Ways To Make A Difference

We all have the power to make a difference. Choosing to use that power is an awesome thing for the person you help and for yourself as well. I’ve supported a variety of Military-related charities based on the effort I could give at the time. Here’s some info and links as well as some Reader Reco’s. I hope you find something right for you.

Soldiers’ Angels

What they say about themselves:

Soldiers’ Angels is a volunteer-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit providing aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and their families. Founded in 2003 by the mother of two American soldiers, its hundreds of thousands of Angel volunteers assist veterans, wounded and deployed personnel and their families in a variety of unique and effective ways.

What I say:

I love that they have programs with different levels of time/effort. Adoption is a big commitment. SA offers that plus many one-off opportunities that are as simple as a single postcard or letter. They have projects involving knitting, baking and more. I loved TLC (yes, tender loving care) When the Deployed sign up to be adopted there is often a wait time. TLC is one letter or care package from a bunch of different people. Sort of a morale boost or blast to hold them over. When I was trying to get a special project done related to the Fort Hood shootings, the support from the team leaders and other volunteers was fantastic! If you want to know more about that project, my post on it is: Fort Hood & Angels Armed With Pens.

What I like best: the fellow “angels” I’ve met who are always ready to help and truly care about our troops.

What could be better: there have been some management changes and communication could be better.

If you visit their site and have questions, one of the volunteers gave me this email address for help: adoptionsteam@soldiersangels.org

Adopt A US Soldier

What they say about themselves:

Adopt A US Soldier is a non-profit organization that seeks volunteers to help show the brave men and women fighting for our freedom that their sacrifices will not go unnoticed. It connects supportive civilians with deployed troops and offers a channel by which to communicate encouragement and express gratitude to those brave men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces.

What I say:

Most adoption sites are one-on-one. AAUSA does it differently. They give each Deployed Troop 4-7 supporters. The reality is, everyone has good intentions, but some volunteers kind of “drop off.” When I adopted my Soldier his others supporters stopped writing after one month. I’m not sure which model is better. Did the others stop because “hey, someone else is doing it too”? I do know that knowing I wasn’t alone made it easier for me to join. I honestly thought to myself “what if I suck at this? I don’t want some poor guy to suffer because of it.” AAUSA also has a one-time option avail now. After you register, I find their forums easy to navigate. Lots of helpful information there too. If you want to know more about what signing up was like, my post on it is: I Adopted A Heavily Armed Grown Man

Cup of Joe

What they say about themselves:

In our travels to see the Troops, many share with us their sense of loneliness, isolation and feelings of being forgotten. Their commanders tell us that some Troops never receive mail from home. In response, Green Beans Coffee has launched Cup of Joe For A Joe to let anyone, anywhere in the world, say thanks to our troops through the simple act of buying a cup of coffee and having it delivered along with their own personal note of encouragement into the hands of deployed Service Members.

What I say:

I love, love, love Cup of Joe. Green Beans is a corporation that’s gotten it right with a program that’s beyond easy. You can participate for as little as $2. You can opt in to be a pen-pal or not. If you and the Troop both opt in, there you go. But either way, Troops often send a note of thanks. With the other volunteer work, sometimes you hear back and sometimes you don’t for a variety of reasons. (internet access, free time, whatever the heck else is going on, etc)  You know that going in and that’s fine. You’re doing this for THEM, not you. That said, it is nice to hear back from someone. To know you made a difference for this one person for those few minutes they took a break. It’s really more than just a cup of coffee. My post about my first COJ experience is:  The Strongest Coffee In The World.  A story about what one single cup of coffee led to is: Coffee And A Serving of Perspective.

What a reader told me:

Michelle from Liberty Harley-Davidson/Buell shared how they do Cup of Joe. I think it’s a great idea and a really nice way to inspire others in the community to join in.

“We’ve been doing Cup of Joe for a Joe at our Harley-Davidson dealership for a few years now. It is SO wonderful to get those letters back. I share them online, and hang them up around our customer coffeepot to inspire people to drop something in the Cup of Joe bucket, then we send the coffee in batches”

Liberty Harley-Davidson/Buell customer coffee area with Cup of Joe letters

Liberty Harley-Davidson/Buell coffee area with Cup of Joe

Snowball Express

What they say about themselves:

Our Mission: To create hope and new memories for the children of our fallen military heroes who have died while serving our country since 9/11.

In December of 2006, nearly 900 family members from all across America and the world gathered in Southern California for an unforgettable holiday gathering. Kids and widows discovered they weren’t alone. And they found they weren’t forgotten.

