Senior Director Leads Operation Homefront’s Volunteer Force with Heart
Prior to her current role as senior director of volunteers, Charlotte Merriam had served in several field offices and had firsthand knowledge of the intense amount of coordination needed to bring programs like Holiday Meals for Military, Back-to-School Brigades, and Star-Spangled Babies showers to life.
Charlotte, who has been with Operation Homefront for 14 years, has been able to take that experience and use it to help staff utilize their volunteers in the best ways. She prepares volunteers to be able to speak about Operation Homefront and trains volunteer team captains to lead Operation Homefront events like Back-to-School-Brigade and Holiday Meals for Military so staff can focus on other priorities.
As an experienced military spouse, Charlotte has a unique viewpoint and knows the positive impact OH programs have on new military families in the community. She recalls a time when she was eight months pregnant and moved to F.E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
“My daughter was born three weeks later, and the only person we knew who visited us at the hospital was my husband’s boss,” she said. “However, we quickly met and made great friends with some military families. Twenty years later we are still friends with those families. They are my daughter’s family, and she calls them aunt/uncle. I am closer to some of my military friends than I am with my own blood relatives.”
When her family made a permanent change of station to San Antonio more than a decade ago, Charlotte applied for a caseworker position at Operation Homefront that would combine her education and experience in social work.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to give back to the military community myself than using my education and skills to help other military families,” she said.
Charlotte still remembers a wounded warrior who reached out to Operation Homefront the week of Christmas asking for his oil drum to be filled so his family could have heat during the winter. The veteran lived in North Dakota in a trailer with his three children. He was a disabled veteran with third-degree burns on 90 percent of his body from an explosion in Iraq, and his VA benefits had not started. After talking with the veteran and obtaining the needed documents, Charlotte told him that Operation Homefront would be able to provide the oil immediately, and the veteran was immensely grateful.
Charlotte asked if the family needed anything else, to which the veteran said no. Then the veteran mentioned that his 4-year-old was going to learn there was no Santa since he did not have anything for her. The veteran said his two older children understood.
“I was speechless,” Charlotte said, “because I had been stressing earlier that day about not finding my daughter a particular item she wanted for Christmas even though I already had about 20 things for her.”
This moment opened Charlotte’s eyes to the struggles of military families.
“I’m happy to say Operation Homefront was able to step up and make sure the family had not only heat, but food and presents for Christmas,” she said.
She enjoys working with dedicated volunteers who want to serve military families and understand the struggles the families face.
“Nothing beats being at an event like BTSB and seeing the smiles on a military child’s face or to have a military spouse hug you with tears in their eyes because they feel appreciated for their service and sacrifice,” Charlotte said.
Another special memory for Charlotte was working as regional (field) staff member in Colorado. She worked closely with a wounded warrior who was a recipient of OH services, and he was also an amazing volunteer for OH. He was struggling and having suicidal thoughts. The veteran asked Charlotte if she would accompany him to the hospital. Charlotte met him at the hospital and sat with him until he was seen and could enter an inpatient hospital PTSD program.
“He did not have family in Colorado, so I would visit him once a week for his six-week hospital stay,” Charlotte said.
Thankfully, he received the care he needed. What stood out to Charlotte was the fact that so many veterans like him face struggles and do not have support.
“It’s OK to ask for help, and Operation Homefront has many programs to assist military families,” she said.
Charlotte is amazed when she hears about military families who do not know about Operation Homefront. For those who do know about Operation Homefront, there are many different programs to support military and veteran families.
“Anyone involved with Operation Homefront, whether as staff, volunteers, or donors, should share Operation Homefront with all the military families and connections they know. When talking with someone about backpacks or another program, we should always remember to share all the good news about OH programs.”
Through her years of working at Operation Homefront, Charlotte states she has become more flexible.
“I’ve learned through working with some great people that you can accomplish the mission in many different ways and getting the end result is more important than the path you utilize to get there.”