Sesame Street for Military Families Expands
Guest Blog: Sabrina Huda, Project Director, Sesame Workshop
I am not from a military family. But I have been a caregiver. I remember being in my early twenties and receiving that terrifying phone call about my mom and her diagnosis. My mother was the matriarch of our family, and we had just learned the woman who had done it all was now going to need assistance with even the most basic activities such as eating and bathing for the rest of her life. The physical activities were difficult but the hardest was realizing that her mind was also no longer all there, and she could not communicate her needs fully.
When we launched Sesame Street for Military Families: Family Caregiving to support family caregiving, it felt more of a personal achievement than a professional one. It was something I knew would support families like mine, but with younger children. And more importantly, it was created for our families who gave a life to service.
When a service member or veteran needs caregiving, the entire family is caregiving. Even children have a role to play. I was a young adult when my caregiving journey began, and I cannot even fathom what that would look like for a young one…. until now. I learned how children sometimes take on adult tasks and often do not understand the reasons for parents’ behaviors or lack of time for them and often face difficult transitions. They truly are the silent heroes.
Despite the growing numbers of families in caregiving roles, very few resources exist to help our little ones understand the changes caregiving can bring to their day-to-day lives. Our new initiative is here tosupport military and veteran families as they care for a wounded, ill, or injured parent or relative. The resources include:
- Three videos starring Rosita – a familiar face from Sesame Street– along with her mother and her father, who uses a wheelchair after an injury.
- A music video that features footage of military and veteran families with an injured parent celebrating their “sunny days” together.
- An activity book called “My Sunny and Stormy Days,” designed for parents and children to complete together.
- An interactive game for children, playable across desktop and handheld devices, plus five printable activities.
- Two documentary-style videos for adults about parenting after an injury.
- A series of articles for parents about tackling children’s tough questions, asking for support, and embracing a sense of family togetherness as routines change.
Sesame Street for Military Families: Caregiving uses the weather – something even very young ones can understand – as a metaphor to explain the ups and downs of caregiving and recovery. On “sunny days,” kids and parents feel confident, safe, and happy spending time together. “Cloudy days” have small challenges related to the parent’s injury or recovery, like missing a planned outing. On “stormy days,” children may worry about the future and have trouble accepting the family’s new normal.
Created with the help of expert advisors and backed by Sesame Workshop’s early childhood research, the initiative will help caregiving families remember that they’re not alone, and that it’s always okay to ask for help. Young children know they can count on their favorite, fuzzy, and furry friends to understand big and small feelings, that there will be both sunny days and stormy days, but together, as a family, they can navigate the tough times and enjoy the good ones.
We hope parents and caregivers along with their children will watch the Muppet and documentary videos and use the other resources as tools to talk about their feelings, know it’s okay to have difficult conversations as a family, understand what caregiving means, and most of all, understand that despite changes or challenges, there is hope and resilience. There are hard days in the caregiving journey but also there are fun times and ways to celebrate these times, just like all families.
All Sesame Street for Military Families: Caregivingmaterials are bilingual in English and Spanish and completely free to families. Learn more at ssic.org/veterancaregiving.
It All Started With One
It all started with one… One man and one idea that was sparked by one conversation. One idea grew to the first Fisher House, that has grown to over 85 Fisher Houses and supported hundreds of thousands of families. This network of comfort homes was created to provide a sense of normalcy during medical crisis and it all started with just…one.
Zachary Fisher was a builder, philanthropist, and patriot. He began working in construction at the age of 16 to help support his immigrant parents. He and his two brothers formed Fisher Brothers and eventually became one of the real estate industry’s premier residential and commercial developers.
Zachary was already committed to supporting the U.S. Armed Forces, but one phone call changed the trajectory of his incredible legacy. Pauline Trost, the wife of the Chief of Naval Operations in 1986, had watched a family exit a helicopter with their luggage at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda and wondered where they would stay. Knowing the hotels in the area are costly, she knew this would be a huge burden on families facing medical crisis.
She mentioned it to her husband, who in turn told Zachary. “I’m a builder. That’s what I do for a living. I can do this.” Zach and Elizabeth Fisher dedicated more than $20 million to the construction of comfort homes for families of hospitalized military personnel to stay free of charge in support of their loved ones when they need it most.
Brick by brick, these houses were built, and a foundation was created for life changing experiences for those who walk through Fisher House doors.
