JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va., Nov. 29, 2017 —
As Janice Deaver and her daughter April Griffin prepare Thanksgiving dinner for their family and neighbors, they tell stories and share laughs at memories of years past. While most share stories about their relatives, this family shares stories of their “adopted” family, the ones they thank each year for their service to their country with a home-cooked meal.
For the past 30 years, the Deaver family has opened their home on Thanksgiving Day to “adopted” U.S. service members from the Hampton Roads community as part of the annual “Adopt-a-Service Person” program.
The program, hosted by the USO, has approximately 60 families in the local community each year “adopt” service members who are in training and are unable to go home for the holiday.
The Deaver family first heard of the program from an advertisement in the local newspaper. Griffin remembers being 16 years old when they brought home their first “adopted” service members and now had a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son of her own as her family continues the tradition. Even though the family has no affiliation with the military, they couldn’t see sharing the holiday without hosting service members and passalong the tradition of being thankful.
“My parents always had a full house, and it just seemed like such a good idea to show April that you give back,” said Deaver. “It makes my heart so happy to bring in these kids because they are so brave and so kind and it’s great to show my daughter and my grandkids that every year.”
Continuing the tradition of storytelling, Griffin and Deaver shared bouts of laughter as they remembered one year when a U.S. Army Soldier in Advanced Individual Training who participated in the program broke his glasses while playing football with Griffin’s children in the yard.
“We looked for the arm of his glasses for hours but had no luck,” said Griffin. “Mom found the arm in the spring. I brought it to his graduation from AIT, and he just thought it was the funniest thing.”
With as many as nine service members welcomed into their home each year, Deaver struggles with the idea that some of their first Soldiers have recently retired from the Army within the 30 years since they first joined the program. However, Griffin enjoys keeping in touch with the service members through social media.
“It’s hard to believe we’ve been doing this as long as we have, but it’s just become normal for us,” said Deaver. “They are always welcome to come back to our family dinner if they are in the local area.”
For the service members they adopt, the program allowed them to be a part of a family—a home away from home for the holiday, said U.S. Army Private 1st Class Jalani James, 128th Aviation Brigade AIT student.
“Nowadays, many people will say, ‘Thank you for your service’ and ‘We are proud of what you do’ but I don’t think they extend their hand out as much as they extend their words,” said James. “This family didn’t use their words, they let their actions speak for them, and they invited us in. After speaking with them, I know they’re deeply rooted in their community, and they care, not just for the service members, but for the people that live near them.”
As six Soldiers, one U.S. Air Force Airman, twelve family members and neighbors squeeze around the table, they pass plates of turkey, ham, and stuffing, and continue to share stories and laughs until it is time to clean up and say goodbye to their new family members for now.
For more information about the USO and the Adopt-a-Service Person program, contact the USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia at 878-2415.