Wondering what to do with the dozens of murex shells you’ve collected through the years?
Perhaps you’ll find inspiration from this heartwarming story recently published by our friends at the Island Reporter:
A Soldier’s Child Foundation stands by the patriots who have fallen by honoring those they left behind
By BRIAN WIERIMA
“What does it matter? Who really gives a damn anyways?”
Those 10 hard-hitting words still echo in Daryl Mackin’s head even nine years later. They are words which hit close to home for Mackin and 10 words which set into motion a movement which now affects more than 2,500 children of fallen soldiers around the United States.
They were words spoken by Mackin’s neighbor, Henry Golczynski, who uttered them in anger when talking about his son, Marc, who was killed in action by sniper fire during the Iraq war on March 27, 2007.
“We were in his garage and he said those words and walked back into the house,” Mackin said. “It really hit me hard and it took about 45 minutes for me to walk back home, which was only across the street.”
Marc Golczynski’s funeral was the day he was supposed to have arrived home after serving his second tour in Iraq. His son, Christian, received his father’s flag, when a famous picture was taken of him, standing stoic, holding back tears, while a soldier comforted him.
Mackin’s vision which eventually turned into A Soldier’s Child Foundation, came to him when he was making plans for his own six-year-old son, sitting in front of the computer, which had crashed.
It was during that moment of clarity which started a movement to honor the children of those who have fallen serving our country. It started out by celebrating 11 fallen soldiers’ children’s’ birthdays and eventually blossomed to a nation-wide movement which now includes 2,500 birthdays celebrated.
“Christian was our first child we had our birthday celebration with, now it has grown to 2,500 children across the country, in every state,” Mackin said. “We have kids opening up birthday presents every single day of the year and about 175 to 225 birthdays a month.”
The inspiration Mackin carried to start the A Soldier’s Child Foundation came in a letter written by Marc Golczynski to his family and friends, giving reasons why he decided to go on his second tour in Iraq.
“I believe he wrote what I think is the Anthem of Arlington National Cemetery,” Mackin said. “He wrote that he and others defend freedoms others get to live out, even if they die doing so. He wrote, ‘For we are warriors and as warriors who have gone before us, we fight and sometimes die, so our families don’t have to.
“‘Stand beside us, because we will do it for you. It is our unity that has allowed us to prosper as a nation.'”
Mackin said those words of standing by the fallen resonated with him.
“Marc charges us to stand beside them,” Mackin said. “So, how do you do that when they are gone? That’s exactly what A Soldier’s Child Foundation does, we stand beside the fallen by caring for their children.”
The idea of celebrating the birthdays of the fallen soldiers’ children came to him in front of that crashed computer while he was planning his son’s surprise birthday party.
“I looked up on my wall and saw the photo of Christian and the soldier at Marc’s funeral,” Mackin said. “Then it sunk in, what if I wasn’t alive and my son didn’t have me? I thought for a moment about my son and my kids (three of them) growing up without me. Christian wasn’t going to have his father there because he was defending our freedoms.
“That was an emotional moment.”
Mackin, who was working as a chef and as an instructor at the time, decided to go full bore into his quest of honoring the children of the soldiers who have fallen through celebrating their birthdays.
His brother-in-law Theron Hatch set up the non-profit status for A Soldier’s Child Foundation and the dream was born.
“It was on Christmas Eve in 2008, when we got the official letter from the IRS giving us tax exemption,” Mackin said.
The foundation has grown to nearly a million-dollar non-profit organization, with 88-percent of the funds going directly to kids.
There are three people on staff, including Mackin, with two of them part-time and based out of Murfreesboro, Tenn.
The vast majority of work – and there is a ton of it – is done by volunteers from around the nation.
Although the foundation depends on freewill donations, the biggest fundraising is done through its C-CAP initiative.
“We have no government funding and only nine percent of the funds go to management, six percent to fundraising and the rest of the 88 percent back to the kids,” Mackin said.
Kids who qualify to receive a birthday package from A Soldier’s Child Foundation must be 18 years of age or younger and whose parent, from any branch of the military, lost their life while on active duty.
“It doesn’t just mean KIA (killed in action), but any service member killed while on active duty, either by accident, suicide or any other means,” Mackin said.
One of the main cylinders which drives ASC, is the C-CAP initiative. The thrust of C-CAP (Compassionate, Corporate America Partnerships) is to empower and engage any company in hosting an ASC shopping, wrapping and a “A Life Worth Celebrating” birthday party event.
These events are held all over the U.S. as a business or corporation leads the charge by lining up the volunteers and helping raise the $25,000 for the shopping of the presents needed for that month’s shipping.
