In a little more than two weeks, the Bethany Beach area will welcome 25 “Very Important Families” for a week of rest and healing.
The week is facilitated by Operation SEAs the Day, a non-profit whose mission is, “to organize and facilitate a beach week event for our wounded soldiers and their families as a means of showing our appreciation for their service and sacrifice. It is our hope that such a community-based gesture of support will be comforting and help ease their transition back into civilian life.”
The fifth annual Warrior Family Beach Week will be held Sept. 5-10, when families will travel to Bethany Beach, stay in homes provided by local property owners, and enjoy a week of beach time, plus activities for the whole family.
“It started out very simple — let’s share a home, let’s share the area. Through these five years we’ve seen the healing that occurs,” said Annette Reeping, media relations specialist for Operation SEAs the Day.
While the majority of events created for the warriors and their families are closed to the public, there are a few throughout the week where the community is encouraged to take an active role in. That includes the “A Hero’s Welcome Home” motorcade that will take the families to a concert at the Freeman Stage at Bayside, when people are invited to stand alongside the route and show their support.
“You can’t express in words, or at least I haven’t found any way to express the feeling of pride, patriotism, thankfulness… even talking about it, I get tears in my eyes. But you see the people along the street also crying of joy and of admiration. As the families come off the bus, it’s the same result of knowing why they did what they did to serve, and feeling appreciated and thanked for the first time.
“To me it’s the core and heart of being an American town, and individuals who fully appreciate what these soldiers and their families have done so that we can live as peacefully as we live.”
The route will also be lined with hand-drawn posters thanking the veterans and their families for their service to their country, and welcoming them to Bethany.
“Lord Baltimore Elementary School and George Washington Carver Schools created posters. We were at the South Coastal Library, where many people came by. We had a lot of fun last week at the Boys & Girls Club in Dagsboro.
“What’s particularly interesting about going to the Boys & Girls Club was we talked to the kids about what they’re for — about the wounded soldiers who fought for us and their families. So, they’re learning also. They got right into it.
“Some of them teamed up to do it. Some of them wanted to do it on their own. They’re just beautiful. For the first time, I saw children were doing emojis, which was great. One 6-year-old said, ‘I want to say “Superheroes” on it!’ They were very focused and did beautiful work for the families who are coming in.”
The parade has been coordinated by Rosely Robinson for the past four years.
Following the parade, the VIFs will go into the Cove at Bayside and enjoy dinner before attending the Bruce in the USA show.
“The Freeman Foundation proactively wanted to become involved and have done it in an outstanding manner. They have dinner at the Cove for the families, which is really great. The families are all there, the children are all there. They’ve orchestrated it so the younger children can go to another area for the concert while the parents and older kids watch,” said Reeping.
“Bruce in the USA is energizing, always entertaining. For those who attend, you’ll see the soldiers. It’s toward the end of their week, so they’re relaxed. You’ll see some of them up there dancing… They have taken the end part of the week and created an uplifting, motivating evening for them to enjoy and be a spouse — be a wife and a husband — in a very positive way.”
Reeping said it was due to the Freeman Foundation’s request that the parade for the VIFs was created.
“It was because of their request to participate that we needed to determine how to ‘transport’ the VIF’s to the dinner at the Cove and the concert. Becky Johns (one of the OSTD founders) grew up in a small town where they had parades. She was the one who suggested we should have a celebration parade in transporting the VIFs. That first parade was four years ago, with communities all along the route coming out to recognize these American hero families! And so it began!”
On Friday, Sept. 8, Reeping said, buses filled with VIFs will leave Sea Colony at 4:30 p.m. and are expected to arrive at Bayside between 5 and 5:15 p.m. The buses will be accompanied by local police and fire departments, the Delaware State Police and more. Those who participate along the roadside are being encouraged to wear red, white and blue while they wave an American flag as the motorcade goes by.
The concert is open to the public, and tickets may be purchased through Freeman’s website for $25 each.
The following day, the third annual Cripple Creel Classic Car Show will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., during which the community can enjoy walking around and ogling classic cars. The proceeds of the event are donated to Operation SEAs the Day, and the awards ceremony includes a Veteran’s Best Pick.
Those who wish to support the organization, may do so through volunteering or monetary donations.
OSTD official merchandise is also for sale at the Sea Colony Beach Shoppe in the Sea Colony Marketplace and at Water Lili on the boardwalk. The merchandise includes hoodies, sweatpants, and T-shirts. Proceeds from the sales will benefit OSTD.
During the week itself, the veterans are given the opportunity to play tennis, go horseback riding, paddleboarding and more. They are given gift vouchers to local restaurants and will have their family portraits taken on the beach.
Reeping said that, while their time in Bethany Beach may be only a few days in length, all those experiences will be carried by those families for years to come.
“They take it home with them… The long-term impact has surprised everyone,” she said. “They can take home their favorite poster that a child or family has created. They take home the relationships with each other. They’ve created a virtual network using Facebook and use it in times when they’re having problems. They keep in touch with their host families.”
Host families are local community members who volunteer to help their assigned VIF with whatever they may need — be it groceries, restaurant recommendations or signing up for an OSTD event.
Reeping said many VIFs form a strong bond with their host families and often keep in touch and even visit each other after Warrior Beach Week.
The week is truly a special one for all involved, and Reeping said Bethany Beach and the surrounding communities should be proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish in so few years, and the impact they’re having on these Very Important Families.
For more information about Operation SEAs the Day and how to get involved, visit www.operationseastheday.org.
To purchase Bruce in the USA tickets at the Freeman Stage at Bayside, visit www.freemanstage.org.