"Please don't send cookies, care packages, or socks. Just help take care of our children."
— Military Service Member
Every day during her senior year in high school, Chelly Criqui, now the Marketing and Communications manager at Our Military Kids, looked forward to crew practice. She loved the camaraderie of the other rowers, the focus and the discipline of the sport, and the competition at regattas. Even more, she reveled in the peace and calm she felt on the water, oars in, oars out, a team effort to propel the shell forward. When her father, an Army National Guardsman, deployed that year, family finances got tight, making crew and other extra-curriculars for Ms. Criqui and her sisters top on the list of unaffordable extras. But luckily, Ms. Criqui’s mother heard about Our Military Kids and with the organization’s generous grants, Ms. Criqui was able to continue rowing and her sisters able to take on horseback riding and voice lessons. “Not only did we rally around each other in our passions but our activities were also something we could share with our dad when we talked to him over the phone,” says Ms. Criqui. “Our extra-curriculars made what was definitely a very tough year a lot less tough. Our mom got out of the house, we bonded as a family and also with our coaches and teachers, and our dad gained a peace of mind knowing that we had some positive outlets in our lives. Our whole family will be forever grateful for the generosity of Our Military Kids.”
In 2004, Linda Davidson and Gail Kruzel Fertel co-founded Our Military Kids in response to the September 11 attacks and the repeated, lengthy overseas deployments by members of the National Guard and Reserves. Soon after, the mission was expanded to include children of post-9/11 combat-injured service members. Many times, these families were too far from a military base to take advantage of programs offered there and were in communities without the traditional support that families would receive if they were on base. The founders were particularly motivated by a quote from a service member who said, “Please don't send cookies, care packages, or socks. Just help take care of our children.”
Our Military Kids recognizes the sacrifice of children of deployed National Guard, deployed Reserve, and post-9/111 combat-injured service members by offering extra-curricular activity grants that build the child’s self-confidence, enhance family wellness, and strengthen a shared sense of community. The organization provides more than 4,000 grants per year to military children in both their Deployed and Severely Injured Programs.
“What we do is simple but powerful: we are recognizing children for being brave despite their parent’s deployment and all the challenges — large and small — that can come with a parent’s recovery from combat injuries,” says Executive Director Kara Dallman. “Through our annual surveys to families, the vast majority of families reported our grants helped with family morale, mental health and overall well-being, and financial challenges.”
For kids, having something to focus on that they love — cheerleading, violin, soccer, dance, taekwondo … you name it! — helps lessen their stress and anxiety around their parent’s deployment. “We want to bring joy, excitement, and a sense of ‘everything is and will be okay’ to military kids,” says Program and Operations Manager Michelle Tran. “Each kid who is awarded a grant receives, first thing, a ‘top secret’ kit from Our Military Kids in the mail that includes a certificate, patch, rubber wrist band, and dog tags. We often hear from families how excited they are to receive this special package, especially the dog tags, which seem to help them feel closer to their deployed parent.”
For sisters Sinaiyah and Azara — whose mother is retired from the Air Force and who is the primary caregiver for her injured veteran husband — the grants from Our Military Kids enabled them to take lessons in piano and violin, respectively. “I love playing the violin especially because I know that my dad is calm when I play it,” says Azara. For Sinaiyah, who at times had to take on the role of mother to her little sister, adds, “Being able to sit down at the piano and play, even for 10 minutes a day, has been such a blessing.”
Organization: Our Military Kids
Programs: Grants (up to $300 per eligible child) for extracurricular activities, sports, music, fine arts, camps, and tutoring programs during a parent’s deployment or recovery.
Who qualifies: Children ages 3-18 of deployed and stateside activated National Guard and Reserve service members, as well as those of severely injured Veterans from any service branch.
- National Guard, deployed
- Reserves, deployed
- Post-9/11 Injured Veterans (rated 30% or more) in one of the following six categories designated by the Department of Veteran Affairs: burns, amputation, mental health, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, or PTSD.