Full Circle: How One Kind Moment Created A USO Volunteer for Life

The Flores family. Courtesy photo

The Flores family. Courtesy photo

When Nancy Flores stepped off a plane in Germany in 2003 with just her luggage and her cat, there was supposed to be someone from the military there to pick her up. There wasn’t.

“I saw that USO sign and thought, ‘I can go there. They will help me!’”

She was right. A USO volunteer invited her inside the center where more volunteers took the then-23-year-old’s luggage, looked up the phone numbers to her husband’s unit, gave her a snack and even cut down a plastic cup to make a water dish for her cat.

Her husband, now-retired Army communications Sgt. Johnathan Flores, had sent the duty driver to pick her up, but they had left an hour late and were stuck in traffic. It was something the volunteers at the USO at Frankfurt International Airport had seen before.

“At a very young age, I was alone in a foreign country and that was a very huge relief for me to find the USO,” said Nancy, who was 23 at the time. “[My husband is] my security blanket in those situations, so being alone in that situation was scary.”

When the driver arrived, the USO volunteers helped her on her way, and that singular moment of compassion spawned Flores’ lifetime commitment to both the organization and the military community.

“Seven years later I found out we had a USO on Fort Hood and as soon as I could I started volunteering,” she said. “I enjoy every day making soldiers and their families smile.”

She currently volunteers once or twice a week from four to six hours at a time, helping anywhere she’s needed, from flightline welcome home events to working behind a desk in a center.

But her favorite program by far is the Story Time Early Literacy Workshop. She’s volunteered once a month at the USO Fort Hood/Military Child Education Coalition event for the last three years, helping feed breakfast and read books to pre-school-age children who attend with their parents.

But her connection to the USO runs even deeper than a missed ride and the resulting volunteerism. Her son, Johnathan Flores Jr., 10, has watched her husband deploy three times. Nancy says it was the USO that made it possible for her husband and their growing boy to connect.

“We are a family of USO volunteers and we always will be very proud of making moments count for other military families just like the USO did for [us].”

The first time her husband deployed, Jonathan Jr. was only 3 months old. Nancy knew she would have some contact with her husband over the Internet, but didn’t know which moments he’d get to see from afar.

“Daddy does bed time,” she said. “That was a moment every day. And when he left it was sad that we had to break that pattern.

“But then out of nowhere we received these books he recorded at a USO center.”

When the USO/United Through Reading packages arrived, Flores broke down in tears knowing bedtime was back on again.

“I had no idea it was even coming,” she said. “Every night we played the video and, even though it was the same story, it was a moment with Daddy. He knew that Daddy cared.”

“We have that memory,” she said. “And that’s a really cool moment for us. Every time my son was missing Daddy we’d pop in that DVD.

“We were very honest with him that Daddy was away protecting America and doing his job. He learned really young to deal with it and I believe the USO was part of making that happen naturally.

“Now, even though we’re not technically in the military, we’re still very much a part of the military community. We are a family of USO volunteers and we always will be very proud of making moments count for other military families just like the USO did for [us].”

USO Centers Around the Globe Celebrate National Volunteer Week

As National Volunteer Week comes to a close, here’s a look at a few of the scores of celebrations held at  centers around the world. The USO’s 27,000-plus volunteers  donated more than 1.375 million hours last year in service to America’s troops and their families..

USO Fort Hood

USO Fort Hood Programs Manager Isabel Hubbard, left, USO volunteer Frank Wright and USO Fort Hood Story Time Coordinator Andrea McDonald attend Wednesday's event. USO photo

USO Fort Hood Programs Manager Isabel Hubbard, left, USO volunteer Frank Wright and USO Fort Hood Story Time Coordinator Andrea McDonald attend Wednesday’s event. USO photo

USO Fort Hood held a luncheon Wednesday to honor its volunteers who logged a total of more than 22,000 hours last year.

“I’m really proud to stand here and see how many amazing people answer the call,” USO Fort Hood Director Robin Crouse told the Killeen (Texas) Daily Herald, which covered the event.

Read more about the event in the Herald’s story.

