How one Mount Prospect woman is supporting our troops overseas

 
Updated 8/8/2018 6:16 AM
hello
  • Marci Watts of Mount Prospect coordinates her fellow Allstate employees in Northbrook in writing letters to military personnel serving overseas and has partnered with Help USA Troops in Arlington Heights to distribute the letters.

    Marci Watts of Mount Prospect coordinates her fellow Allstate employees in Northbrook in writing letters to military personnel serving overseas and has partnered with Help USA Troops in Arlington Heights to distribute the letters. Courtesy of Marci Watts

  • Soldiers from Alpha Battery 1-14 Field Artillery enjoy the cards and care packages from Allstate volunteers.

    Soldiers from Alpha Battery 1-14 Field Artillery enjoy the cards and care packages from Allstate volunteers. Courtesy of Help USA Troops

  • Volunteers fill boxes last April at a Help USA Troops shipping party at AMVETS Post 66 in Wheeling. The goal of the day was to ship 700 or more boxes containing letters and comfort items to deployed troops.

      Volunteers fill boxes last April at a Help USA Troops shipping party at AMVETS Post 66 in Wheeling. The goal of the day was to ship 700 or more boxes containing letters and comfort items to deployed troops. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Among nearly 4,000 employees who work at the corporate headquarters of Allstate in Northbrook, Marci Watts of Mount Prospect stands out.

Staff members know her as the person to contact about sending letters to military personnel serving overseas.

Last year alone, Watts coordinated sending nearly 2,000 letters to the troops -- mostly written by her colleagues, as well as Scouts, schoolchildren and local groups. In May, she led more than 100 Allstate employees in helping to assemble 982 care packages that each contained more than one letter.

Watts works as a business analyst in Allstate's customer communications division, but she spends nearly as much time spearheading philanthropic work.

Her passion comes from experience with her own family. Both her grandfathers and several uncles all served in the military. But more than a dozen years ago when her ex-husband was deployed to Afghanistan, she learned some members of his unit never received any mail.

"I couldn't fathom someone not getting mail when they were deployed," Watts says. "I know how important mail call is, and just how much they wait to hear their name called."

She started her effort in 2005, adopting two members of her ex-husband's unit who didn't receive mail, and her mission grew from there.

Before long, Watts took her grass-roots campaign to the Helping Hands program, a volunteer program at Allstate that enables employees to be a "force for good," and word spread. If anyone had a loved one serving in the military, they knew to seek out Watts, who now leads the Helping Hands volunteers.

In 2015, Watts and her letter-writing volunteers joined forces with an Arlington Heights agency, Help USA Troops, whose mission is to send care packages to troops deployed overseas.

"It just seemed like a natural to link up," Watts says. "Now, we work closely together and I think the letters add a lot to the care packages."

Help USA Troops was formed in 2012 to honor the memory of Marine Lance Cpl. James Stack of Arlington Heights, who was killed while on foot patrol in southern Afghanistan in 2010.

His parents, Robert and Linda Stack, worked with Tom and Dawn Hedrick, their son's in-laws, to turn their grief into something positive by organizing regular shipments of care packages to deployed military.

They coordinate shipments every year -- using VFW Post 981 in Arlington Heights and AMVETS Post 66 in Wheeling as staging areas -- with this year's batch of care packages their biggest yet.

"This is our way of bringing them a little piece of home," Tom Hedrick says. "They seem to especially love the letters from the kids and those that mention people, schools or groups by name.

"They are isolated and need to connect to home," he adds. "This, for many, is the first time they have ever been out of the United States."

In organizing the letter campaign, Watts gives her volunteers specific instructions on what to include. She encourages them to start out by thanking military personnel for their service. She suggests telling a little bit about themselves and perhaps adding how they or a family member had served.

"I encourage them to be positive, fun and upbeat," Watts says.

Within a month of their shipment last spring, both Watts and the folks at Help USA Troops began to receive thank you notes.

"My team and I are so grateful for the personal care and snack items," wrote Lt. j.g. Jessica Manley, a sailor serving in Afghanistan. "The cards and letters enclosed in the packages were heartwarming, and really put a smile on all of our faces."

Another soldier, Jason Rassi, enjoyed the letters so much that he taped them to the side of his tent.

"Thank you for the care packages and letters of support that you sent to my company in Afghanistan," Rassi wrote. "We truly appreciate all of your prayers and are looking forward to returning home soon."

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.