As Snowball Express continued growing, they say:

…children who had attended previous events rekindled friendships with children met at previous years and new children attending for the first time were mentored by those who had been before. Emotional healing was occurring on many different levels.

What I say:

For me, this charity began as a Reader Reco. I soon noticed that Cup of Joe was doing projects with them and I started learning more and donating. What really got to me was the thank-you letters from the families. These Snowball events truly make a positive difference for them. The kind of healing it affords the kids would be hard to find anywhere else. Then I found a letter on their site that further inspires how, what, and why they “do what they do.” It was a soldier’s last letter to his family. I wrote about it in Don’t Forget Snowballs For Memorial Day. Also, I like the people they partner with to pull off different events, they seem smart, genuine and passionate. Along with corporate sponsors, there are non-profits like Gary Sinise Foundation and Patriot Guard Riders. I’m looking forward to following the next event and having more of these families know for certain that they are not alone.

IAVA  (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America)

What they say about themselves:

IAVA is the first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. With over 200,000 Member Veterans and supporters nationwide, IAVA strives to build the New Greatest Generation. Our programs empower our community online and offline, and include Smart Job Fairs, our signature New GI Bill calculator and Community of Veterans, a veterans only social network.

What I say:

IAVA rocks. These guys GET THINGS DONE. Smart ideas, smart leadership. They are very clear about each Mission. Very specific about what kind of support they need to achieve each goal. When I do things with them, I feel a sense of forward motion, of accomplishment. After I joined, I got a few of “my guys” to join as well. I attended all the IAVA events on 11-11-11 for the NYC Veterans Day Parade. The way they treated the Troops, families and supporters, how they organized the day…all terrific. Founder Paul Rieckhoff spoke and I walked away inspired to do more.

Active Heroes

What they say about themselves:

Active Heroes is a volunteer-led Non-Profit charity with thousands of active individuals that fundraise to help Veterans, Active Duty Military and their families.

What I say:  

Before Army Vet Troy Yocum started Active Heroes, he walked cross-country and back (7,880 miles) to raise funds for military families in need. Which is pretty active. That’s when I met him and I wrote a PSA (public service announcement) supporting his efforts and helped him get it produced. Now he, his wife (she walked 4,017 miles) and others have started this. They help people organize fundraising hikes, bikes, bake sales, all sorts of things. So while I have never personally hiked, biked or baked for the cause, I think this is great because writing and mailing care packages is not everyone’s “thing.”


What they say about themselves:

Our Mission: The USO lifts the spirits of America’s troops and their families. Millions of times each year at hundreds of locations around the world, the USO lifts the spirits of America’s troops and their families. A nonprofit, congressionally chartered, private organization, the USO relies on the generosity of individuals, organizations and corporations to support its activities. The USO is not part of the U.S. government, but is recognized by the Department of Defense, Congress and President of the United States, who serves as Honorary Chairman of the USO.

What I say:

I’ve only recently started to learn about the USO. On July 4th they had a program where if you donated $25 they’d send a deployed troop “a care package with $75 of needed and requested items.” I was never good at math but this seemed like a good deal.

Anyway, until then, I thought the USO was focused solely on entertainment for the troops. They do that, but they have many more programs as well. They also have USO Centers in 160 locations all over the world from combat zones to airports. If you travel, you know it’s not always fun. Well, at times our troops will endure some pretty awful commutes and accommodations. The USO center is like a little oasis for them and, at the airports, their families as well.

I visited the USO Center at Raleigh Durham Airport twice as a guest of some service members. I will tell you the volunteers there were beyond lovely. They are truly caring and couldn’t do enough for the troops and their families. Including these homemade cookies some nice local ladies had baked. *UPDATE: I spent some time with a volunteer there named Denise and was so inspired by what she did there and why, I wrote this post:  Air Force Mom. Mission Of Love.

homemade cookies volunteers made for USO at RDU

homemade cookies to-go at the USO


Reader Reco’s

Here are some additional charities that readers have recommended. If you’ve had a positive experience with an organization that supports our troops,  please let me know.

Any Soldier – letters and/or care packages.

Molly’s Adopt A Sailor

Cigars For Warriors

Fisher House  “Comfort homes” near VA medical centers where family members can stay while loved in is in the hospital

TAPS – Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.  This group helps care for the families of the fallen in many ways.

Operation Write Home -volunteers make cards (blank inside) that are given to troops. The troops use them to write home to family on holidays and any day.