One may seem like a small number and maybe even insignificant, but Zachary Fisher is the example of how important one can be. One dollar, one supporter, one fundraiser – all part of the legacy that has changed the lives of our military, veterans, and their families.
Scholarship awarded to the son of a retired Marine
Story by Keith Hayes
The son of a Chief Warrant Officer 3 since retired from Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, California, was awarded a scholarship by the Defense Commissary Agency, August 13.
Gabriel Maynes, 17, the son of Jose Maynes, U.S. Marine Corps retired; and Rozalyn Maynes, childcare specialist, Child Development Center; received the Scholarship for Military Children sponsored by the DECA and The Fisher House Foundation at a ceremony at the MCLBB Commissary.
The Fisher House Foundation operates a series of Comfort Houses located near military medical facilities that offers a “home away from home” for the families of hospital patients in crisis.
Jodi Dawn Ballestracci, Barstow Commissary grocery manager, told the gathered crowd that the competitive nature of the scholarship awarding required the applicants to write an essay citing two examples of how being a child of a military service member has influenced their education goals.
Gabriel said he described in his essay how his Marine Corps father was a driving force for setting the future of his educational aspirations. The following are excerpts from his scholarship winning essay:
“My dad has always wanted me to be greater than him, he wants to see me grow up to be a better man than him. After this revelation, I realized where my life is leading to - college. From that point on, I strived to be a better student, athlete, and person.”
“Being a child of a military service member has taught me many things, but the most important of them is the motivation to be greater, to achieve higher than thought possible.”
Gabriel said he’ll be attending Barstow Community College to fulfill his general education courses, “and then hopefully I will transfer to University of California San Diego where I want to major in engineering,” he explained.
This is not Gabriel’s first scholarship. “I’ve also won a $2,500 scholarship from the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation and some other scholarships when I was in high school,” he said.
“The commissary system has long supported promotions which focus on education,” Ballestracci said. “The Scholarships for Military Children compliments many worthwhile scholarships awarded through installation activities, organizations affiliated with the military community or funded by local vendors, and will help ease the burden of educating our children today.”
DECA in conjunction with The Fisher House Foundation yearly awards 500 $2,000 scholarships to family members of commissary patrons every year across the globe based on information from The Fisher House Foundation website at: https://www.fisherhouse.org/newsmedia/articles/now-is-the-time-toapply-for-fisher-house-foundation-sscholarships/:
“The Scholarships for Military Children Program was created in recognition of the contributions of military families to the readiness of the fighting force and to celebrate the role of the commissary in the military family community. It is the intent of the program that a scholarship funded through contributions be awarded annually for each commissary operated by the Defense Commissary Agency worldwide.”
Attending the awarding ceremony was Sgt. Major Sergio MartinezRuiz, base sergeant major, MCLBB, who informed the audience that this scholarship cannot repay the sacrifices made by service members but it is a small way to recognize those whom have spent days, weeks and months away from home while their families keep things going.
“DECA and The Fisher House Foundation have awarded 9, 412 scholarship to the sons and daughters of deserving commissary patrons over the years,” he said. “When you put it in perspective, 9,000 scholarships are not a lot when compared to the military population, so you should feel privileged and honored that you received this scholarship. It says a lot about you and your performance.”
“I knew Gabriel was exceptional ever since he was at the Child Development Center in Hawaii. He just loves to learn, he wants to learn and he has been doing that his entire life,” Rozalyn Maynes said. “I am super proud of him. There were quite a few applicants so winning this scholarship is quite an achievement.”
“He sets the bar for the other children in our house,” Jose Maynes said. “He’s doing really well and we’re extremely proud of him.”
“I hope this is just one step forward into his future and what he does with his life,” Maynes concluded.
An Answer to Prayers
from Senator Deb Fischer
Army Captain Robert Yllescas, a Polk County native, was assigned his first active duty assignment on September 10, 2001. The next day our world changed forever. America shifted its focus to combat terrorism and claim justice for the lives of nearly 3,000 people lost on September 11th. After years of training and earning the admiration of his fellow soldiers, Rob learned of his deployment to Camp Keating in Afghanistan, located in the most dangerous territory at the time.
On October 28, 2008, Captain Yllescas was wounded by a remotely-controlled IED.
