Chicago-Area Kids Raise $100 for USO at Afternoon Lemonade Stand

Marty, Jimmy and Nora McNaughton and their lemonade stand.

Marty, Jimmy and Nora McNaughton and their lemonade stand.

When Erin McNaughton’s three children told her they wanted to start a lemonade stand this summer — with the proceeds going towards the USO — it was a proud parenting moment.

“It was all their own,” McNaughton said. “[You feel like] you’re doing a good job as a parent when they come up with an idea that’s going to help others.”

It started one morning in August when the children, who have an aunt and uncle that serve in the military, decided out of the blue to create a roadside lemonade stand to raise money for the USO.

“They’re around the military atmosphere and they like it and they see [why the military is important],” McNaughton said.

After about an hour of sign drawing, lemonade making and organizing, the kids were out in front of their Chicago-area house ready for their first customer. McNaughton estimates between 20 to 30 people stopped by the stand to buy lemonade that afternoon, although the majority of customers paid much more than the 75-cent list price.

“They were handing over five dollars, 20 dollars,” McNaughton said. “We had a great turnout. It was so cute. ”

At the end of the day, the McNaughton children had raised roughly $100, which they hand-delivered to the USO of Illinois office in downtown Chicago.

“The creative initiative that these young patriots demonstrated is inspired,” USO of Illinois President and CEO Alison Ruble in an email. “Embracing the true meaning of Every Moment Counts, they have provided a poignant reminder of what it means to give back to those who serve our nation.”

Rachel Feinberg, who works as a marketing associate at the USO of Illinois, said the organization only gets a few community-based, spur-of-the-moment donations a year.

“It was awesome,” she said. “The kids looked like they had a great time and it was just great to see some of the younger generation taking on the USO and helping us out.”

“An Eye-Opening Experience”: How the USO and RP/6 are Showing Transitioning Troops the Way Forward

TACOMA, Washington—Even the most experienced soldier can use a hand when leaving the Army.

“After 28 years I was certain that I had this whole thing down,” said retired Army Sgt. Maj. Lee Baleme, now an RP/6 Fellow. “It was an eye-opening experience to think that I was going to make that transition — smoothly — and then realize that I wasn’t.”

RP/6, part of the new USO Transition 360 Alliance, connects service members and their families with resources and organizations in their community that support their transition. This concierge approach incorporates several USO Transition 360 Alliance partners (including Hire Heroes USA, Stronger Families and the Comfort Crew for Military Kids) in an attempt to cover both the personal and professional issues military families face when moving to the civilian world.

The USO plans to incorporate RP/6 services at some of its stateside locations in the near future.

“[Veterans and transitioning military] can come [to RP/6] and find that person [who] will point them in the direction of the resources that they need,” Baleme said. “From housing issues to employment, school and even family issues, transition from active duty to the civilian has never been an easy nut to crack and I think RP/6 found a great partner in the USO.”

Almay Helps the USO While Highlighting the Strength and Determination of Military Women

Our blog readers will be familiar with the story of Margaux Mange, a former military police officer who suffered a traumatic brain injury and PTSD after a pair of bombings in 2006 and 2007, the second of which killed three of her close friends. Her lingering injuries put her in a constant state of pain and depression. 

But Mange has been a model of resiliency. She had nearly 130 hyperbaric oxygen treatments that have helped diminish her pain and let her be active again. In the last several years, she’s won medals at the Warrior Games, trekked to the South Pole and recently attempted to summit Denali in Alaska.

Her strength and determination mirrors the values trumpeted by USO partner Almay. The cosmetics giant is celebrating female service members with their Simply American campaign. As part of the initiative, Almay is donating $250,000 to the USO and creating a #SimplyAmerican social push to raise additional funds and awareness.

Almay was so impressed by Mange that they wanted to hold her up as an example of the Simply American spirit. So when it came time to talk about their USO partnership on ABC’s “The View” this spring, Mange was front and center.

“I was in pain trying to climb up a flight of stairs, so I thought that the couch would be my best friend,” Mange said about the years after her injuries. “But after remembering that three of my best friends died in Iraq, I couldn’t live that way for them. So, with their memories, I chose to live instead.”

Almay will continue highlighting women like Mange throughout the summer in two unique ways.

First, they’re embarking on a summer-long road trip to fairs and festivals to create what they’re calling a Simply American experience that celebrates female service members, military wives and their families.

Almay also is soliciting photos depicting “Simply American moments.” The company will donate one dollar for every like or share on social media that uses the hashtag #SimplyAmerican up to a total of $10,000.

“Almay celebrates the spirit of American beauty,” Almay Vice President of Marketing Jill Krakowski said. “This fresh, uncomplicated, all-American beauty look. And there is no better embodiment of this spirit than the women of the U.S. military.”

Special Delivery, Indeed: Air Force Spouse Leaves USO/What To Expect Baby Shower to Give Birth

Kylee Austin and Heidi Murkoff at the USO Special Delivery event, left, and then hours later at the hospital. Photos courtesy of the Austin family.

Kylee Austin and Heidi Murkoff at the USO Special Delivery event, left, and then hours later at the hospital with Kylee’s husband Air Force Capt. Josh Austin. Photos Copyright Candace Castor.

