Community ready to warmly welcome Wounded Warrior families
If ever I am lost and find myself in Heaven,
Let it spell Bethany
If ever I am shallow and in need of warm greeting,
Let it spell Bethany
If ever an Angel graces me with a helping hand,
Let it spell Bethany
With my every breath I leave my life written in the sand,
I will spell Bethany
Because Even Their Homes Are Now Yours...
The words of a Wounded Warrior who spent a week with his family in Bethany Beach encapsulate what local grassroots nonprofit organization Operation SEAs the Day hopes to instill in veterans and their families.
The annual Operation SEAs the Day Warrior Family Beach Week event is for veterans who are recovering from injuries sustained while serving the country and their immediate families. During the week, Bethany Beach will host 30 Very Important Families (VIFs) and five alumni VIF families.
“It is a community effort that plans, supports and implements Warrior Week. Warrior Week is a Bethany Beach-developed event to recognize these most deserving Americans. Operation SEAs the Day is not part of a national program,” said Annette Reeping, media relations specialist for Operation SEAs the Day.
“This is an American small-town-developed recognition week for Warrior Families adjusting and returning to life…. and it is family-focused. All of Bethany Beach should be proud that this town started and is implementing Warrior Week as a united community giving back.”
The warriors and their families arrived in Bethany Beach on Tuesday, Sept. 2, and will stay through Sept. 7, enjoying the local scenery and community. During their stay, the families have been residing in donated homes in the Bethany Beach area and have a host family to help them with anything from answering questions to making dinner reservations. Each VIF will receive VIF identification tags, which they will wear everywhere while in Bethany Beach.
Reeping said that the first few days of Warrior Week were dedicated to helping the VIFs acclimate to the area without being overwhelmed.
“The beginning of the week is a bit more sensitive than the end of the week, because when they first arrive, some of them are overwhelmed. Some of them have never been on vacations before. Some of them have never seen a boat. They tell us they’ve been isolated where they live. For anyone on vacation, I think it takes them a bit to relax.”
The returning five alumni VIFs hope to help ease the experience for the warrior families.
“The alumni families make it easier this year,” said Reeping. “They told us they were transformed last year. They told us this is part of their calling now. They want to help the families acclimate faster because they’re in the same situation, versus the host family who’s the local contact.”
That being said, the VIFs have numerous activities available to them — from therapeutic horseback riding to fishing to a spa day.
“They’ll have their families, and there’ll be a lot of activities for them.”
More than 70 businesses have pitched in to support the nonprofit, and to give the VIFs a relaxing, worry-free week at the beach.
“It’s so overwhelmingly positive. The businesses have been great, the community has been great. We have people baking at home to give us homemade goods. We have churches, civic groups baking to bring them that personal small-town feeling,” said Reeping, adding that, while soliciting for donations for the VIFs, many businesses gave more than what was asked. “Everywhere I’ve looked over the last couple months, the people are supportive, step right up... It’s just exciting.”
Only in its second year, the organization has grown, welcoming more VIFs and gaining more volunteers. Reeping said that organizers hope other communities throughout the country will take their model and create a week of their own.
“It doesn’t matter where you start. We are hoping that other communities look at this model and try to replicate it,” she said, noting that they have already been contacted by a resident of Montauk, N.Y., who hopes to start a warrior week in her community. “There’s a need in the community to give back and let them know that we haven’t forgotten, and there’s a need of those individuals to have communities do that.”
Reeping said the support is much-needed for the VIFs, who last year said the week was “magical and life transforming.”
“We know people are surviving injuries that they never used to survive, and their families are being impacted for the rest of their lives. These are people in their 20s. These are people who are just starting their lives out, with young families. They don’t just come back the same. Everybody is adjusting in that household. They don’t have the money that more affluent people have to deal with these things. They are dependent on the military.
“There’s a need in the community for us to give back,” she added. “To let these people know that we haven’t forgotten and that we want to share what we have here — the beauty of the area, the richness of being in the water, listening to the waves at night, just exhaling for a minute. One saw their children smiling and laughing for a whole week, instead of crying every time an ambulance came to get him. They had not experienced joy in that family.”
For those who want to thank the VIFs for their service and sacrifice, Reeping said the best opportunity would be to attend two events at the end of the week.
Family Night was set to be held on Thursday, Sept. 4, from 6 to 9 p.m., when organizers have been encouraging community members and VIFs to spend the night in downtown Bethany Beach to see Dickens Parlour Theatre’s magic show on the bandstand at 7 p.m.
On Friday, Sept. 5, Reeping said, the organization hopes to draw a large crowd for the “Heroes’ Welcome” at the Freeman Stage at Bayside.
“We just want to cheer them as the buses are coming in,” said Reeping of welcoming the families.
Those who wish to cheer should arrive at Bayside no later than 5:15 p.m., and the welcome will take place on Americana Parkway leading up to the Sales & Information Center in the Bayside community.
Throughout the summer, the organization has had a poster-pal project, in which community members could help create welcome signs that will be used throughout the week.
“Children and families have created ‘Thank you,’ ‘Thank you for your service’ signs,” said Reeping, noting that the signs would be used for the welcome at Bayside. “The fire department is helping to escort the buses, and so are the hogs.”
Participants are being encouraged to wear red, white and blue and cheer for the veterans as they enter the community.
“We are so proud to partner with Operation SEAs the Day for this event as a way to honor our wounded warriors,” said Patti Grimes, executive director of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation. “We hope that this small gesture by the community will show our appreciation for their service and sacrifice to our country.”
The veterans and their families will later attend a Bruce in the USA concert, featuring the Bruce Springsteen tribute band, at the Freeman Stage at 7 p.m. The concert is also open to the public, and tickets can be purchased for $25 per adult, while those younger than 18 may attend free of charge.
As to what organizers hoped for the week, Reeping said they want the VIFs to find some peace of mind and enjoy a stress-free fun week, with the help of a grateful community.
“The community hopes that the VIFs’ experiences while in Bethany Beach will live on in each VIF’s mind, of a special place to visit when they need to do so. We believe the VIFs leave something special here in Bethany Beach,” said Reeping. “For the VIFs, we hope it is magical and helps them in their transition and their families’ transition back to a normal life. And that they know that we are thankful for them.”