Strengthening Our Military Family® | Armed Services YMCA of Hampton Roads

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Established in 1993 by the Armed Services YMCA, Military Family Appreciation Month recognizes the sacrifices that families make to support their Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen. Each year, the President signs a proclamation marking the beginning of a month-long celebration of the Military Family in which the Department of Defense and the nation will honor the commitment and sacrifices made by the families of our nation's service members. 

Since 1994, the Armed Services YMCA of Hampton Roads has taken this recognition further by hosting the Five Star Military Family Recognition Luncheon. This annual event recognizes active-duty, service members, enlisted and junior officers, and their families who best represent service to their country and commitment to their local community through a spirit of volunteerism. Families are nominated by their Commands, family, friends, peers and other non-profits.  



The Armed Services YMCA of Hampton Roads held the 27th Annual Five Star Military Family Recognition Luncheon on Thursday, December 2, 2021 at The Westin Town Center in Virginia Beach. The event is held each year to recognize and celebrate the outstanding volunteer efforts of active-duty enlisted families in Hampton Roads.

Every year the highlighted families are truly deserving of recognition and appreciation. All of the families nominated demonstrated an unwavering commitment to their communities. The selected Five Star families showed an unquestioned dedication to service. We were lucky to have all of our recognized families and many of our other nominated families in attendance.

"Our mission is to support and strengthen our local military families, here, at the Armed Services YMCA of Hampton Roads. We understand the challenges they face and the sacrifices they make every day. Our programs are designed to provide support to these families in their day-to-day life. The Five Star Luncheon gives us an opportunity to recognize those families who take their service a step further. In addition to their commitment to their country and their families - they are committed to making their communities stronger. It is an honor to recognize their efforts.” Laura Baxter, Executive Director of Armed Services YMCA - Hampton Roads.







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SFC Karen "Kirby" Oliver and spouse, Andrea, have been working in the Fort Story Community Garden since its re-opening in September 2020.  Andrea initiated the project and acts as the Civilian Liaison for the garden.  As the lead organizer, she manages all garden operations, navigates legal considerations, leads fundraising events, and coordinates weekly workdays.  She also manages the weekly emails and built the garden website.  Kirby designed and built the no-waste compost system, manages the organic community vegetable garden, and installed the Little Free Library and the Share Box in the garden, which Andrea successfully wrote a grant to the Little Free Libraries and received an Impact Library Package.  The Oliver family have amassed a combined 450 volunteer hours working in the garden this year.  They love being involved in the Fort Story Community Garden and are excited about how far it has come this year and hope it continues to grow.

Marine Family


1stSgt Keola Lee has served in the Marine Corps for 22 years, along with his wife, Danielle, and children, Annestasha, Kaleb, and Josiah.  He is an active member of the community within the Marine Corps Security Forces Regiment as well as the greater community and their church, constantly setting the example of the servant leader.  1stSgt Lee has a lengthy history of volunteerism with previous commands that carried over to his time here. This includes volunteering with The Warrior Tribe Foundation to prevent suicide amongst veterans for the past 5 years and taking time to personally support the Navy & Marine Corps Relief Society through various programs and events. 1stSgt Lee sets the example and encourages Marines to volunteer whenever possible. When soliciting volunteers within the company for an event, 1stSgt Lee first volunteers himself. Alongside him at each event is every member of his family. This included volunteering for the setup and breakdown of the MWR Barracks Bash, MCSFR Field Meets, and HIIT Competition in Virginia Beach. Additionally, Danielle and their children have been active volunteers for many years. During their time with the Regiment, Danielle has served as one of the Regiment’s Family Readiness Program volunteers. She has reinvigorated the company’s Family Readiness Program and brought back the Meals on Wheels program to assist our Marine families in the critical time after the birth of a child. Danielle is present with her children at every hail and farewell for the deploying platoons where they can be seen making signs to welcome Marines home, serving food, and helping in any way they can. 1stSgt Lee and his family are highly deserving of any recognition for their continued efforts to continue to support the Marines & Sailors of FAST Company C and the Marine Corps Security Forces Regiment.