His mother, Barbara Yllescas-Vorthmann received the news shortly after. She began to plan her trip from Nebraska to Germany, where her son was moved after he was evacuated from Afghanistan. No distance could stop her from being by her son’s side, but the reality of securing living arrangements was daunting. She wondered not only if there would be a hotel close to the hospital, but if she would be able to afford the cost of staying for weeks at a time. She came to terms with staying with her son on his hospital room floor if necessary.
After arriving at the airport in Landstuhl, Germany, Barbara was told she would be staying at the Fisher House, a home where families of service members and veterans can stay free of charge while their loved ones are receiving care in the hospital. She had never heard of it, but she was grateful and relieved the Army had arranged a place for her to stay.
The house was “beautiful and welcoming – and most importantly right next to the base hospital.” The staff at the Fisher House answered her questions and offered help in any way they could. After her son was stabilized, they were both flown to Walter Reed Hospital outside of Washington, D.C., where she settled into another Fisher House nearby.
“It was so nice to feel like we were part of a home situation. There was a beautiful laundry room, a gorgeous kitchen, a big living room – everything we needed.” Barbara explained that she developed friendships with the other residents in the Fisher House at the time, “We became one large family.”
Sadly, Captain Robert Yllescas passed away one month after his injuries.
Barbara continued, “I could never begin to thank the Fisher House Foundation enough for making the worst time in my life manageable. And that they gave me the means to stay by my son’s bedside while he fought to live.”
I was deeply moved to hear Barbara’s story at the groundbreaking ceremony for Nebraska’s own Fisher House at the Omaha VA Medical Center. The Fisher House will provide a home away from home for the families of our military and veterans receiving care here in Nebraska. The facility will be 15,000 square feet with 16 fully-furnished suites, a large kitchen, dining room, elevator, and full laundry room. There are currently 84 Fisher Houses in operation at military facilities across our nation, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
In 2018 alone, Fisher Houses around the country housed over 28,000 families. The homes have saved our military service members and their families more than $407 million in lodging and transportation expenses, since 1990.
The Fisher House groundbreaking is a clear representation of Nebraska’s deep respect for veterans and all of our service members. The foundation’s motto is “Because a family’s love is good medicine.” It’s a simple message, but as we’ve seen, it carries profound comfort and peace of mind to those who need it most.
As Barbara Yllescas-Vorthmann told the Omaha World-Herald, the Fisher House was “a blessing in one of the darkest times… an answer to prayers.”
Alongside the construction of the new Omaha VA Ambulatory Center, which is slated to be completed next year, I could not be prouder of the work being done to provide our veterans with the highest quality care. We know progress like this doesn’t happen by chance, it’s the result of innovative ideas and determination. I’ll be continuing to work hard to improve health care for our nation’s heroes and their loved ones any way I can.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.
The Fisher House Is A Blessing
Written by Pat Henlsey
Early in the morning hours, my stepmom passed away. We jumped in the car in South Carolina and started our twelve-hour journey south to be with my elderly father (who is over 100 years old). On the way down, we get a phone call that my father was being transported to the VA Hospice facility in West Palm Beach by ambulance. Needless to say, we were filled with grief and anxiety not knowing what we would face when we got there.
When we arrived at the hospice unit, the people embraced us with compassion and kindness. The social worker asked us if we might be interested in staying at the Fisher House there on the complex and we had no idea what this was. We had booked a night at a local hotel near my parent’s house which was 40 minutes away from the hospice unit, but we would not have been able to stay there for an extended period.
When I found out that the hospice unit had 24-hour visitation, we were so thankful that they had room for us at the Fisher House. The house has eight extremely comfortable rooms with private baths and a large smart TV. In the house, the kitchen, living room, and dining room are open to everyone plus free Wi-Fi for all. We were issued a key to our room and a key to get through the hospital when we went to visit my dad.
Staying at the Fisher House enabled us to do so much! We were able to help my father transition into his new accommodation as well taking care of my stepmom’s funeral arrangements and probate details for him. By staying at the house, we could visit my father at breakfast, lunch and dinner and help him with his meals as well as running our errands in between meals. By spending so much time with him, we were able to help him process his wife’s recent death as well as having to move out of the home he lived in for the past thirty years. What a traumatic experience for him! I’m so grateful that were able to be there for him to help him during this time. If we had not been at the Fisher House, there is no way we would have been able to spend this much time with him.