USO Forward Operating Base Fenty

VolBlog_Fenty

USO Forward Operating Base Fenty volunteers share a joke – and a cupcake – during National Volunteer Week. USO photo

The USO at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan showed its appreciation to volunteers – almost all of whom are troops themselves – with some baked goods. They posted photos of the volunteers earlier this week.

“Thanks to all the great volunteers at Fenty for all you do for your fellow soldiers!” USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes wrote in a Facebook comment about the celebration.

USO Houston

USO centers know how to get creative. To celebrate National Volunteer Week, the staff at USO Houston put together a JibJab breakdance video.

USO Houston had 248 volunteers donate 20,056 hours to their center last year.

USO San Antonio

VolBlog_SanAntonioVolBreakfast

USO San Antonio volunteers pose at Wednesday’s USO Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast at the USO’s airport center. USO photo

USO San Antonio held a USO Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast at their airport facility on Wednesday morning.

“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, ‘We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,’” the staff wrote on its Facebook page.

–Story by USO Story Development

Fort Hood Soldiers Cool Down Via Operation Hydration

More than 3,600 cases of water were collected and donated to USO Fort Hood during AT&T Veterans’ Operation Hydration. USO Photo

Those aren’t just pallets of water you’re looking at. Those bottles represent both sweet relief for soldiers at Fort Hood and a lot of hard work from a group of volunteers who want to help troops beat the oppressive Texas heat.

AT&T Veterans’ Operation Hydration resulted in a bottled water boon for USO Fort Hood. The campaign—which wrapped up recently—netted more than 3,600 cases of bottled water and $13,000 in donations to purchase extra H2O. The water will be distributed to troops around the base by USO Fort Hood staffers and volunteers.

“We are building a motorpool plan to do Monday stops with ice cold water for our Soldiers!” USO Fort Hood Center Director Robin Crouse wrote in an email last week.

Stephen Ollar of Student Veterans Association—which which helped collect donations for the campaign—said giving back to the USO was important to him.

“They were there to provide food, water, emotional support,” Ollar told KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas. “It’s a valuable service and it feels good. It’s important that I can give back to that service that I was able to take advantage of.” – Eric Brandner, ON★PATROL Senior Editor

Dearfoams’ Celebrity Slipper Fairies Give the Gift of Comfort to the USO This Holiday Season

Dearfoams is honored to give back to the USO (United Service Organizations) this Christmas by hosting the Celebrity Slipper Fairy Challenge. Celebrities, including Mario Lopez (host of “Extra,” “Saved by the Baby”), Gretchen Rossi (“The Real Housewives of Orange County”), Madison Pettis (The Game Plan, Disney’s “Cory in the House,”), Shaunie O’Neal (“Basketball Wives”), George Wallace (performer, The Flamingo Las Vegas), and You-Tube sensation Elle Fowler, will be donating over 3,500 pairs of Dearfoams to the soldiers as a holiday gift. The goal of The Celebrity Slipper Fairy Challenge is to visit USO locations across the country and bring comfort to the soldiers and their families this holiday.

“We are so pleased to honor the USO and give back to the soldiers and their families,” says Rachel Iannarino, Dearfoams Sr. Brand Manager, R.G. Barry Corporation. “We want our gift to bring joy, comfort, and happiness to the soldiers who fight every day to protect our country. To have help from our celebrity friends is an extreme honor and we couldn’t be more proud of being able to deliver the gift of comfort. We are grateful for the privilege and opportunity to give something back to those who give their all.”

“On behalf of the USO we would like to say thank you to Dearfoams for their gracious gift to our service men and women,” said Cathy Martens, USO Vice President of Corporate Alliance. “This is a great touch of home for our troops during the holidays.”

Dearfoams will donate 3,500 slippers to soldiers and their families at various bases across the United States including USO Fort Riley (Kansas), USO Denver, USO South Carolina, USO Houston, and USO Fort Hood (Texas). Each location will receive a generous donation on the behalf the Dearfoams Celebrity Slipper Fairies just in time for Christmas.

For more information about Dearfoams, visit http://www.Dearfoams.com and to watch The Celebrity Slipper Fairy Videos, visit www.slipperfairy.com. To learn more about the USO and to give a little to those who give their all, visit: http://www.uso.org.