On our last day of the Month of the Military Child, Sarah writes a heartfelt article about an amazing support program for children living a wounded warrior life.
By Sarah Peachey
It can be difficult for Family members to deal with the injuries our service members face. Multiple surgeries, a long recovery time and the extensive healing process can put wear on the caregivers, but what about the children? Jacqueline Goodrich, the spouse of a wounded warrior, started The General’s Kids to address that exact issue.
On February 20, 2012, Goodrich received a phone call from Afghanistan, a call that uprooted her family to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to be with Goodrich’s husband, Michael, through the recovery of serious wounds sustained in combat. After a short time at Walter Reed, Goodrich noticed a change in her daughter, Lucy, 3 and newborn, Tag.
“She went from Daddy being her Superman, to Daddy being gone, to suddenly living at a hospital and Daddy being weaker and slower than she was. At just three years old, she had to start being careful not to hurt him. That brought a lot of fear and sadness. It was heavy on her heart to be living in a hospital, so we had her stay with my parents part of the time so she could be in a more normal environment,” Goodrich said.
While being outside of a hospital environment helped, it wasn’t a solution to the troubles her daughter faced.
“It tugs them in different directions. When Lucy was with my parents, she missed us. But when she was here with us, she felt guilty for wanting to go back home. These are emotions every Little Warrior will battle,” she said.
The experience was different for Goodrich’s newborn son, Tag, who was 11 days old when Michael was wounded. Walter Reed was his first home.
“It’s taken months for Tag to relax and realize he is actually home. To this day, when we go back to spend a day [at Walter Reed], he recognizes it. He lights up when he sees so many uniforms and reaches out to any who will hold him. He knows we were cared for there,” Goodrich said.
The family was left to adjust to a new lifestyle, what Goodrich calls “the new normal,” and watched parents of infants and teenagers fight to make the hospital more kid-friendly.
Goodrich realized there wasn’t enough support for the Little Warriors at the military hospitals. “There were activities sometimes, financial assistance from certain groups, and all these things were great. There wasn’t enough encouragement and support to get you through every day. That weighs so heavy on the wounded warrior and caregiver. I saw friends have to send their children out of state to live with Family because they were falling behind in school, or because it became too much to live in a hospital,” Goodrich said.
There were organizations at Walter Reed that offered clothing kits and peer support for the wounded warriors, but “that wasn’t happening for the kids,” she said. It got Goodrich thinking that the Little Warriors needed a way to connect and some little surprises along the way during normal days at the hospital. This launched the Pen Pal program and Sponsorship program for The General’s Kids. Goodrich wanted to see her children “experience joy in the midst of life-changing circumstances,” she said.
The General’s Kids was launched exactly one year after Michael’s injury. Goodrich wanted to address the Little Warriors who watch their parent go through a life-changing injury or illness. While there are many organizations out there to benefit the wounded warrior and his family, The General’s Kids completely focus on the child, no matter the age.
“We can help connect children and teenagers of various ages with others across the country who are going through similar struggles, provide sponsors who will send encouraging cards or care packages, and will soon be able to offer financial assistance for things like special interests or school funding,” Goodrich said.
Her goals don’t stop there. The General’s Kids hope to be able to fund vacations to Disney World and even college scholarships.
“Our belief is that whether there are 10,000 wounded warrior kids or just one, each and every one is a priority and deserves to have their sacrifice for our freedom acknowledged,” Goodrich said.
The General’s Kids focus on three areas: Sponsorship, pen pals and financial assistance. Parents or guardians of children living at a military hospital can sign up for the sponsorship program. The General’s Kids will connect the parent with someone that hopes to make the child or children feel appreciated, whether that’s an individual, Family or school classroom.
Pen pals are also offered to connect wounded warrior children with each other. This helps the children interact through the different stages of the journey. Pen pals can be requested for children still at the hospitals or those living back home.
As with any organization, funding is also needed. “Currently, we are raising funds to be able to support things that will help bring some of the normal childhood experiences to wounded warrior kids,” Goodrich said. These activities can be as simple as funding sports, music or dance lessons or other after-school activities.
Those who aren’t associated with wounded warriors can help in other ways than funding. “We offer parents the opportunity to sign their children up to be sponsored by others. The children registered are living in military hospitals for an extended period that can last up to two years. As a sponsor, people get the chance to send personal letters, care packages and reminders that the sacrifice these warrior kids made doesn’t go unnoticed,” Goodrich said. The General’s Kids also accept new, never-been-used blankets for newborns or teenagers.
Goodrich hopes to soon have welcome bags for incoming wounded warrior families. Her own family arrived on a weekend day, so the hospital shops weren’t open.
“It is so traumatic to first see a parent after they are wounded. A kind nurse searched the ward for anything Michael could give to Lucy to soften the blow and make him seem approachable. She found an American flag and a mini-sized candy bar. We were so thankful for that, otherwise Lucy might not have had the courage to approach him,” she said. Any future welcome bags would help aid other families in a similar way.
Ultimately, Goodrich hopes this charity will provide for the needs of the children that stand behind the wounded warrior family banners. “I want these kids to realize that people are grateful for them too. My hope with The General’s Kids is that if we can provide the support and help children find others who understand, that they will embrace this as part of their own story. This is their journey too,” Goodrich said. “Far too often it feels as if the kids are just dragged along in the aftermath of these acts of violence. But each Little Warrior has a life that is forever changed. We want to make sure those changes still allow for them to be kids, and to grow up with pride knowing they are a huge part of what makes America beautiful and free.”
For more information on The General’s Kids or to find out how you can help, visit www.thegeneralskids.org.
Sarah Peachey is a 20-something journalist from the northeast, living in the Southwest near Fort Huachuca, AZ with her husband, two furbabies and a baby on the way. She began a career in journalism with The Fort Polk Guardian, an installation newspaper, winning two local awards for her work, and now freelances for military spouse support sites. She is an active blogger on MilitaryOneClick and her blog, “Stetsons, Spurs and Stilettos”.