This summer, Operation SEAs the Day, a nonprofit organization created to support veteran families, will celebrate its fifth year of bringing wounded warriors and their families to Bethany Beach for a week-long beach vacation.
“We’re very excited because this is five years, and we see this as a milestone,” said Annette Reeping, media relations specialist for Operation SEAs the Day. “We’re very proud about that.”
The mission of OSTD 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.”
Reeping said the program has been a success due to the support of the community.
This year’s beach week will be held Sept. 5 through Sept. 10, and host 25 new “Very Important Families” (VIFs), five alumni families, and two other alumni families who sit on the Board of Directors.
“It’s very exciting,” said Reeping. “We will hit over 1,000 people in the five years. It is amazing. It’s amazing a town comes together the way it has, right from the beginning.”
Families are selected through the Coalition for American Heroes and National Wounded Warrior Projects, and enjoy a free week’s stay at a beach house, donated by local homeowners, free food and discounts from local businesses, and the chance to simply relax.
“The long-term positive impact was not foreseen in terms of the initial vision of, ‘let’s share this wonderful family beach with our heroic veterans and their families.’”
One example of such an impact was a letter from a veteran, who wrote OSTD thanking the organization.
“[We] wanted to say THANK YOU for an extraordinary week…I am still on a positive emotional path… from the memories of our week with you… You allowed me to empower my thought process with positive memories that I will reach into my memory bank to outweigh the wrinkles (every day negative memories and stress from war) in my thought process so I can press forward to a positive outlook on life. I am extremely grateful to each and every team member, volunteer, business owner and child that was part of the process to absolutely ensure each and every Warrior Family enjoyed one week away from doctors, hospitals and rehabilitation.”
Reeping said not only are the veterans positively impacted by the event, but so are the children and caregiver spouses.
“It lets wives feel like wives, husbands feel like husbands, children feel like children… The program really has a positive impact on these heroic families.”
During the week, the families are invited to participate in a number of activities, from therapeutic horseback riding, tennis, paddle boarding and more. They are encouraged to attend events, but are not required.
“The beauty of the whole thing, the purity of it is, we make all these things available, and they can sign up or not sign up. The families can make their own decisions about what they want to do and they’re not bothered.”
The program would not be a success without the support of the local community, said Reeping.
“There are two stories — there’s the story of the veteran families, but there’s also the story of small town America. The coming together for this, the ‘let’s make this a wonderful week for these families and children.’ Many businesses say to us, ‘whatever you need from us, let us know.’… There’s great pride and joy of giving back to these families.”
Those looking to get involved in OSTD can do so in a number of ways.
Organizers from Quilts of Valor will be at Serendipity quilt shop in Dagsboro on April 22 and June 17 hosting Sew Days, preparing quilts for VIFs who have not yet received a quilt.
Community members are welcome to stop by anytime between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on those days to help.
“Even though they’re called Sew Days, if you don’t sew you can still help in many different ways,” said Reeping. “Lenny [Truitt, the Delaware coordinator for Quilts of Valor] will put you to work, whether it’s cutting material or measuring things… Sometimes some of the soldiers from Dover come down to help also.”
The Poster Pal program has changed slightly this year, as families will no longer be able to make posters at the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market. Instead, OSTD hopes to be at the South Coastal Library one day a week through the month of July, so any visitor can make a welcome poster.
“We have some people who volunteered to work with the schools and the art teachers to work with them to make posters,” added Reeping.
Those who wish to donate their time as volunteers can sign up to do so on the organization’s website from mid-July to mid-August.
OSTD merchandise will be carried by the Sea Colony Beach Shop as well as by Water Lili on the boardwalk. This year the stores will have new red, white, and blue t-shirts, as well as sweatshirts and sweatpants. To commemorate the five-year anniversary, a five-year coin will also be sold.
Reeping, the wife of a Vietnam Veteran, said being a part of the program has impacted her own life in a tremendous way, as it has for all those involved.
“I thought I would be flipping hamburgers when I called to volunteer,” she said. “It has given me a tremendous amount of satisfaction; more so than I ever expected.
Reeping said she hopes the community will continue to wrap their arms around the VIFs and, for those who have yet to get involved, take the time to volunteer and support the program.
“The whole program is amazing. The long-term relationships, the bonding of people that begins that week and continues… It’s a beautiful story. People should continue their pride in this program.”
For more information about Operation SEAs the Day, to donate or find out more about how to get involved, visit www.operationseastheday.org.