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Memorial Day: the unofficial start of the summer. Parades, barbecues, and parties. A day off of work. Memorial Day is a holiday I’ve always enjoyed. But I’m embarrassed to admit that I usually don’t celebrate Memorial Day by reflecting on its true meaning. Sure, I usually post a quick, sentimental post on Facebook thanking our troops. And I always make sure to thank my WWII vet grandfather-in-law for his service, but really, that’s about it.
It’s important to me that I teach my kids the true meaning of holidays, including Memorial Day. So, in my attempt to celebrate Memorial Day a bit more meaningfully, I put together a list of great charities to support, organizations to volunteer with, and books to read to your children.
Before we get to that though, don’t feel badly if you’re looking forward to celebrating Memorial Day with a barbecue or parade. These are great things, and the troops we are honoring sacrificed precisely so we could continue doing these things. The point of this post isn’t to shame you into changing your behavior. Have your parties and go to the parade. Just maybe think about adding one of these other things to celebrate Memorial Day with a bit more meaning.
I vetted all of the below charities to ensure the meet high standards of fiscal responsibility, as noted on Charity Navigator or Guidestar. Some I have donated to personally. None of these links are affiliate links or sponsored postings. If you choose to make a donation, I will receive NOTHING in return, as it should be!
Fisher House Foundation builds comfort homes where military and veterans families can stay free of charge while a loved one is in the hospital. These homes are located at military and VA medical centers around the world. Fisher Houses have up to twenty-one suites, with private bedrooms and baths. Families share a common kitchen, laundry facilities, a warm dining room, and an inviting living room.
Since inception, the program has saved military and veterans’ families an estimated $407 million in out of pocket costs for lodging and transportation. In 2017, Fisher House served over 30,000 families.
Fisher House Foundation also operates the Hero Miles program, using donated frequent flyer miles to bring family members to the bedside of injured service members. Similarly, the Hotels for Heroes program uses donated hotel points so families can stay at hotels near hospitals without charge. The Foundation also manages a grant program supporting other military charities and scholarship funds for military children, spouses, and children of fallen and disabled veterans.
Homes For Our Troops (HFOT) builds and donates specially adapted custom homes nationwide for severely injured post–9/11 veterans, to enable them to rebuild their lives. Most of these veterans have sustained injuries including amputations, partial or full paralysis, and/or severe traumatic brain injury. These homes restore some of the independence our veterans sacrificed while defending our country, enabling them to focus on their family, recovery, and rebuilding their lives. Since its inception in 2004, nearly ninety cents of every dollar has gone directly to their program services for veterans. HFOT builds these homes where the veteran chooses to live, and continues its relationship with the veterans after home delivery to assist them with rebuilding their lives.
Operation Gratitude seeks to lift spirits and meet the evolving needs of the U.S. military and first responder communities, and provide volunteer opportunities for Americans to express their appreciation to all who serve our nation. Every year, Operation Gratitude sends 250,000+ individually addressed care packages to those deployed overseas, to their children left behind, and to first responders, new recruits, veterans, wounded heroes, and their caregivers. Each package contains snacks, hygiene products, entertainment, and handmade items, as well as personal letters of support.
In addition to accepting donations, Operation Gratitude offers several volunteer opportunities, from hosting collection drives, to writing letters, to knitting scarves and more. If you live near Los Angeles, you can also volunteer for a care package assembly day.
Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) is a great example of helping multiple groups in need. The organization trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and explosive-detection canines for law enforcement. Puppies enter prison at the age of eight weeks and live with their inmate puppy-raisers for approximately twenty-four months. As the puppies mature into well-loved, well-behaved dogs, their raisers learn what it means to contribute to society rather than take from it. PBB programs bring the love and healing of dogs to hundreds of individuals every year. The dogs bring hope and pride to their raisers, and independence and security to those they serve.
Semper Fi Fund provides financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 combat wounded and critically ill service members and their families. From injury through recovery, comprehensive programs improve the lives of veterans and address the needs of their immediate families. They also offer education and career assistance programs to help wounded service members start new and productive lives.
Thanks USA: In 2005, two sisters Rachel (10) and Kelsi (8) saw firsthand the hardships faced by a military family when their neighbor, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Lanier Ward, returned from Iraq severely injured. In appreciation of the family’s sacrifice, the sisters launched ThanksUSA in 2006. Their goal was to thank the troops by providing their children and spouses with educational scholarships.
