Making The Season Bright
David Guy can’t always be home for Christmas. The Yeoman First Class, now attached to the USS Nimitz, has been deployed three times during the holidays, missing family festivities with his wife Adrienne and their four children, who range in age from eight to three. “It’s heartbreaking,” says Adrienne. “He’s not there to share all the Christmas joys.”
But over the years, the San Diego Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) has made the holidays a bit merrier for the Guy family and thousands like them. While linked to the YMCA, its exclusive mission is to serve the military and their families, says executive director Paul Steffens, a retired Navy captain. The nonprofit now serves 8,000 military families a month, up from about 2,300 in 2004 because of outreach efforts and ongoing war. “Families are stretched to the nth degree,” says Captain Steffens. “So we work hard to make sure that if you’re deployed you know your family’s being taken care of.” Free programs, totally dependent on private donations and volunteers, include in-home counseling for help with marital and parenting issues; Mom and Tots, a way for military moms to meet those in the same boat; and Operation Hero, a mentoring program for children. It also works with the Naval Medical Center, booking flights and free hotel rooms for the families of wounded warriors.
Adrienne especially appreciates Operation Kid Comfort, a program that has provided 3,000 quilts, handmade by volunteers, to military families. “I submitted photos of each of my children with my husband and they were put on this beautiful quilt,” she says. “And it was just wonderful for my kids to hold and look at that at night and just cuddle with it, something tangible for them to hold on to while he was away. That was really special. That really meant a lot.”
Military parents can pick out toys to wrap up for their kids at Super Shopper, Super Parent Day in December at the ASYMCA facility in Murphy Canyon, and there is Neighborhood Exchange, a monthly food distribution for families who meet federal rules based on family size and income. Captain Steffens says it enables families to stretch their military paychecks, especially with the high cost of housing in San Diego.
And for service men and women who are deployed during the holidays, there’s Christmas
that You Missed, every year on June 25, complete with presents, Santa, and even snow. Volunteers try to recreate the holiday down to the last detail, including copies of newspapers published on Christmas Day.
“They have really helped us get through some tough times, just having that support,” says Adrienne. “You just really feel the compassion and the generosity through all of the volunteers. It has really impacted my family in a very special way. I am really touched by the services that they provide for us.”
This year, her husband will be home for Christmas. But for families who aren’t so fortunate, the Armed Services YMCA is there to offer holiday cheer. (858/751-5755, www.militaryymca.org) ANDREA NAVERSEN