America Supports You: 'Hugs4Smiles' Supports Troops, Families
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 11, 2005 When Operation Homefront Hugs USA, a "troop-adoption" program that provided care packages for deployed servicemembers and their families, folded earlier this year, like good soldiers, three former volunteers decided to continue on with the mission.
Tim Perry, Candace Smith and Kristi Olson started their own program, "Hugs4Smiles USA," in March. Though they changed the name slightly, the mission of caring for servicemembers and their families remained the same.
Since March, Hugs4Smiles, based out of Perry's home in Aurora, Colo., already has helped more than 85 servicemembers and families, with 105 more soldiers on a waiting list, Perry said.
"I've been completely overwhelmed with the response we've received in just a month's time," he said. "I think it tells us that there is obviously a need for this organization."
According to Perry, those who sign up to adopt a servicemember or family agree to send at least two care packages each month and two correspondences each month.
If the servicemember's family is adopted, they receive at least one care package and one piece of correspondence each month. Perry explained that Hugs4Smiles began when Operation Homefront Hugs' founder, Alessandra Kellerman, was forced to close her program after becoming ill. Homefront Hugs started shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, and Perry, Smith and Olson all were volunteers.
When the program ended, however, Perry said it left more than 80 servicemembers and families on a waiting list in need.
It was then, he said, that the group realized there was "a big need for programs like this."
"We knew we had to keep the program open," he added.
"The deployed soldier has a lot to be concerned with, without having to worry about whether their family has needs back home," Perry noted. "So if we can take part of that burden off of them, then it's important to do what we can to help them with all of their support issues."
Now Hugs4Smiles is hoping to expand its service by adding counseling as part of its support network.
Perry said the group has made contact with a licensed counselor who is willing to help families resolve more serious deployment issues.
In the meantime, Perry still has two "adoptions" he's been working on for some time now. One is a young Marine deployed to Iraq and his family in San Diego.
The Marine is due home any day now, Perry announced happily.
"His wife and I e-mail each other about four or five times a week," Perry said. "This is just a small token of my appreciation for people who are willing to lay their lives on the line daily."