Heidi Murkoff said the room was beautiful — full of baby shower decorations and brimming with pregnant women.

Kylee Austin, an Air Force spouse and mom-to-be attending the baby shower at the Kadena Officers Club in Okinawa, Japan, had waited a year for the USO event to come back to the country after her friend raved about her experience at the 2014 edition.

“I thought my baby would come before the event and I was really sad I was going to miss out, but I figured I might register anyway just in case,” Austin said.

USO/What to Expect Special Delivery baby showers are a chance for new military moms and moms-to-be to bond with others in their community going through similar experiences, like being away from their family and coping with their spouse missing the birth of their son or daughter. The showers typically feature lunch, traditional baby shower games, supply giveaways and an intimate Q&A session with Murkoff, author of the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series.

But this wouldn’t be a typical baby shower.

Austin had gone to the doctor’s that morning and everything looked fine. She was enjoying the event with the other mothers and all of a sudden started having contractions. First seven minutes apart. Then six. Then five.

The USO volunteers were so worried for me, checking on me and offering to drive me to the hospital if necessary,” Austin said, “but I wanted to stick it out to hear what [Murkoff] had to say.”

Murkoff, familiar with pregnant mothers, noticed Austin pacing around the back of the room “looking very serious and talking on the phone.”

“She was doing a lot of belly clutching and holding her back,” Murkoff wrote in an email. “I thought — hmmm, that’s interesting. Sure enough, I found out during the book signing that she had been having contractions and another mama had taken her over to the hospital.”

The timing meant Kylee missed the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with Murkoff, but the USO made a point to bring Murkoff by hospital the next day to meet baby Tristan, who was born at 5:42 a.m. that morning.


“It isn’t easy being pregnant under the best of circumstances — to do it while serving our country, far from the network of family and friends who usually help and support a mom-to-be through the journey — is exponentially harder,” Murkoff wrote. “To work with the USO to fill in some of those blanks for these mamas is an honor and an incredible opportunity. Plus I love the hugs and the baby cuddles.”

Murkoff says a special delivery during Special Delivery was bound to happen at some point. Still, this was a first for the program.

“The USO was just so sweet and supportive,” Austin said. “My favorite thing about being there was just getting to meet all the other ladies who were pregnant and getting the community support. It was such a neat experience for us and to tell our son in the future.”

True to military fashion, the Austins had their son Tristan while deployed and then less than two weeks later executed orders to return stateside, doing what military families do best.

“It was no surprise to us,” Austin said about receiving orders so soon, “but that’s why we have the USO there to help us out along the way. We take advantage of every center at every airport and that’s honestly what’s been getting us through.”

Meet Bandit: The Comforting Canine at USO Fort Leonard Wood

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Missouri—When Kelly Gist adopted Bandit three-and-a-half years ago, she didn’t expect him to become a healer.

Sickly, underweight and suffering from a number of health issues before adoption, the great dane pup looked like he needed more help than he would ever be able to give.

But as Bandit grew stronger and healthier, and started accompanying Gist to her job at USO Fort Leonard Wood, Gist saw Bandit was more than an average rescue dog.

“We would bring him into the USO, and as he grew, his interactions with the troops were unbelievable and we realized he had something else to give [and decided to train him as a therapy dog],” said Gist, the USO Fort Leonard Wood center director.


Bandit lays on Army Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Albrecht. USO photo by Sandi Moynihan

Whether it’s visiting patients at the hospital, comforting troops at the Warrior Transition Unit or hanging out with military families at USO Fort Leonard Wood, Gist says Bandit is always ready to comfort those in need.

“If anyone can spend five minutes with him, even two, they’ll realize the difference he can make in someone’s day,” Gist said.


Wawa Hoagie Day Kicks Off $700,000 Fundraising Campaign for the USO

PHILADELPHIA—Wawa chose America’s birthplace on Independence Day weekend to launch its most ambitious campaign yet to support the USO.

Celebrity chef and USO tour veteran Robert Irvine joined Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens and hundreds of service members, police officers, fire fighters and first responders as well as dozens of USO volunteers and Wawa associates to construct a 5-ton hoagie on Thursday. The meal – which equated to 23,000 individual sandwiches – was served for free at Independence Mall during the 23rd Annual Wawa Hoagie Day.

“There’s nothing more fulfilling to me in my life than cooking for our warriors and their families and making sure that they know that we love them,” said Irvine, who recently returned from a USO tour to Japan. “The USO is a huge part of that.”

The event, which featured a USO Letters from Home station and hoagie-building competitions between service branches and police and fire departments, marked the start of Wawa’s annual USO fundraising campaign. The campaign runs through August 30 and aims to raise $700,000. Wawa customers can to donate $1, $3 or $5 when making purchases, which will go directly to support USO programs for troops and their families.

“For July fourth there’s no other place you should be than Philadelphia,” said Joe Brooks, President and CEO of Liberty USO. “It’s a wonderful community. A community that knows and understands the service and sacrifice of our military and it’s a community that steps up in many ways, both in donations of their time and money to the USO.”