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How Wreaths Brought Thousands Together

How Wreaths Brought Thousands Together

American Military University's wreath boxes at Arlington National Cemetery - 12/13/14
American Military University’s wreath boxes at Arlington National Cemetery. 12/13/14

By J. Mason
Online Career Tips Editor

Before most people go in search of their coffee cup on a Saturday morning I, along with numerous coworkers, was up way too early for a great cause. Wreaths Across America is a somber event that takes place all over the United States, as well as more than 24 overseas cemeteries. The main event takes place in Arlington National Cemetery, where I was before the sun came up on December 13, 2014. With over 1,000 locations taking part in an honorable event once a year, it’s not hard to picture how this can create such a lasting impression on those involved, and those watching on social media. As the images came rolling in over the weekend I made it my goal to focus on the goodwill of my coworkers that were sacrificing their time, as well as the fact that my company made it a point to sponsor 1,000 wreaths this year for the wonderful event.

Every year around the holidays most companies will contribute an expected amount of philanthropy. For example, most companies will engage in holiday philanthropy through a Toys for Tots box, and a canned food drive for local shelters. My company, American Public University System, participates in these events but we also sprinkle in a few more that are near and dear to our students hearts and the company mission. This year was our third time participating in Wreaths Across America. The reason for our initial participation was student and staff interest. The mission for Wreaths is “Remember. Honor. Teach.” This message resonates with APUS on a foundational level. Our flagship school, American Military University (AMU), was founded by a retired Marine Corps officer named James P. Etter in 1991. His goal in having an online university was so that military members could still continue on with their education even while deployed. Fast forward 23 years and several programs later here we are with the same mission for those that are serving and looking to get their education. As a personal mission for those that have served, are serving, or have family that served and were lost during a mission, the message from Wreaths Across America is so important to consider. Such a simple act of dedicating time, maybe a little money, and an open heart and mind, have made a big impact on all those involved.

American Military University volunteers at Section 3 in Arlington National Cemetery. 12/13/14

So to keep our new tradition going at AMU we received help from nearly 500 volunteers in the Arlington location. We also had a wonderful turnout from faculty, staff, students and alumni across the country in 13 other locations. As seen in the image on the right our truck volunteers wore easily identifiable AMU branded jackets at the event. The jackets and AMU beanies we passed out were worn as a means to show support for the school, our students serving and those that have served, and also as a means of respecting those that we’ve lost. It was a wonderful learning opportunity for first time wreath layers, myself included, and also for the children that came with their parents. And again, it was a great way for those at my company to get involved.

It is the time of year for gifts, shopping, holiday themed specials, office parties, and what seems like an ugly sweater selfie extravaganza. What I appreciate about where I work is the opportunity I was given to do something for someone else. Some of these graves have never had a visitor, or it’s been years since they’ve received company. So, this small act of laying a simple wreath had a lot more to do with respect, and honoring the past. Time is rarely quantified as a charitable act, but as you can see from the images in this post it can simply be measured by the depth of involvement and the ground that was covered.

This year in Arlington National Cemetery all 230,000 graves had a wreath; this is the first time this feat has been achieved! I’m proud to say that my company contributed to that accomplishment, and I am happy to be surrounded by colleagues that were so willing to give back. As with any great event, there has to be a great event organizer. That credit I’d like to give to Cindy Aitken; centered in the picture below. With the overflowing amount of support from the AMU community she was able to keep the volunteers in check, as well as make time to chat with a local basketball team, and a cub scout group.

AMU Truck Crew at Wreaths Across America. 12/13/14

For those feeling that seasonal nip in the air, let that be a reminder, or a wake-up call, to give back to your local community. If your company doesn’t get involved with these types of events, then what’s stopping you from organizing it yourself? It’s never too late to start your own charitable tradition at work. Perhaps we’ll see you next year at Wreaths Across America.