Books For Soldiers

The Armed Services YMCA – They have many programs such as an on-site after-school program for military kids called Operation Hero. A reader also told me about a quilt-making program she loved called Operation Kid Comfort. She mentioned they are always looking for volunteers at Fort Bragg.

Additional Resource

As a rule, I only like to recommend organizations that I or you have had personal experience with. However, I was reading the blog Off The Base and found this very comprehensive and well-organized list with all kinds of ways to make a difference. PLUS each charity on the list has been vetted and had some level of scrutiny. That gives me a comfort level to share it even thought it breaks my “personal experience” rule. You can find the list here: How the 99 Percent Can Support Military Service Members

Share This Blog

My mission is to get more people to care, understand and feel some kind of connection to the brave men and women who protect us every day. If you’ve been inspired by what you’ve read here, please share it. Maybe someone else will be inspired too.  Thanks.

24 thoughts on “Ways To Make A Difference

    • CJ, I realized when you were asking me details about the programs that I needed this page. You know, instead of just having the info randomly included in posts. So thank you!

  1. Thanks for spreading the word!!! My whole family is in the military so I have lots of friends and family overseas. I know they appreciate people supporting them.

  2. Gina, This is a wonderful explanation of these programs. If you would be amenable to it, my Navy sisters and I would love to invite you to share your thoughts about these organizations on our wordpress blog Buoyed Up. We hope that it would both introduce you and these organizations to our readers.

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  5. What you are doing is so very important. Although the military battle style has changed over the past 70 years, the result of being deployed is still the same. We often forget that those guys over there are one of the main reasons we can do what we do over here. I hope you and others like you get lots more media attention. 🙂

    • You know, whether I speak to WWII Vets, Vietnam Vets, or troops from the current conflicts, there all talk about the importance of knowing that someone cares, of not being forgotten. It literally affects their health and impacts the success of their transition home. So, the more attention I can get for them, the better 🙂 As you point out, it is their sacrifice there that allows us to do what we do over here.

  6. I’m so glad you liked my post and I was able to follow your picture to your blog. There’s so much information here! A lot of helpful tips (especially the what they say/what I say) and great things to get involved in – thank you so much! And thank you for all that you do for our troops =)

  7. Hafa adai! What a great resource this is! I’d like to recommend an addition to your list: TAPS (http://www.taps.org/). It’s a group that supports families of fallen service members. I recently volunteered with them for the first time and was amazed by the work they do on behalf of military families, my close relatives and friends included. It’s a pretty big organization, but it touches the lives of many, especially children, on a very personal and emotional level.

    • Hafa adai! Thank you! And thank for reading and for the info. A Gold Star mom I met mentioned TAPS but I haven’t had a chance to look into yet. I’m glad you had a good experience and I will add it to the Reader Reco’s. Thank you so much for sharing!

  8. Gina, I have just one word about your blog-BEAUTIFUL. Once I share this with Peter, I know where he will direct his next writing efforts. Thanks for the inspiration! -Lisa

  9. Gina,
    This is great! My favorite is Cup of Joe; they are fantastic!
    As a former soldier, I’d have to say that the USO was a life saver. Being able to show up and watch a movie or get a free snack was always wonderful. The volunteers were people I could talk to about home and always wore a smile.
    Thanks for the “like.” You’ve got a new follower:)

  10. You left a comment on my blog earlier, and I’ve been on yours ever since. I adopted a soldier last Thanksgiving through AAUSS, but never heard from my soldier so sometimes I ran out of things to talk about. Thanks for all of your ideas! They will really help.

    • Thank you for adopting! As you know, you have what we volunteers refer to as a Silent Soldier. Those are tough.To put your heart and time into something and to not receive a word back…it can make you wonder if it matters. So I will answer for your soldier. It does. Because of you they hear their name at mail call. Because of you they have irrefutable proof that THEY matter.

      I also hope you’ve got to feel some sense of community and connection with the other folks on AAUSS. And I hope you feel that way here too! Thank you for reading and sticking around. I am following your adventures too!

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  12. I just found your site tonight and I love it! Thanks to you I just sent my first cup of joe. I sponsor children in Africa and South America. I pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas child and I make care packages for kids entering foster care in my community each month. But it dawned on me a couple of days ago that I need to be doing something to suppport our military. So I signed up on AAUSS for Project Frontline. Your list of charities reviews was very helpful and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading so many of your posts. God bless you for all you do to support our troops.

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