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ENC Shawn Berland, along with his wife, Heather, and five children, encompass the spirit of volunteerism.  They are very active with Operation Homefront's Back to School supply drive, in which they have given out over 2,500 school supplies; Toys for Tots; Operation Christmas Child, packing and sending 32 boxes to kids around the world who are less fortunate at Christmas time in 2020 and goal to send 40 in 2021; Molly's "Adopt A Sailor", where they have "adopted" a few deployed DETs and have sent over 30 goodie boxes along with a Christmas Tree with red, white and blue ornaments; and the Coalition Against Poverty program.  The three oldest children, Carson, Addison and Aubrey, enjoy packing lunches for families where a simple lunch or dinner may brighten their day. Heather started a community Girls on the Run squad for girls ages 7-12. The family also established the Holland Pop Warner Football League and Cheer Squad in Suffolk, VA. They have made 40 custom football jerseys, 35 custom cheer uniforms, cooked 400 pounds of BBQ, and raised over $4,000 so that local kids in the Holland area of Suffolk could take part in football and cheer. The kids also enjoy the Read Across America and virtually read anti-bully books to various classrooms across the country. According to Heather, “Every year we have new goals as a family…stay tuned to what we will be doing next year!”


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TSgt Joshua Winchell and his wife, Jacquelyn, are actively involved in their Church and Military Community.  They both lead fellowship groups and are directly involved in planning morale events such as Fall Festivals and Women’s Retreats impacting over 200 members. They visit and minister to the elderly in nursing homes as well as assist with younger children in nursery settings; this allow parents to attend worship services. Additionally, they mentor young Airmen, provide them weekly home-cooked meals, and afford for them activities to get them out of dorms settings and interacting with the community. They also open their home for Airmen to share the Holiday season, providing a warm family setting with Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. They both helped coordinate Operation Christmas Child, which resulted in filling 1,000 shoeboxes with necessities for children in need. TSgt Winchell and his wife support those who served our nation; they gathered and donated over 600 lbs. of goods to the Disabled Veterans of America initiative. TSgt Winchell recently volunteered for Operation WARMHEART, a Random Act of Kindness fundraiser on Langley. This event aided families in need and provided an additional avenue of support for the local military community. He also helped coordinate a retirement ceremony for a fellow Airman, including leading the opening prayer and proffering the event.


Coast Guard Family


Chief Brennan Smith and his wife, Diana, and two boys, Logan and Emmett, have served in the USCG for 18 years.  During their time in the Coast Guard, Brennan has been deployed more times than they can count, but has always made a point to support his family during his "in-port" time.  Over the past year, the family has done a lot of volunteering.  Logan has been a member of the Benjamin Goldberg Foundation Junior Advisory Council, where he has raised money for the foundation through various events, all benefitting the foundation and CHKD's patient playroom.  Logan has been collecting board games to donate to cancer patients and long-term treatment facilities in the region.  On Sundays, he volunteers his time at Sunday school working with children in fourth grade.  Throughout the past year, Diana has served as the CGC Northland Ombudsman where she helps the ship and families in many ways, including collecting items to make their holiday deployment more enjoyable.  Diana has helped friends raise money for the MS Society and Children's Cancer Research.  As a family, they've participated in a beach clean-up day and participated in a fundraiser called "The Pie Face Challenge", which helped raise money for Sam's Warrior Fund.  Brennan is always helping his family in their endeavors while also serving as a mentor on his ship.  He has coordinated opportunities for his junior ranking members to learn about opportunities within the Coast Guard and in the community.  As Diana shared, "I would like to note that our family is Jewish and believes heavily on Tzedakah (giving to others who need it) and doing mitzvot (good deeds).  We incorporate this into our family lives and try to support things that are meaningful to us everyday."



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