Almost 10 years ago to the day, I met the mother of a soldier returning from Iraq. "How do I get him home from the airport?" she asked.
I blurted, "Usually, the family picks him up."
It turns out she did not have a reliable car to go the airport. With that, Bob Bohr, commander of the Naperville American Legion post, and I gave a quick reply, setting a plan in motion for the returning hero: a limo ride from the airport, Patriot Guard motorcycle escort and lunch at the Naperville VFW.
Two weeks later, a friend of that soldier also was headed home. I was called again. Two simple requests soon snowballed.
Today, Operation Welcome You Home has organized celebrations for several hundred troops, welcoming them to homes from Libertyville to New Lenox.
Yes, it's busy work, and we rely strictly on the big hearts of volunteers, but when I see what it means to those serving our country, coming home from deployment to a sea of support, to see them smiling through their tears, I knew I had to continue to welcome home our brave men and women.
Eventually the welcomes began to grow, so I began to devote all my time to these efforts.
Donations started coming in, so we knew we needed to become a 501(c)(3) charity. Then I met an owner of a limo company who started donating his services. Not long after, we created a website, www.welcomeyouhome.org.
Those coming home face challenges returning to civilian life. Way too many cannot handle those challenges, and the demons of PTSD overtake them and their lives.
We try to provide help and support to those who need it. Through our annual 5K run, we were able to raise $15,000 to buy a special mobility chair that was donated to an injured Marine from Sandwich. We've secured riding lawn mowers for those who have lost limbs. We just donated a bed complete with mattress set and linens to a Korean War veteran and his wife, who were homeless and were just given an apartment with help from the Will County Veterans Affairs. You can read about the many ways we help on our "acts of kindness" tab on our website.
My passion to help those who fight for our freedom perhaps comes from my father, World War II veteran George Pollitt, and my brother John Pollitt, a Marine who served in Vietnam and died as a result of combat wounds and complications from Agent Orange exposure. I also am the proud wife of a Vietnam Marine veteran, Jim Morsovillo Sr., who totally believes in our mission even though he did not receive a welcome home. Seeing what we do for today's service people, he says, has helped him to heal.
I call our individual welcomes "missions." But they are much like planning a party -- many, many details and hours needed to coordinate what we do. I often say I work 24/7 for Operation Welcome You Home. But when I see a veteran's smile and tears of joy, I know my commitment and passion is why I do what I do. My sadness is that there was not the help and support like this when my brother was suffering.
Operation Welcome You Home has minimal operating costs, as we work hard for sponsors to support our organization and missions. We do not have a payroll.
You can help: While we have many motorcycle riders and cars participating in the escort, some behind-the-scenes help is always needed.
Sign up for our online e-newsletter to hear about upcoming events. Watch our calendar as our events and happenings of other veterans activities are posted.
We're here to honor and support our military: past, present and future.