More often than not, the holiday season becomes a time for reflection and hope that “something” will make life better in the near future. This was certainly true for me during the holidays in 2011. At that point, I was recovering from being hospitalized with kidney failure due to lupus in 2010. I was weak, out of a job, depressed, and bored. I eventually started to recover and decided it was time to do “something” with my life. Since I had always been proud to have family members and friends who served in the military, I knew I wanted to work with Veterans in some way, but I didn’t know what my options were. Because I had been unemployed for over a year, I decided I would try volunteering first. I typed in “military” and “Los Angeles” in Volunteermatch.org and Gina Elise’s Pin-Ups For Vets was the first thing on the list.
Initially, I was hesitant to contact Gina and wondered what the non-profit was all about. Gina explained that the Pin-Ups For Vets calendars were inspired by WWII nose art – painted words and images on planes that were meant to boost morale – and were sold to raise funds for hospitalized Veterans. She said she and her volunteers would dress up in 1940’s-inspired outfits and visit Veterans in the hospital. I was familiar with the era and loved the style, so it sounded good to me. I also knew I could relate to the misery of being “stuck” in a hospital with feelings of isolation, loneliness, annoyance at the countless tests, medications, and procedures. I thought I would help with a few events here and there when my schedule permitted. I did not realize Pin-Ups For Vets would become such a huge part of my life.
Even at a young age, I was inspired by the fact that my father was in the military. He will tell you he has regrets that he did not get to do more, train more, or see more during his time in the Army, but I have always been proud that he served this country. I knew that this was not a path that many men or women chose to take, and though everyone had different reasons for joining, I admired the ultimate decision to serve. With health issues, I knew actually joining the military was not an option for me, but volunteering with Pin-Ups For Vets seemed like the best way to express my personal appreciation for these brave men and women.
Because of my interest in history, vintage style, and in the issues the military faces today, Pin-Ups For Vets proves to be “perfect” for me. Through the non-profit, I have had opportunities to share all of the things I love, experience unique events, and meet extraordinary people. At a recent visit to a Veterans Home, I bonded with a 99-year-old female WWII Army Nurse Corps Veteran because of my retro-inspired outfit. As a hula dancer, I got to perform for Veterans at a local VA hospital and listen to them reminisce about being stationed in Hawaii. I have had serious conversations with Marines, soldiers, and military spouses struggling with PTSD. During an out-of-state post visit, I got a “tour” of an Apache helicopter by 82nd Airborne soldiers and visited my cousin in the Air Force. I witnessed the pageantry of my first military ball. I braved freezing temperatures with Cadets and Midshipmen at this year’s Army/Navy game. After a hospital visit last year, I was presented with a Navy Veteran’s personal Vietnam Veteran’s pin – a gesture of appreciation that still humbles me today.
One of the hardest things for Gina to do is to hand over responsibilities related to her organization to someone else. She has built an organization from the ground up and has gained respect and recognition from the military community. She knows she has a reputation to uphold, so she does her best to choose her volunteers very carefully – hoping they have a genuine interest in helping our Veterans and service members and that they will represent her organization well. I feel very proud to be part of Pin-Ups For Vets and I know Gina trusts and respects my opinion and my passion for helping our military Veterans, active duty service members, and their families.
This holiday season marks the end of a year full of some amazing moments and also some rather devastating events in my life and the lives of my loved ones. My faith has certainly been tested this year, and I am, once again, reflecting and hoping for better things to come. I am thankful I have my friend, Gina, my fellow Pin-Ups For Vets volunteers, and our fans and supporters to help me redirect my focus to helping others, rather than dwelling on things out of my control. I have been fortunate to watch Pin-Ups For Vets grow in the last couple of years and as long as we stay true to the mission of helping our Veterans and service men and women, I know that the future of the organization looks bright.Share This: