Two local businesses — the Richmond Hill branch of the Navy Federal Credit Union and the Richmond Hill City Center — along with several local individuals recently made donations to help give sets of books and matching plush toys to children in Gold Star Families who are a part of the Snowball Express.
“Our community is made up of many military families,” Beverly Cosmann, general manager of the Richmond Hill City Center, said. “This is a small way we can show support and give our thanks to our military families that have lost loved ones.”
The Snowball Express is a nonprofit organization that provides hope and new memories to children of military heroes who have died during active duty since Sept. 9, 2011. The organization is in Texas and brings children from all over the world together for a four-day experience filled with activities such as sporting events, dances and amusement parks.
Independent Education Consultant with Usborne Books and More Naomi Havens became involved with the Snowball Express during her volunteer work with the Savannah Chapter of the USO (United Service Organizations), which serves the military in many different ways.
Havens serves local military children including those from Beaufort, South Carolina, down to Jacksonville, Florida. Thanks to donations from area businesses and individuals, many local children were able to receive the book, “Jonathan James and the WhatIf Monster” by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt, as well as a matching plush toy.
“’Jonathan James and the WhatIf Monster’ helps children dealing with things in the military by allowing them to have a soft plushie, the green WhatIf Monster, to hold. Many times, children who are having a hard time communicating their feelings and inner-most thoughts will talk to an inanimate object — in this case, the WhatIf Monster,” Havens said. “The book deals with issues and anxieties the children can relate to such as, ‘What if they laugh?’ and ‘What if I fall?’ It is a fabulous tool to start therapeutic conversations. It is not a cure all, but is a step in the right direction.”
Richmond Hill Navy Federal Credit Union Manager Juana Gumataotao said she was glad her business was able to help donate to the cause.
“Naomi Havens visited the Richmond Hill branch with the donation request,” Gumataotao said. “She shared stories of how the WhatIf Monster helps the children of fallen soldiers and wounded warrior families. The military presence is what Navy Federal is here for, and supporting them is a big part of our mission.”
The children who receive these gifts range in age from 6-16. Havens said there are varied reactions when receiving the books and plush toys.
“Some latch on and absolutely love the monster and book, while others are a little apprehensive,” Havens said. “Some sit down and read the book right away, others hug the WhatIf Monster and some wait for later to show their emotion about the gift.
“The accompanying parents are very appreciative to have their children receive such a therapeutic gift,” Havens continued. “This year, one mom with two teen boys sat down right away and read the book with enthusiasm to her boys. Their family makes it a regular habit to read together.”
Havens, thanks to the local donations, has been able to give 30 sets of the book and plush toys to Gold Star Snowball Express children. She also has given five sets to the Winn Army Community Hospital children’s ward, five sets to the local chapter of United Military Care in Hinesville, 18 sets to Purple Heart recipients in Valdosta and several others.
“Navy Federal’s goal in Richmond Hill is to become a true part of the community, and donating to causes such as Usborne Books & More, The Matthew Freeman Project and RHHS JROTC shows our commitment toward that end,” Gumataotao said.
Cosmann added, “Education is the key to our future. We are here to support our community and help educate our future leaders. Usborne Books and More is a step in the right direction.”
Havens said she has been contacted by the 165th Air National Guard, near the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport. They have asked for 200 sets of the WhatIf books and monsters for the children they serve.
In order to fulfill that request, Havens needs $2,597 in donations.
“The WhatIf Challenge started in 2014 by an Usborne Books & More consultant whose husband is a wounded warrior,” Havens said. “It is an ongoing project that I and other Usborne Books & More consultants across the United States are participating in.”
Each $20 donation allows one book and plush toy set to be purchased and donated to a local military wounded warrior family. Usborne Books & More is matching all donations by 50 percent while also covering the shipping costs.
“Donating to the WhatIf Challenge allows local individuals, businesses and organizations an opportunity to show our military, in a small way, how much they value their freedom and appreciate the sacrifices made,” Havens said. “It also gives back to these families by helping them to take a step in the healing process.”
To donate to the WhatIf Challenge, email Havens at BookGenie@UsborneHaven.com. A tax-exemption form is available upon request.