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    operation veteran smiles
    operation veteran smiles

    Operation: Veteran Smiles

    By Jodi Helmer

    Photography by Matt Odom

    When Amelia Day tagged along to a medical appointment with her dad, she learned that it was rare for the patients in the veteran’s hospital in Dublin, Ga., to have their families with them. 

    “Veterans who need treatment have to go where there’s an open bed, which can mean traveling hundreds ofmiles away from their families,” she recalls. “Since the veterans are so far from home, they don’t get a lot of visitors.”

    Amelia decided she could do something to bring cheer to the veterans staying in the hospital. She started delivering handmade cards in 2011. 

    During deliveries, Amelia met veterans who stormed the beaches at Normandy during World War II, as well as soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and calls the conversations,“amazing history lessons.”

    “My dad and both my granddads served in the military so I have a special spot in my heart for veterans,” she explains. 

    Over time, Amelia started assembling kits containing toiletries such as shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, and playing cards—which she called Smile Kits—to give to veterans along with the handmade cards. 

    Providing personal care essentials always made the veterans smile, leading Amelia to call her organization Operation: Veteran Smiles

    “My family has always been there to support my grandads and my dad, but a lot of veterans are not that lucky,” Amelia says. “I don’t think anyone who has done so much for our country should be left alone like that.”

    It became a true community project: a local hotel donates shampoo, conditioner, and soap; 4-H clubs collect toiletries; and a local church provides storage space where Amelia stocks items for Smile Kits. When she needs additional supplies or volunteers, she simply posts a note on Facebook and her friends and neighbors always pitch in. 

    Amelia recently has grown OVS from a local initiative to a national program with the help of 4-H scholarships and support. 

    Amelia had no idea that making a few cards for veterans in Dublin, Ga., would lead to a national initiative that has affected the lives of thousands of veterans—and she looks forward to helping OVS continue to grow. 

    Instead of going to college next year, Amelia, now 18, decided to take a “gap year” to travel around the country, spreading the word about OVS and delivering Smile Kits to even more veterans. 

    “It’s bigger than I ever imagined it,” she says, “and I don’t see it ending anytime soon.”