The Bethany Beach area has become a place of respite and peace for many visitors — so much so that a number of nonprofit organizations are doing their part to offer this slice of heaven to people who might not otherwise be able to visit.
Operation SEAs the Day is a nonprofit organization 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 idea was created by Diane Pohanka and Becky Johns, who made their dream into a reality last year. In the summer of 2013, 25 families were invited to and attended Warrior Beach Week, totaling more than 100 people. For its second year, 30 families will visit the Quiet Resorts from Sept. 2 to Sept. 7.
“The selection process is being handled by our friends at the Wounded Warrior Project,” explained Rob Arlett, a board member and public relations manager for Operation SEAs the Day. “They determine which families will be selected and invited to participate in our community event.
“Once the WWP folks determine the families, they will share with us the details about each family. This will allow us to plan accordingly and match housing needs with a specific family need. We could not do what we do as a community without the help from The Wounded Warrior Project. We are grateful for them and their support.”
The USO, Wounded Warrior Project and Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes have recruited the wounded veterans and their families from the Mid-Atlantic region to attend the event and offered financial assistance to help them travel to Bethany.
In its first year, the event was embraced by the entire community, according to Arlett, who described the response as “incredible.”
“This last year, being the first for Operation SEAs the Day, could not have gone better. The community rallied in complete support of our very important families (VIFs) by giving of their time, effort, money and hearts. I totally believe that the community has ‘fallen in love’ with the mission and the families.
“People of all ages participated,” he noted. “We believe in community involvement and desire to include more of the local community with our mission, not less. Everyone from our Bethany Beach and surrounding communities should be so very proud of themselves for what they have done and will continue to do by serving these very important families.”
This year, Operation SEAs the Day has partnered with the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation to host the veterans and their families for a “Hero’s Welcome” on Sept. 5 at the Freeman Stage at Bayside, with an evening concert by Bruce in the USA, a Bruce Springsteen tribute band.
“We are so excited about partnering with the Freeman Stage. This is another example of how we are expanding the community involvement to serve the very important families,” explained Arlett.
“The idea came from Diane Pohanka, one of our founding members, who reached out to Michelle Freeman. Michelle and Diane met, and the idea progressed to figuring out what could be done. The result is a concert on Friday evening, Sept. 5, where the guests of honor will be these 30 wounded warriors and their families.”
The concert is also open to the general public, for $25 per ticket.
“We are so very excited about this concert that will be open to the community. The event is expected to be very emotional and patriotic,” said Arlett. “The entire team at Operation SEAs the Day would like to thank all of those involved with the Freeman Stage for opening your hearts to our mission and the very important families. This will be an evening that will never be forgotten.”
Arlett said the community support has been so overwhelming that the organization is already fully funded for the September 2014 week.
“It continues to amaze me how people, business and organizations are so very excited to participate in Operation SEAs the Day by serving the wounded warrior families involved. We are not an organization who focuses on fundraising, as this in not our primary mission. Our focus in on the families we will be serving in September. We truly don’t even have to ask. Folks just want to get involved and help.”
Arlett said his decision to become involved in the organization was an easy one, as he grew up in a Navy family.
“My dad was deployed six to seven months at a time. That was very difficult and challenging as a child and as a family. As a child, I just wanted my dad to be around at home, like other normal families, but that was not an option.
“The country and uniform are always first for a military family. I understand the personal scarifies the military family goes through. The opportunity to serve those who have served us is truly an honor. It is all about giving back to those who have sacrificed it all for our freedom.”
Arlett added that, although this year’s week is fully funded, there is still a need for volunteers.
“Because this is a community event, it’s not the amount that one gives but the fact that they want to give. Whether they want to be involved a lot or a little doesn’t make a difference. We have a lot of different needs that require different things. Any and all interests, we can certainly help them become involved.”
Arlett said organizers hope the weeklong beach retreat for the warriors and their families will provide veterans with a stress-free beach vacation.
“Our hopes are to have 30 families experience Bethany Beach at its very best. Bethany Beach is a community of many who are so very giving and desire to give back to those who have served our great nation by giving it all. During the Warrior Beach Week, it is the desire for all of us involved with the mission for these families to be a family again — positive memories that will be with them forever. [This is] an opportunity for our community to thank them for their service by serving them.
“Serving, unconditionally, is the greatest gift one can do. Bethany Beach is a great gift to many. [It’s] an honor to live, work and be part of this community.”
For more information about Operation SEAs the Day or to find out more about how to get involved, visit www.operationseastheday.org. Those interested in volunteering may also contact Arlett, at (302) 462-5746 or firstname.lastname@example.org.