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Operation R & R

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Operation R&R


Operation R&R is a non-profit organization designed to give married men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan the opportunity to reconnect and strengthen relationships with their families on Hilton Head Island at little or no cost. Property owners are donating their time and energy to make their stay a memorable experience.

With multiple deployments of soldiers and marines, there is a higher incidednt of divorce, alcholism and suicides among military personnel. Operation R&R has been successful in decreasing these incidents by ensuring that our military families have some time with their families in a relaxing situation. Going on a much needed vacation with family provides an opportunity to strengthen relationships that have been strained by long seperation and extreme circumstances.

Operation R&R was born when founder, Dr. Grant Evans thought it would be a great idea to invite returning soldiers and their families to spend a week in Hilton Head, with accomodations at rental villa or home on Hilton Head, compliments of the property owner. Dr. Evans said, "I caught myself staring at military families at the airport, departing or returning, hugging and crying, and I remember thinking that it is absolutely unbelievable that these people are going overseas, leaving family, and putting their lives at risk, and we're just going on with our daily lives."

"Since we own rental properties on Hilton Head which sit empty most of the off season. Dr. Evans added, "I told my wife that we should put up a couple of families in our condos during the off season. We soon realized that there were likely others who would like to do the same thing, so we began trying to figure out the best way to get properties to provide as well as get military personnel in need of and deserving vacation."

"The first year we had 60 properties and accomodated 57 families, and about 30 restaurants and businesses that participated, " Dr. Evans continued. "Since that time, we have gained an additional 250 properties and are up to 60 restaurants and 36 businesses which provide gift certificates for the families to dine out, buy grocceries, and participate in water sports and other vacation activities."

Not knowing exactly how to get in touch with the military, Grant talked to USO represenatives at the Savannah airport, who directed him to Pastor Andy Smith, a Baptist ministerin Richmond Hill, Georgia, whose church had "adopted" over 50 families neighhboring Ft. Stewart. Since that time, participation is primarily by word of mouth, shared among military personnel.

"We have just wrapped up Phase 3, and it will begin Phase 4 in September of this worthy project," Dr. Evans said. "We anticipate being able to accomodate over 450 military families through May 2010. " We have 9 short term management companies that have provided us with owners who have donated their properites for use during the offseason," Evans said. " My wife Mia and I continue to organize other partnerships on the island, working with restaurants, stores, and recreational facilities, to be able to offer something special for the soldiers and their families."

Although their is minimal to no cost for the military families, Operation R&R still has expenses that must be met. There are cleaning charges for use of the villas and there are costs involved with providing groccery gift cards and certificates for recreation for the families during their stay. "Piggly Wiggly in Shelter Cove and Food Lion on Palmetto Bay have been most generous in matching whatever we provide them for groccery expenses for the families," Dr. Evans said.

In addition, Operation R&R has received a number of grants from the Heritage Classic Foundation and from the Long Cove Club Community Endowment Fund. "Both have been very supportive," Dr. Evans said. "The first year we were in operation, most of the greeters were Long Cove residents."

Two of the main corporate sponsors are Hargray and BB&T Carswell. Hargray has been financially supportive through their Caring Coins Program, in which participants elect to donate. "They provide us about $6,000 a year," Grant said.

Another major corporate sponsor is BB&T Carswell Insurance. They have been supportive both financially and through employees volunteering their time as Greeters. In order to welcome each soldier's family upon arrival and to be certain that they get their Hilton Head Island vacation destination without difficulty, Operation R&R assigns a Greeter for each family. over 200 Greeterson the island are the contact persons for the visiting families during their stay.

Sand Crovo, long time island resident and Regional Accounting Manager of BB&T Carswell Insurance said, "Chosing Operation R&R as our BB&T Lighthouse Project has been a wonderfully warm, rewarding and proud experience for all of us." It is not uncommon to hear in their lunchroom or around the office, accodring to Crovo, one of them sharing a story about "my soldier and his family.' "For each of our families, we have met and escorted them to their accommodations and remained available for suggestions or directions throughout their stay. In addition, each family is provided with home backed goodies upon their arrival." BB&T Carswell's creative crew designed and decorated their award winning Operation R&R Lighthouse, which won an additional $5000, from BB&T , to be added to the previously donated fund. "It has been a pleasure to give back to our community and our country," Crovo added.

Military families are asked to write thank-you notes to the owners who have provided their properties. One military recipient said, "We had a very memorable time! My husband was deployed to Afghanistan the past two Thanksgivings and Christmas's, so to have my family all together in such a beautiful place and at no cost to us was wonderful! Thank you again for what you have done for our family!"

Another recipient wrote, "This was a vacation that will stay in our memories for years to come. As my husband prepares to head back overseas for another deployment it is comforting to know that he will take the memoires of our week in Hilton Head with him."

"The time spent as a family on HHI during my husband's 18 days of leave was magical! Enduring these 15 months apart is made easier because of the generous hearts of those who understand, and we can't thank you enough. The fact that you are out there to recognize us is so humbling and flatterin," wrote another participant.

Who is eligible? Any military person who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan within 1 year of the request, and their immediate family are eligible to participate in the vacation. He or she must be married, with their partner participating in the vacation. In addition, they must be stationed at Hunter Army Airfield, Fort Stewart, or the Marine Air Base at Beaufort.

To donate your villa or home, or to volunteer your time, contact Dr. Grant Evans by email at gpe5253@yahoo.com or call him at (843) 842-2299.

Your donations are a great way to thank the men and women who are risking their lives for our security.

By Louise Lund 

Operation R & R
Operation R & R

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