Shelley, the manager, made sure that there were healthy options for meals available. If we had not been at the house, we would have spent a lot of time going to fast food places which would not have been good for us at this time. It is so easy to eat unhealthy choices during stressful times. My husband enjoyed the many salads that were available, and I enjoyed the hot dinners that I could heat up. We also enjoyed the variety of yogurt and coffee and tea that was offered. Each family also had a drawer in the kitchen that could be locked to store any personal food items.
Shelley and the staff always treated us like family and made us feel like we were at home more than just a guest. They were always willing to listen to you if you needed to talk and never acted like they had something more important to do. On the Friday before Father’s Day, they even had a dinner for the family and the veteran being treated at the VA. What a thoughtful thing to do!
It was heartwarming to meet other people who were staying at the house and sharing our experiences with each other. It made me see how this Fisher House was helping people from all over the country and what a special place it is!
There will never be enough words to express the gratitude that we feel for Shelley and the staff of the Fisher House and also The Friends of the Fisher House who through their efforts have enabled us to stay here. They all are true angels!
How Veterans Can Train Their Brain to Sleep Better
courtesy of Department of Veterans Affairs
Many Veterans have trouble sleeping, but don’t know how to improve their sleep.
“I was determined to say…you go to bed early so you can get your rest. But it’s not the case at all.”
For Veterans like William who have difficulty sleeping, finding effective ways to sleep through the night can be challenging. Sometimes the things people do because they aren’t getting enough sleep, like taking naps, drinking alcohol before bed, or setting an early bedtime, undermine their ability to get a full night’s sleep.
VA’s online training course Path to Better Sleep helps Veterans learn healthy techniques to improve sleep quality, and features videos of Veterans like John sharing their sleep challenges and discussing skills they learned in the course that helped them fall and stay asleep.
“One of the rules that they told us about is…if you don’t fall asleep within twenty minutes… get up, do something relaxing, whether it’s read a book (or watch TV).”
The course teaches techniques that can help you break the association between your bed and being awake, as well as how to eliminate distractions from your bedroom, and how to schedule your sleep.
Path to Better Sleep is free, completely confidential, and can be taken online independently or in-person with your doctor. The course is based on the leading treatment for insomnia (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia), and includes a Sleep Check-up Tool and downloadable fact sheets that you can print out and bring to your doctor to help you understand your sleeping problems.
“If you’re dealing with insomnia and you want help, there’s help out there. You just have to be open-minded and willing to do what is required of you to do it. And I’m not going to say it’s going to easy because it’s not. But…you can’t expect something to change if you’re not willing to give it a chance.”
A Homey Feel
This is our son Raidyn. He was born premature 10 weeks early on February 17th weighing 3lbs 10oz. He needed to be admitted to NICU right away since he was so premature. We were able to stay at the hospital for a couple of days until I was discharged. I was terrified of having to go home, off post, and to leave our son behind. Fortunately, my husband and I were invited to stay at the Fisher House, which is right next to the hospital. My mom flew out the next day to be our side during this time. She had her hotel set and ready to go, and she was actually able to stay at the Fisher House with us! It took us by complete surprise, and we were so grateful to have my mom be able to stay right across the hall from us, for the entire time she was here. It was amazing to have one less thing to stress about.
We have continued to stay at the Fisher House, as our son is still in the NICU and will be for a while longer. Being able to stay so close has been a lifesaver! We are able to be by our son's side multiple times throughout the day and night. The Fisher House has amazing accommodations. I'm able to do my laundry, cook meals in a wonderfully designed kitchen, and sleep comfortably in my own room. It has a great homey feel and has been our home away from home during this tough time. Caretakers Jim and Michael have been great people to talk to as well. They check on my husband and me every day, making sure our son is doing good and that we were okay. It has been amazing having the support of the Fisher House to help us through this rough time, without it, I don't know what we would have done.
from Christa and Adric
2019 Fisher House Volunteer of the Year
Continuing Her Father's Legacy
When Time Matters Most: Veteran Organizations Stand Ready to Fill the Gap
When the recent (and perhaps recurring) government shutdown left more than 40,000 Coast Guard families staring at an uncertain number of tomorrows without the promise of a paycheck, who do these military families turn to for support? Other military families, and their trusted networks. As a veteran service organization (VSO) that employs primarily military families, Hope For The Warriors understands this culture and how to reach families in need. We are trusted. Read more.
