Air Compassion for Veterans

Turning Absence into Star Power

By suzanne rhodes on April 20, 2012
Yesterday five children blew Robin Cron and me away with their star power. Robin, ACV’s mission coordinator, and I drove from Virginia Beach to DC to attend a luncheon and watch a performance of outstanding military children. Ranging in age from 7 to 16, they came from five states to display their talent onstage at the Naval Heritage Center of the U.S. Navy Memorial. It’s an annual event put on by a wonderful organization called Our Military Kids to recognize these five stars, who were “selected for their service to their families and communities during the deployment of their military parent, and their willingness to share their talent,” according to Executive Director Linda Davidson. All of us in the audience (made up of military brass,  family members,  donors, and veteran support organizations) were dazzled by dances and wowed by musical performances including violin, flute and piano. As ACV representatives, Robin and I felt privileged to have contributed to such an inspiring afternoon by providing free flights for two of the youngsters. Our Military Kids, in partnership with the Army National Guard and through charitable contributions from various sources, awards grants to help military children cope effectively during the absence of a parent by pursuing enriching activities. Some choose athletics:  ice skating, martial arts, and swimming, for example. Others are drawn to the arts, such as dance and music. Sometimes grant money is used to beef up academic achievement through tutoring. What impressed me even more than the amazing talent of the kids on the stage was their heart and grit. The program for “Our Military Kids’ Star Power” celebration profiled each child. Seven-year-old Anya Alexis Wilkie, from Brighton, Illinois, for example, made a commitment to practice her violin every day of her father’s deployment to Kuwait. This child prodigy played a beautiful classical piece for the audience. Besides violin, she plays flute and piano, and performs several times a month at a local nursing home. She’s also a volunteer violinist at her local symphony and chamber orchestra. Anya has skipped two grades, reads at post-high school level and studies chemistry, biology, physics, Latin, Greek and Spanish. Ten-year-old Jonathan Harrell, of Charleston, West Virginia, played an impressively complex version of “Linus and Lucy,” the Charlie Brown theme song.  He uses his grant money to devote himself to piano lessons and the study of music theory. His father is serving in Afghanistan with the Army National Guard. At his school Jonathan works as an in-class tutor, serves as a safety patrol, collects donations for a local animal shelter and received the highest honor as a Cub Scout. Decorda Owens, 13, from Starkville, Mississippi, did a very cool hip-hop routine wearing camo BDUs and dedicating the performance to his father, who is deployed in Afghanistan. His grant has gone toward hip-hop dance lessons. He practices his moves continually, even while doing household chores, and hopes someday to attend the Mississippi School of the Arts. In addition, Decorda “volunteers at his church and fills his father’s shoes as man of the house, helping his mother take care of his three younger sisters, handling all the yard work, and caring for the American flag, which is flown in his father’s honor.” Baleigh Wheeler is 15 and gave a dance performance that creatively interpreted her feelings of honor for her father and his military service. Baleigh, who lives in Greenville, Virginia, used her grant to further develop as an artist during her dad’s deployment to Afghanistan. She takes 13 dance lessons every week and adds intensive workshops on weekends. During the summer, she serves as a counselor at a church camp. She also finds time to hold fundraisers for the American Heart Association. She herself suffered from a congenital heart defect that has since been cured. Sydney Schmidt, 15, fluted a splendid tune from the Lion King for her performance at yesterday’s event. She lives in Hayfield, Minnesota, and used her grant from Our Military Kids to travel with her high school band to Disney World during her father’s deployment to Kuwait. The trip was a big deal indeed as “her band was able to record a track from the Lion King and watch the Disney staffers incorporate it into the movie.” Besides band, Sydney is involved in many other activities, including serving as a student council representative, running with the cross country team, and working in the school’s theater program. She also volunteers at a nursing home and with Big Brothers Big Sisters, where she mentors an elementary school student. With the goal of studying medicine to become a surgeon, Sydney works hard to maintain a 4.0 GPA. Linda Davidson voiced everyone’s admiration for these exceptional young people: “We are honored to recognize our littlest warriors for their heroism, character, courage, sacrifices, and continued resilience, and grateful to them for their enthusiasm to share the talent supported by the grant from Our Military Kids.”
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