BUTLERVILLE, Ind. (12/15/2011) - The economy may not show
many signs of improvement, but Christmas spirit is on the
rise thanks to a few soldiers who brought a little cheer to
families in need.
The National Guard Patriot Academy
hosted its 3rd Annual Operation Christmas Blessing Monday to
provide a hot meal, household goods and toys for children
whose families have fallen on hard times. For them,
accepting help was not easy to do.
Santa Claus reads the "Soldiers" Night Before Christmas to a group of children attending the 3rd Annual Operation Christmas Blessing, Monday, Dec. 12, 2011, at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in Butlerville, Ind.
Photo by Army Capt. Kyle Key
“It's been a horrible year,” said Stacia Raines of North
Vernon. “My children's father ran out on us, and he hasn't
paid child support. Shortly after, I lost my job. I didn't
know how I was going to provide for Christmas this year. I
don't know how I was chosen for this event or how they knew,
but it's definitely a blessing,” said Raines.
than 200 soldiers, staff and cadre, along with the Jennings
County United Way and North Vernon Rotary Club, packed the
halls and hosted a Christmas feast complete with turkey,
trimmings and cranberry sauce.
The Patriot Academy
band and choir led the evening with Christmas carols and
holiday music. The most melodious sound came from children
as they greeted Santa Claus.
Soldiers, who sponsored
the children, served as Santa's helpers, but none were as
eager to help as student Pvt. Evan A. Dancer from Eagle
“I have a reindeer with the same name
as you,” Santa told Dancer. “You look familiar. Where are
Dancer said, “I'm from Alaska.”
“It's warm up there this time of year,” Santa remarked with
a jolly laugh.
Dancer's upbringing, however, was less
than jolly. At three months old, he spent a few weeks
recovering from malnutrition and dehydration. His mother
died of an overdose, and Dancer was rescued from his crib.
His father tried to raise him, often “couch surfing” at
friends' houses until he got in trouble with the law.
Dancer's father fled to Alaska with him and his four
brothers. After his father's situation unraveled, he went
into foster care at age 11. Life enough was full of hard
knocks, and then he quit high school at age 16. When he
turned 19, his guardian, Russell Pressley, knew he needed
something more and urged him to look into the National
“I'm overwhelmed at where I am with my life
now,” said Dancer. “I actually feel like I have a lot of
support and a new family through the National Guard. I
looked at the kids tonight and just saw a lot of myself in
them. For me being there, I was able to give some influence
to the kids. I told them, ‘It won't always be like this ...
things will turn around.'"
Dancer is scheduled to
graduate in the spring of 2012 with his high school diploma
and will have earned one semester of college credits. He is
a member of the Alaska Army National Guard in Wasilla and
will attend his advanced individual training next year to
become a diesel mechanic.
The Patriot Academy
soldiers personally went out on a Christmas buying spree and
purchased gifts for their sponsored children. They spent at
least 20 dollars on each child, but some felt compelled to
do much more. One soldier, who wished to remain anonymous,
spent $300 of his paycheck to provide for one of the
Many of the students at the Patriot
Academy felt a common bond with the sponsored families. At
nine years of age, student Pvt. Kyle R. Moore, from
Brockton, Mass., was homeless and found shelter with his
mother and sister in an old pop-up tent camper. Although
they didn't have much, they had each other.
me feel so good to see some of the expressions on the
children's faces as they opened up their presents,” said
Moore. “But what struck me most was how these parents were
able to smile, because without us they would not necessarily
be able to afford them.”
Throughout the night, a
positive energy filled the room. Some called it generosity,
gratitude, but to the ten families who were hosted at
Operation Christmas Blessing, they called it the Christmas
spirit. The children were thankful for what they had.
“Christmas is about being with family and friends,” said
“But it's not all about the
presents,” said her friend Alexis Porton.
about the birth of Jesus!” they both said.
to Patriot Academy Commandant Lt. Col. Wm. Kenny Freeman,
the season for giving and being involved in the community is
“Our soldiers have contributed thousands
of community service hours to the people of Jennings
County,” Freeman said. “But what they've given us in return
is immeasurable. Tonight was just one way we could show our
appreciation to the community.”
Raines just received
news of a job offer and will start a job in Jennings County
after the beginning of the New Year.
looking up,” said Raines. “And what the Patriot Academy did
was pretty awesome. It was a nice thing that you did for us
(laughter). I don't even know how to explain it.”
More photos available below
By Army Capt. Kyle Key
National Guard Patriot Academy
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