The sisters’ idea began as a national treasure hunt game, based on American history. This treasure hunt encouraged Americans to get involved through contributions and activities. ThanksUSA has awarded over 4,200 need-based scholarships valued at more than $13 million to military spouses and kids.
In 2016, ThanksUSA launched the Pathways for Patriots program to provide pathways to meaningful employment for their scholars. The initiative is helping scholarship recipients establish careers in hard-to-fill occupations through mentoring, internships, and employee engagement with partnering corporations.
Aside from financial support, you can honor our troops through volunteering. Whether you choose to celebrate Memorial Day by volunteering, or do so afterwards, these activities will help you give back.
Clean up a veterans’ cemetery: A quick Google search can probably give the location of the closest veterans’ cemetery to you. Reach out to see they have any opportunities for volunteers to maintain gravesites or place flags. You can also contact your local VFW or American Legion for volunteer opportunities.
Spend time in a soup kitchen: Sadly, veterans make up a significant percentage of the national homeless population. Estimates are that nearly 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Give back to those who have served by serving them a warm meal. If you’re interested in learning more about this issue, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans has a lot of useful information.
Drive veterans to medical appointments, or assist in medical facilities. Contact your local VA hospital, or check out DAV.org for opportunities.
Help veterans and their families find post-service employment: Hire Heroes USA provides personalized job search assistance for transitioning U.S. military members, veterans, and military spouses. Volunteer to conduct mock interviews or provide career guidance. If you’re a skilled photographer, you can sign up to provide professional headshots.
Be an Honor Flight Guardian: Honor Flight Network’s mission is to transport America’s veterans to Washington, DC, to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends. They transport our heroes to Washington, DC, to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill. Volunteers escort our heroes to and from the airport and through the memorials.
Teach Your Children Well
If you decide to celebrate Memorial Day by volunteering, make it a family event. Be an example to your loved ones by introducing them to volunteer opportunities. I am confident your experience will be all the more meaningful because of it.
If taking your children volunteering isn’t feasible, celebrate Memorial Day by teaching them about the sacrifices others have made for our way of life. There are many age appropriate books you could use to introduce the topic, or patriotism more broadly. Here are some of the most highly rated on Amazon, for a variety of ages:
F is for Flag: June 14 is Flag Day, but with so many American flags proudly displayed, every day seems like Flag Day. Perfect for reading together with a young child, F Is for Flag shows how one flag can be a symbol of unity, a sign of welcome, and a reminder that-in good times and in bad-everyone in our country is part of one great big family.
The Wall: Any book that is a Reading Rainbow book is okay in my book! This story tells about a young boy and his father visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
O, Say Can You See? America’s Symbols, Landmarks, And Important Words: This picture book celebrates and explains America’s symbols, landmarks, and important words in lively, brief text and bright, humorous illustrations.
The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans: When American soldiers entered World War I, Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia, knew she had to act. Some of the soldiers were her students and friends. Almost single-handedly, Moina worked to establish the red poppy as the symbol to honor and remember soldiers. And she devoted the rest of her life to making sure the symbol would last forever. Thanks to her hard work, that symbol remains strong today.
Hero Mom: The moms in this book are superheroes. They may not leap over tall buildings, or have super-human speed, but these moms construct buildings, fly planes, and make tanks roll. They do all kinds of things to help create a safer world. These superheroes are moms. Military moms. Hero moms.
America’s White Table: The White Table is set in many mess halls as a symbol for and remembrance to service members fallen, missing, or held captive in the line of duty. Solitary and solemn, it is the table where no one will ever sit. As a gift to her uncle, Katie and her sisters are asked to help set the white table for dinner. As their mother explains the significance of each item placed on the table, Katie comes to understand and appreciate the depth of sacrifice that her uncle, and each member of the Armed Forces and their families, may be called to give.
Veterans: Heroes in Our Neighborhood: An engaging rhyming picture book for readers of all ages that fosters mindfulness of and appreciation for the brave service men and women who are also our family, friends, and neighbors. These are the men and women who bravely served our great country and now humbly serve in our communities.
Celebrate Memorial Day with Meaning
I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to celebrate Memorial Day more meaningfully. And I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it at least half as much as I enjoyed writing it. Now that I have kids, it is important that I make sure they learn the true meaning of holidays. I hope this post will be the first of several in adding more meaning to some of our common holidays.
May I ask a favor? If this post has inspired you celebrate Memorial Day more meaningful, could you let me know? Drop a line in the comments, or fill out the contact form linked above. I would be honored to know that this post helped someone give back to those who have given so much.
May you all have a happy, safe, and meaningful Memorial Day!