Cheryl Talaczynski stops short of calling herself an artist. Instead, the Arlington Heights woman uses the term hobbyist to describe her penchant for creating greeting cards.
Increasingly, however, her cards have taken on a new mission: to bring cheer and good wishes to members of the military, especially those facing challenges after returning from serving overseas.
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Just last week, Talaczynski sent another shipment of her homemade cards -- which took approximately two months to create -- to wounded combat veterans living in transitional housing units run by Operation Homefront.
The organization is based in San Antonio, where it has 28 residential units for veterans still receiving treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center. It also offers transitional housing for soldiers receiving treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center near Washington, D.C., and the Naval hospital at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif.
Aaron Taylor, public relations manager for Operation Homefront, said the organization welcomes letters and many other forms of support for veterans from the general public.
"Military families are always grateful for the assistance and for acknowledgment of the challenges they face," he said.
That's just the sentiment that Talaczynski wanted to convey when she created her first batch of greeting cards last year and sent them to deployed troops through Operation Gratitude, based in Encino, Calif.
"I started making cards a couple of years ago, and then I got this idea to make cards for the troops," Talaczynski said.
She carefully selects images that impart an upbeat holiday message, with a military theme, before adding her personal letter inside.
"I'm extremely grateful for the freedom I have, every day of my life," Talaczynski said. "This is just one tiny, little thing that I can do to show my appreciation and hopefully bring them a little happiness."
Talaczynski sent 60 cards in her first batch and received three handwritten responses from soldiers.
"I hadn't expected to get any," she said. "I was quite overwhelmed to receive them. They are so special."
One soldier, Sgt. Lorenzo, wrote to her from Afghanistan, thanking her for her support and appreciation.
"I don't know if you get many return letters, but I would like to say 'Thank you,'" he wrote. "It is my pleasure to be able to defend our great country and the excellent people like you that live in it."
He added a piece of personal information that Talaczynski especially cherishes: "While I'm deployed, I am learning to play the guitar to pass the time. My goal is to be able to write and play a song for my wife when I get home."
Talaczynski fights backs tears as she rereads his letter.
"This is why I love doing what I do," she said. "It gives me a purpose in life."