VOLUNTEER MATCH SPOTLIGHT
VOLUNTEER MATCH SPOTLIGHT on Alessandra Kellermann,
Homefront Hugs USA, Inc.
Alessandra Kellermann knows from painful personal experience that when a family member goes off to war, they need more than just training and gear – they need unconditional support. She founded Homefront Hugs USA, Inc. after 9/11 in order to provide a way for all Americans to help give it.
When a serviceperson go to war, they need more than just training and gear with them – they need the unconditional support of their loved ones.
They need it when they wake up in the dark to pull on their boots. They need it in battle as they confront the enemy. And without a doubt they need it when they return home, changed in so many ways from the experience of war.
Some soldiers never get this kind of unconditional support, and the result can be as devastating as the battlefield itself.
Alessandra Kellermann knows this from painful personal experience.
After meeting her husband Steve Schmidt at the University of Michigan and getting married, the couple moved overseas while Steve fulfilled his duties as a pilot in the United States Air Force. Eventually he saw action in the first Gulf War.
The distance – both from each other, and from their support networks back home – coupled with the psychological and emotional strain of the war during their separation, proved to be too much for the couple. Unwilling to ask for counseling lest the problems show up on Steve’s military record, the relationship faltered and eventually ended in divorce a few years later.
“We were very much in love,” recalls Kellermann. “But we were young and naive and not strong enough to work at the marriage alone away from family and friends.”
The experience was on Kellermann’s mind following September 11, 2001, as hundreds of thousands of soldiers geared up for battle. Raised in a Jewish/Catholic family with an immense respect for World War Two veterans, Kellermann knew there was another way for war stories to end than how her’s did – they could also end with warm homecoming celebrations, quiet relief and unconditional love.
And as she thought about how she could contribute to the war effort, an idea was born.
Today Homefront Hugs USA, the organization Kellermann founded in 2001, is enabling members of the public to “adopt” U.S. servicemen and women and their families with “homefront hero hugs.” Through it other programs such as Operation Healing Angel (which sends cards and care packages to wounded soldiers), Never Forgotten Tribute, Troops Guestbook (which collects statements of support for and by the troops), and Homefront Hugs for Kids (which gets children involved in the effort) the nonprofit offers the nation a variety of ways to let troops know you care and support their commitment to our nation’s safety and well being.
According to Kellermann, the organization is entirely volunteer-led and politically neutral, and all funds go directly to their programs and their troops.
The formula seems to be working: not only are the troops expressing gratitude for the support, but many of the organization’s volunteers say the experience of getting involved at Homefront Hugs has been powerful.
One volunteer donated an expensive collection of Beanie Babies. A doctor has his living room filled with care packages for families. A woman in Florida writes handwritten letters – often as long as eight pages – to families and widows of service members. 9/11 families join together to support groups of heroes during holiday season.
“Not only are our military heroes, but my volunteers are heroes too,” said Kellermann. “They come form all walks of life with different reasons for wanting to help. There’s a spot for everyone at Homefront Hugs if you have an open mind, a dash of TLC, and patience. The needs are vast and the more the merrier.”
Homefront Hugs USA uses VolunteerMatch to help recruit new volunteers and donors who are inspired by its mission of unconditional support for our troops. To date the organization has received more than seventy referrals.
“Since we joined VolunteerMatch, we’ve received nothing but stellar applicants wanting to make a difference and help in whatever area they choose,” said Kellermann.
With eight years of support for the troops behind her, Kellermann believes Homefront Hugs will continue to grow as more people discover its programs. That’s good news, she says. Because just as the memory of WWII parades have faded over time, so too has the sense of shared purpose that existed after 9/11.
“People forget we have thousands upon thousands of troops redeploying and deployed,” she adds. “But our troops are experiencing their own 9/11 overseas and need our support – unconditional and steadfast.”
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