An interesting day . . . this day before Thanksgiving.
We who have so much . . . a nice warm home, plenty of food, nice clothes, nice cars . . . and good family and friends . . . tend to forget other folks who are less fortunate than we. We talk about them . . . but, sadly, all too often, we don’t do anywhere near what we should be doing to help make their life a little more manageable, if not enjoyable.
There are exceptions to this,fortunately.
Several weeks ago we had an Army veteran, Chris, his wife, Jamie, and five year old daughter, Emily, attend our Hidden Valley Kiwanis Club and its Operation Hero program. Chris has been out of the Army for two years but continues to have medical problems, principally with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) due to combat injuries suffered in Iraq. He has deep depression, memory problems, is unable to work. We learned that, for one week, the family was homeless. Further, there were four other kids at home. When Evelyn heard this family had been homeless, it hit her hard. Typical of Evelyn, she decided to do something about it.
She recommended we adopt this family for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The club enthusiastically agreed with Evelyn’s suggestion.
Phase one was Thanksgiving, Phase two is Christmas. We will provide for this family.
Today, Evelyln and I drove to Oceanside, about 15 miles west of us, and took umpteen boxes of food over to the family. We met the rest of the kids.
Beautiful. Every single one of them. Kids you would be proud to call your own . . . or to call your grandkids, as they case might be.
The apartment was in a tidy apartment complex . . . but it was small. Too small for seven people. The living room was tidy but had only one couch. They don’t have enough beds. Dave Geary, one of our super Kiwanis members, is arranging for bunk beds for them.
The kids helped the old man (me) carry the boxes from the car upstairs to their apartment. When all the food was delivered, we stood around chatting. I pulled some one dollar bills from my pocket and gave each of the kids one . . . except for Emily. I turned to Evelyn and said, “well, grandma, I think we have covered everybody. I don’t think I’ve forgotten anybody have I?” I looked at Emily and she had a smile on her face and her eyes were gleaming . . . “Did I forget anyone, Emily?”
“Yes, me!” she giggled. I gave her her dollar and she was ecstatic. (I fell in love with Emily when she accompanied mom and dad to the Operation Hero event. She and I flirted with each other all morning).
I gave Jamie a $20 bill and told her to do whatever she wanted with it. Buy a trinket, a bottle of wine, whatever she wanted. I noticed the three boys all needed haircuts. We’ll have to arrange for that.
Dick and Marcia Jungas, members of our Hidden Valley Kiwanis Club, will be holding a Christmas party on December 7th and each of us will bring gifts for this family. Evelyn and I (and anyone else who wants to tag along) will deliver them in plenty of time for Christmas. Today’s gift was food; the next gifts will be clothing, shoes, toys, all kinds of neat things. We’ll probably set some gifts aside to be “from Santa.”
As we drove back home to Escondido, my thoughts turned to a late lunch conversation we had yesterday with Dave Geary. Many of you will recall that about a year and a half ago we featured an Army Sergeant, Ryan Kahlor, as our guest at Operation Hero. You can read about it here: http://www.thecommunitypaper.com/archive/2009/03_05/index.php.
This kid had gotten banged up pretty badly in Iraq. Again, our Dave Geary stepped in and assisted Ryan with rehabbing this fixer-upper house had had just purchased. Dave arranged for plumbers, roofers, painters, kitchen appliances . . . probably around $20,000-$30,000 worth of rehab work to his home. He and his girlfriend were able to settle in and begin to recover from the lingering battle wounds he had sustained . . . chief of which was, again, BDI (Brain Damage Injury). I remember at that time Ryan told me he had to have a special parking spot at Balboa Naval Hospital because if he didn’t, he’d forget where he parked his vehicle. Depression, memory problems, flashbacks, nightmares . . . they are all part and parcel of BDI. Ryan looked the picture of health . . . but he was still hurting inside, and badly.
Then came yesterday’s lunch . . . at which Dave Geary told me Ryan had to go back into the hospital and had been there for the past six months. He had been having nightmares . . . frequent flashbacks . . . waking up and screaming in the middle of the night . . . and he had to be treated in hospital rather than at home.
It hit me right in the gut to hear that. I thought Ryan was well on his way to recovery.
I suggested to Evelyn, as we drove home from Oceanside, that we should drop by Ryan’s house and see his girlfriend, see if there was anything at all we could do to help.
We arrived at the house, knocked on the door, and who appears at the door? This big, handsome Sergeant named Ryan Kahlor. Turns out he had just been released from the hospital and had been home for only a week. He told me had continued to have nightmares, flashbacks . . . he was back in Iraq, watching his buddies being blown to bits . . . finally, one day, while attending a college class, he noticed another student who was texting while the professor was lecturing. Ryan thought the other student was disrespectful so he picked up a table and threw it against the wall next to the texting student. He did not hit the student but scared hell out of him.
Naturally, the school could not allow that and Ryan was asked to leave the school program. It was this violent reaction the caused the medical teams from Balboa Naval Hospital to bring Ryan back into hospital for a series of psychiatric and psychological counseling, group therapy, training in how to deal with trauma, how to recognize it, how to compensate for it, how to overcome the side effects. Apparently, the hospital felt Ryan was now ready to come home again.
We gave him our phone number and email address and asked him to call anytime he wanted to talk. 3am . . . that’s fine. We’re here. Midday? That’s fine. I told him I was not a trained therapist but I’d be happy to just shoot the breeze with him . . . or to listen to whatever was troubling him.
When we got home I had an email from Ryan, thanking us for visiting him and saying he felt well enough that he would like to volunteer to help us on any cause we thought worthwhile. Perhaps we’ll have him help us help another veteran. Nothing like someone who has experienced the hurt and pain of combat to help another vet through it.
We had one more task to complete on this day before Thanksgiving. We delivered a load of food to the Interfaith Community Services Center. Suzanne Pohlman, who runs the Center, told me they had fed 69 people before noon today. It was their Thanksgiving Dinner . . . a day early. Evelyn and I had noticed a lot of folks enjoying pumpkin pie and all the fixings . . . I went into Suzanne’s office and collected a hug and had a brief chat with her. Suzanne is another of those fine people who see people suffering and does something about it. She’s a Saint in my book.
Our tasks done for the day, we returned home, were greeted by squeals of delight and lots of kisses from our puppy, Trixie. We enjoyed the affection . . . and then, as usual, I headed back into my office. I had some time to reflect, however . . . and thus this little essay.
Blessings to my lovely Evelyn for caring so much about people and helping . . . not just today, but year in and year out. She’s always doing something for others . . . and never getting the recognition she so richly deserves for her charitable work. Blessing to Dave Geary, a guy who moves heaven and earth to provide for the military . . . orphans . . . anyone who needs help. (Dave is the computer guru who bailed me out of a major computer jam on the night we were supposed to go to press. We did go to press, but only because of Dave’s service above and beyond the call of duty). Dave, not incidentally, has all three of his kids serving in the military. Blessings to Sonja Dugan and Steve Vargo . . . the two movers and shakers who work with and select our candidates for Operation Hero. They know these heroes and their families and know their wants and needs.
They are truly dedicated and compassionate people whom I am proud to call my friends.
And, finally, blessings upon my Hidden Valley Kiwanis Club. A club of which I’m proud to be a member. They just plain give a damn about what is happening in the community and they do something about it. They donate money, food, clothes, time, energy, volunteer hours . . . and, through it all, we manage to have one helluva grand time. Our meetings are filled with laughter and good fellowship . . . and a whole lot of love.
With so many people hurting in the world, and needing help, it is good to have groups such as Kiwanis to help meet the need.
Here’s hoping for a warm, happy, and joyful Thanksgiving for you and your family.
Love and warm hugs to all . . .