday trip approached, her son’s anticipation for the next trip would become palpable.

“Are you ready to see Paris?” Ashley playfully asked her son before a day-trip they took last year.

“Is daddy coming?”

“Yes, baby, he is.”

Shayne’s smile nearly breached his cheeks. His dad, Andrew, is a Sergeant First Class in the Army stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. Occasionally he was home long enough to join Ashley and Shayne on their tours of Europe booked through the USO.

“All I had to do is come prepared with my son, get on the bus at the designated time, sit back and relax,” said Ashley, ”and then ride back on the bus to Stuttgart. The USO takes care of everything.”

The USO “Express Tour” to Paris leaves Germany about midnight and arrives in the French capital around eight the next morning. As the bus pulls into the city, tour guide Jiri begins pointing out places of interest.

“Military Academy is there, Hotel des Invalides is there,” he announced — volume increased — as if to wake his guests gently.

When the bus finally came to a stop, the Conley’s grabbed their subway passes and hit the streets.

Overall, the city was clean but extremely busy, reported Ashley, for both car and pedestrian traffic.

“There weren’t any of the tall buildings that are typical in American cities or even other European cities,” she said. “Really it seemed like the tallest buildings we saw were the landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame.”

After walking half way to their first landmark, little Shayne complained he was already tired. His parents knew it would happen, and his dad capitulated early this time.

“C’mon and hop on,” he said, boosting Shayne up to his shoulders. “Where are we going first?”

Shayne pointed to a spot on the map, and the Conley’s headed to the subway, a fairly new experience for Ashley and her son. For Shayne it was like being on a train, the stuff of dreams for a 4-year-old boy.

After grabbing a souvenir for Shayne and taking a family photo at the Eiffel Tower, it was already time to head back to the bus.

“I always have a feeling of disbelief after getting back from one of the USO trips, especially the express trips to another country,” said Ashley. “I just can’t believe that in the course of 24 hours I traveled to another city, in another country, that I previously had only dreamed about.”

It was just what the Conley’s needed right before a seven month deployment.

“We love the USO for helping us capitalize on what liitle family time we get,” said Andrew. “It literally means the world to us.” – By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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