Our Youngest Donor Ever? 1-Year-Old’s Birthday Celebration Raises Funds to Buy In-Kind Snacks for Troops at USO Osan

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A birthday is a great reason to celebrate — and give back.

That’s exactly why Cherie and Air Force Capt. James Bell, parents of Collette Cruz Bell, decided to ask for donations to USO Osan in lieu of presents at their daughter’s first birthday. The Bells, who live on Osan Air Base, South Korea, raised nearly $100 to donate in Collette’s name, making her one of the youngest USO donors ever.

“My husband and I feel very blessed in that we are able to adequately feed and clothe our daughter,” Cherie Bell wrote in an email interview. “Consequently we thought that donations to the USO would be much better utilized than gifts for her first birthday.”

“We also wanted her to be able to have the memory later on of doing some great for others so that she will hopefully learn the joy in giving.”

Collette’s parents took the money and made an in-kind donation to USO Osan in the form of snacks, drinks and food for troops and their families to enjoy — something the Bell family knows will be appreciated.

“My husband and I have spent countless hours enjoying USO locations in airports and military installations,” Bell wrote. “Donating to the USO was our way of expressing gratitude to an organization that has always been there for us while also teaching our daughter a valuable lesson about giving.”

In addition to asking for donations to the USO for their daughter’s big day, the Bells threw a “Despicable Me”-themed barbecue for their friends, complete with a special banana-and-applesauce cake for Collette. The Bells also made a family trip to the beach as part of the birthday festivities.

USO Osan Opens in South Korea

Troops and USO staffers prepare to cut the ribbon to officially open the new USO Osan on Osan Air Base, South Korea. USO photo

Troops and USO staffers prepare to cut the ribbon to officially open the new USO Osan on Osan Air Base, South Korea. USO photo

A banner year for center openings and refurbishments continued Wednesday with the opening of USO Osan, a new location inside the Osan Air Base Community Center in South Korea.

USO President Sloan Gibson and Air Force Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas were among the officials who attended the ribbon cutting to open the new center.

From left, USO President Sloan Gibson, USO Pacific Regional Vice President Carly Harris and Air Force Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas speak at the event. USO photo

From left, USO President Sloan Gibson, USO Pacific Regional Vice President Carly Harris and Air Force Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas speak at the event. USO photo

“The USO has been an important member of the military family in Korea for more than 60 years,” Gibson said. “On the eve of America’s birthday, the USO is proud to recognize the service and sacrifice of our brave men and women and military families serving here, their constant vigilance protecting the freedoms for those of us at home.”

The center features many hallmark USO touches, including multiple, free ways to connect to loved ones back in the United States like Internet-ready computers and phones. The center will also offer core USO programming such as United Through Reading’s Military Program. USO Osan and nearby USO Camp Humphreys also plan to co-host large events like barbecues.

Visit the USO Osan Facebook page to keep up with events at the center.

–USO Story Development

Volunteer of the Year – Third Quarter Nominees

To recognize the outstanding contributions of our volunteers, USO centers from our four operating regions—Stateside, Europe, Southwest Asia, and the Pacific—nominate a volunteer for “Volunteer of the Quarter” four times a year. This individual has gone above and beyond in supporting our troops and demonstrating their commitment to the USO mission. From this group of outstanding volunteers a “Volunteer of the Year” is then selected for each region, and, from these nominees comes the USO Volunteer of the Year is selected and honored at our annual gala.

Here are the 2nd Quarter Volunteer Nominees!

Soraya Franklin – Europe Region USO Volunteer of the Quarter

Raised in a military family, Soraya Franklin knows what it means for a service member to be on the move. And she understands the needs of troops and their families. “We need to ensure this is a five-star facility,” is Sonaya’s constant mantra about USO Vicenza. Her standards are high, and she leads by example rather than just words. Along with working three jobs and volunteering with the Vicenza Community Club and Vicenza’s City Library, she still dedicates at least two hours a day to USO Vicenza.

During a six-week period that the USO Vicenza was closed for renovations, Sonaya volunteered more than 70 hours, working hard to get the USO reopened for business.  Although the renovation of USO Vicenza was unexpected, Sonaya never missed a beat. She seized the opportunity and embraced the challenge of improving the center so that it would be ready to serve its community.  Her honor and loyalty are sincerely appreciated and we are happy to name her Europe’s Volunteer of the Quarter.

Petty Officer First Class Jeffery Reed – United States Region USO Volunteer of the Quarter

When Petty Officer First Class Jeffery Reed could no longer fulfill his daily obligations to the military, he became a USO volunteer. Since August 2009, PO1 Reed has been the lead volunteer for the USO Gulf Coast’s Navy Construction Battalion Center (NCNB) in Gulfport, MS.

Demonstrating the same drive and dedication he has always given to his more than 20 years of military service, PO1 Reed took charge in helping the center relocate.  His efforts saved USO Gulf Coast large amounts of money on consulting fees.

Reed’s positive leadership and mentoring are great examples to his fellow volunteers.  Under his volunteer leadership, the volunteer turnover rate for the USO lounge on NCBC is the lowest it has ever been.  He is a positive example of service for USO staff and volunteers alike. We applaud PO1 Reed on being Volunteer of the Quarter!

Vanessa Engelhardt – Southwest Asia Region USO Volunteer of the Quarter

Sailors and Marines visiting USO Dubai are always happy to meet Vanessa Engelhardt, a dedicated center volunteer. Born in Australia and raised in Germany, Vanessa uses her background to break the ice with center visitors, making them feel comfortable and at home.

USO Dubai is unique because it isn’t open daily. However, when a U.S. Naval ship pulls into port, up to 1,000 sailors and Marines can descend on the center in short order. During these times, Vanessa usually volunteers every day for regular seven-hour shifts.  Center visitors enjoy the baked goods that Vanessa has waiting for them when a ship comes into port. For a service member who has been out to sea for weeks, or even months, a fresh cookie or brownie made with lots of TLC can mean so much!  She loves to help out in any way possible and we congratulate her on being Southwest Asia’s Volunteer of the Quarter!

Master Sergeant Shane Price – Pacific Region USO Volunteer of the Quarter

Master Sergeant Shane Price knows a thing or two about big projects. As a flight chief at Osan Air Base, not only does he keep his entire squadron operating smoothly, but he has recruited fellow airmen to volunteer more than 1,500 hours during special events like Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band Concert, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Holiday Show, and most recently the Sesame Street/USO Experience.

MSgt. Price was instrumental in the planning and initial implementation of the Virtues Outreach Program in Songtan, South Korea. This program promotes stronger ties between the U.S. military and local Korean community through English language instruction. He also ensures volunteer staffing for every day tasks, and his efforts greatly contribute to USO Osan consistently having the highest number of volunteer in Korea. Price’s volunteer contributions are extensive, and his dedication to the USO and commitment to the Korean—American partnership is an inspiration to all he meets. Congrats on being USO Pacific’s Volunteer of the Quarter!