My Experience as a USO Elf

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This article is not related to protocol or etiquette; however, I found this experience so special, I knew I had to share it.

This Holiday Season, I had the privilege of being the Program Manager, or “Head Elf” as some affectionately referred to me, for USO-Metro’s Project Elf. Project USO Elf supports military children of junior enlisted service members, E-1 to E-5, by pairing them with Corporate and Community Wish List Donors who sponsor the children. These Wish List Donors buy the children gifts from their Wish List for the Holiday Season. This year, I am very proud to say USO-Metro supported over 1,200 military children in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan region!

While this program was quite an undertaking, coordinating 1,200+ Wish Lists between 2 distribution locations from hundreds of Wish List Donors proved to be no small feat, it is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Planning for the program started as “Christmas in July” and gained momentum throughout the Fall. The build-up to the program was amazing!

On October 1st, the “North Pole” began receiving Wish Lists from children. The notes I read honestly made my day several times. One of my personal favorites was for a 6 year old girl, “She is girly and happy go lucky, very artistic, loves play dates and gymnastics! She has asked for: stuffed Hello Kitty doll, silver pageant crown & wand, ribbon baton twirler, Frozen Anna dress, sparkly silver Mary Janes, Melissa and Doug craft projects. She also likes Chick-Fil-A, My Little Ponies, and fun sparkly colors of Zoya (nontoxic) nail polish.” How adorable is that?! That is just one of the over 1,200 Wish Lists I received that reminded me of the pure joy and excitement the Holidays bring to children. Come November, Wish Lists were distributed to Donors and they were set loose to hit the stores while I stayed at the North Pole organizing the program logistics!

As soon as December 1st hit, I spent the first week of the month on “Sleigh Stops” visiting our Corporate Wish List Donors and receiving hundreds of Wish Lists from several companies. The level of excitement I saw in these donors and the giving atmosphere the companies built around my program was incredible. One company even had so many employees want to give to the program, that the employees started buying popular gifts for us to add to other children’s gift bags saying, “the more the merrier!” Once all the Wish Lists were collected, my amazing volunteers set-up and decorated the distribution sites.

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Project USO Elf Distribution Site #1 with over 800 Wish Lists ready for service member pick-up!


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Project USO Elf Distribution Site #2 with more than 400 Wish Lists ready for service member pick-up!

When distribution night arrived, I was instilled with an overwhelming sense of calm. That day, I knew all the hard work and long hours I put in were about to pay off – big time! Seeing the smiles and hearing the words of appreciation from service members who received gifts for their children was the only “Thank You” I needed. Realizing we (I would be remiss if I did not thank my amazing USO-Metro teammate and our HUGE volunteer corps. Without the volunteer hours put in by these dedicated, patriotic individuals, my job would not have been possible) had really made a difference in the lives of others was incredible.

This year, the Christmas spirit has not quite “taken hold” of me in my personal life. However, today I realized when over 1,200 military children wake-up tomorrow morning their Christmas wishes will come true thanks to so many generous citizens who wanted to give back and say “thank you” to our service members. Personally, the opportunity to play Santa for these military children has been a privilege and truly an honor. This year, Christmas took on a new meaning for me. I hope to continue to pay it forward to those so deserving of this special program.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all, a Good Night!”

Project USO Elf “Lead Elf”

To learn more about Project USO Elf, please watch Elizabeth Prann’s Fox News coverage of Project USO ElfFor additional photos from Project USO Elf, please visit the USO-Metro Facebook album.

 

Celebrating the 4th of July!

Photo Credit: Lilly Pulitzer

Photo Credit: Lilly Pulitzer

This weekend we celebrate the 4th of July! Happy birthday America!
As we celebrate our freedom and our country, be sure to sparkle in all the right ways! Here are my tips for an amazing 4th of July celebration!

  1. If You are Hosting a Party
    • Be festive!
    • Creating a signature cocktail, whether in how it looks or the ingredients you use, is a great way to put your own creative spin on the party. Here is a cute idea for serving a “Sparkling Spritzer”
      Photo Credit: Style Me Pretty

      Photo Credit: Style Me Pretty

    • Have party favors for your guests to take home or have things you can pass out during the party to get people into the American spirit!
  2. If You are Attending a Party
    • Offer to contribute an appetizer, drink, dish, or dessert for all to enjoy.
    • Take a host/hostess gift.
    • Dress the part – Proudly wear your red, white, and blue!
    • Offer the host/hostess your assistance during the party.
    • Write and send a thank you note within three days of attending the gathering.
  3. Honor and Respect the Flag ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
    • Fly the flag all day! Be sure to keep a light on it when the sun goes down.
    • I know it is cute to use plates or napkins that have the American flag on them as a decorative piece, but here is something to keep in mind: Even though it is not technically a real flag, eating off the flag and the act of wiping your mouth or using the flag to clean your hands is disrespectful. Avoid using American flag plates and napkins if possible.
      • NOTE: A design of stars and stripes is great, I mean the actual American flag printed on something.
    • If you are wearing apparel or accessories with the American flag on them, ensure they are tasteful and appropriate. The flag should not be partially displayed (it should always be displayed in it’s entirety), tattered, or “distressed” in any way. You should also never drape yourself in the flag.
    • Watch this interview featuring Gary Biggs of Protocol Partners for additional, valuable flag protocol information.
  4. Remember and thank the service members who have fought and are currently serving to continue protecting our freedoms.

    Photo Credit: Love Bakes Good Cakes

    Photo Credit: Love Bakes Good Cakes

I would love to see how you all incorporated my tips into your celebrations so please share them with me! You can submit a photo or comment on this post or through my Contact Me page.

Have a wonderful 4th of July! God Bless America! ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

The Meaning of Memorial Day

This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day. To many people, this weekend marks the “unofficial start of summer” and an extra day off work; however, the real meaning of Memorial Day is to remember those service members who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom and this country. While celebrating this weekend, here are a few things you can incorporate to honor the true meaning of the day:

  1. Honor Those Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice. Whether you have a personal connection to this or are simply a grateful, patriotic citizen, take a moment to remember the service members who gave their lives to protect your own.
    • Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00pm local time on Memorial Day. (Click here for more information)
    • Include a “We Remember” section at your Memorial Day gathering. The following is a simple and beautiful example:
      Photo Credit: Style Me Pretty

      Photo Credit: Style Me Pretty

  2. Be Sensitive to the Meaning of the Day. Often times you will hear service members say they feel uncomfortable when people come up to thank them for their service – This is especially true on Memorial Day. While it is always a kind gesture to thank a veteran and active duty service member, many service members feel Memorial Day should focus solely on their brothers and sisters who lost their lives defending our country. **Please do not get me wrong – Thank service members for all they do, just be mindful of what Memorial Day represents to them.**
  3. Visit Your Local Veterans Cemetery. While many families keep their service member’s grave well maintained, there are several veterans that have no one to do so. Veterans groups often take on this responsibility, but a great way to show your appreciation is to go place a flag or flowers at the grave of fallen service members.
  4. Watch the National Memorial Day Concert.
  5. Fly the American Flag. ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ The American flag is flown at half staff until noon on Memorial Day to honor the fallen then “at noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all” (Memorial Day Observance).
  6. If you are comfortable doing so publicly, share a photo/post a memorial message of a fallen service member. Memorial Day honors his/her sacrifice.

To the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, we are forever indebted. May God bless and watch over their families and may God bless America! ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ

memorial day