Avoiding Charity Scams: Five Steps to Take Before Donating
Every year, there are more and more stories about different scams and fraudulent practices taking advantage of the generosity of Americans, especially in times of emergency or around holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day. When donors decide to support a cause they care about, they want their donation to count. By doing some research and planning, you can help ensure your donations get to an organization who will be good stewards of your resources. Here are tips to help you plan your donation – and avoid scams. Read more.
Fisher House Foundation Expands Support for VA’s Polytrauma Centers
What do the VA medical centers in Richmond, Va., Palo Alto, Calif., Tampa, Fla., Minneapolis, Minn., and San Antonio, Texas have in common? They are all regional Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers, and all will soon have two Fisher Houses to support service members, veterans and their families. Read more.
Fisher House Volunteers Touch Families’ Lives
I have been volunteering at the Tampa VA Fisher House since my son was killed in Afghanistan more than six years ago. But this story isn’t about me. It’s a story about another volunteer who heartened an entire family and made one of their worst days more bearable. Read more.
Pilot Flying J Steps Up to Support our Military, Veterans and Their Families
During the holiday season, we are always thankful for our partners who help support our mission of helping military, veterans and their families. We are thankful for Pilot Flying J’s past and current support. Now celebrating their 60thanniversary, Pilot Flying J is making a $120,000 donation for the construction of the Albuquerque Fisher House. Read more.
Fisher House Named Top Veterans Charity by MSN
“You are Not Fighting this Fight Alone”
"It's for better or for worse and I told him you are not fighting this fight alone. This is our fight," said Minie. “I keep telling him it’s not your battle, it’s our battle.” Read Minie and Anson's story here.
Adaptive Sports are Warrior’s Road to Recovery
Both the Invictus Games and Warrior Games are more than just sports events for competing athletes – they are a celebration for families who get to share in the fun and excitement. For some competitors, this is the first time their family is seeing them after their rehabilitation and seeing that there is life after injury. Having a family’s love and support, and knowing there’s a whole community rooting for them, makes all the difference to these brave men and women. Read more. >
This Mental Health Month, Share the Possibilities
This May, in observance of Mental Health Month, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will highlight the life-changing outcomes and the possibilities that stem from mental health treatment. Whether you’re a Veteran sharing your story, a family member providing support, or a friend lending a hand, focusing on these positive outcomes can be a powerful way to provide encouragement and shape how Veterans and our entire nation thinks about treatment when they’re facing mental health challenges.
Read the guest blog from Make the Connection here.
A Mother's Strength
Charitable Donations: Donating your money to worthy charities
by Kerri Childress
When people donate to a charity, they want to make sure their hard-earned money is making a difference. We all do. And we want to know that the nonprofit’s funds are going to programs that make an impact.
Fisher House Foundation works hard to be a good steward of the funds entrusted to us. One of the best ways to know your donation, to Fisher House or to any organization, is making an impact is to review third-party endorsers (nonprofit watchdogs). They provide transparency – so you know exactly where your donation goes. Continue Reading
Why I Run for Team Fisher House
I first learned of Fisher House Foundation and Team Fisher House in 2011 from a fellow member of Soldier’s Race Team, James Armstrong. Knowing how strong my love was for those who sacrificed for our country, James told me of all the wonderful things Fisher House does for soldiers, veterans and their families. After reading more about the Foundation and Team Fisher House missions, I decided to join the team at the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon.
I was amazed at the wonderful support I received from Team Fisher House before, during, and after the marathon. I remember waking up the morning of the race and finding my hotel door decorated with streamers and a certificate thanking ME for running for THEM. I thought it ironic they were thanking me when they were doing all the work. Continue reading.
The American Legion Has Provided Decades of Support to Fisher House
by Ken Fisher
The Fisher House program began more than 25 years ago, to support military, veterans and their families during a medical crisis. Since the beginning, the American Legion has stood steadfast in its support for Fisher House. From car washes and bluegrass music jams to yearly “Freedom Rides for Fisher House,” the Legion has raised millions of dollars for the Foundation and individual houses.
It’s not just money the Legion has given, it’s literally thousands of hours of volunteer time cooking meals for the families, planting, hosting bingo and other games to give families respite from the hospital. Continue reading.