“We literally go to their facilities and set up shop,” Mackin said. “The corporations sponsoring the event, line up the volunteers and make it a community event. It begins with the shopping, as each volunteer will go to the local stores and shop for two to three kids for up to three hours, spending $150 for each child’s birthday.”
The total cost is usually between $20,000 to $25,000 to fill up the needs for that month. All the presents are then brought back to the facility, where a huge birthday celebration is held for area ASC recipients.
A second volunteer crew comes in, where all the presents are wrapped, boxed and shipped out to kids. In most cases, the big box of presents arrives well before their birthdays, in which the child can’t open until their big day has arrived, thus putting them through a little torture of looking at the unopened packages for some time.
Lists are gathered from the child of what they want for their birthday and the vast majority of wishes are granted. Many different requests for birthday presents are made, and one stuck with Mackin.
“A family was buying the presents for a child in Texas and they got down to the end of the list, the biggest thing the child wanted was to visit his dad’s grave in the Arlington National Cemetery,” Mackin said. “They called me and said they wanted to send the boy and his mother to Arlington to see his father’s grave.
“(ASC) arranged it with the mother, who accepted it. The foundation paid for the hotel and the family bought the flight. The boy and his mother will be leaving to Arlington, Va., this February.”
A Soldier’s Child Foundation has also made an impact on Southwest Florida families who have lost a loved one serving our country.
Christian Hale-Barbret currently has an ASC birthday package stashed away in a closet in the families’ Fort Myers home which can’t be opened until his 14th birthday on Jan. 30.
Christian lost his father, Mark Barbret, when he was only 2 1/2 years old. The 22-year-old Army Pfc. Barbret was killed Oct. 14, 2004, in Iraq, after the vehicle he was riding in hit a roadside bomb, which killed another soldier in the vehicle, as well.
Barbret, who was from Shelby, Mich., was a member of the Army’s 44th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, where he was a mechanic.
“Mark wanted to join the Army after 9-11 happened,” said Christian’s mother Nicole DeFauw. “He wanted to join before that, but 9-11 was the final push. He wanted to provide for his son and in Michigan at that time, the economy wasn’t that good.”
Mark was stationed in Korea for Christian’s first birthday, but was able to celebrate his second birthday after coming back from Korea in July of 2004 for his sister’s high school graduation.
“Christian knows his dad is a hero, but honestly, some days he is OK with it, some days he is not,” DeFauw said. “He has his good days and his bad days.”
Much like some other kids who are left behind from fallen soldiers, Christian was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety in Michigan. DeFauw moved down to Fort Myers from Michigan last year for a fresh start and has appreciated what A Soldier’s Child has provided her family and Christian.
“The first time he received a package from A Soldier’s Child, he was very excited,” DeFauw said. “They always send a letter and the purple wrapping and shell, which means royalty. I read it to him every year and he has kept the shell, as well. He looks forward to it every year, especially the purple meaning behind it.”
That’s where the residents and visitors of Sanibel can come in and help, Mackin said.
The foundation sends a scroll with a message of positivity and honoring of the soldiers’ children. It is wrapped in purple and has a Spiny Murex or Apple Murex attached.
The story behind the Murex shell dates back to the 4th Century BC, where purple dyes fetched its own weight in gold, which became a status symbol for the royalty.
One of the only ways to extract purple dye, came from the mucous secretion from the hypbranchial gland of the spiny Murex.
The murex shell is sent to the birthday child on their first package, and it has been a popular item for the kids.
Two years ago, Mackin put out a plea in The Island Reporter for donations of the spiny or apple murex shells (not live shells). The response was great, with the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum donating 1,000 shells, while a Boy Scout Troop collected the shells and sent many to the ASC office.
“We had about 2,500 shells sent to us from Sanibel, but with 2,500 kids on our birthday list, we have only about 150 left,” Mackin said. “So I am hoping we receive just as strong a response as we did two years ago.”
To send the requested spiny or apple murex shells to ASC, mail them to A Soldier’s Child, P.O. Box 11242, Murfreesboro, Tenn. 37129. Or visit their website at asoldierschild.org/.
Mackin is also hoping to host a C-CAP event in the Fort Myers/Cape Coral/Sanibel area. If you are interested in sponsoring such an event, you can inquire by calling Mackin at 615-427-2970.
The ASC also offers many other events as fundraisers and opportunities for fallen soldiers’ children to partake in, including the Journey Camp, where the counselors are kids over the age of 18 who have lost a military parent, as well.
The camp is held in Tennessee once a year and has drawn up to 100 participants on average. The last camp, Mackin received a letter from an appreciative mother.
“She said her son was isolating himself and not going out of the house and was exhibiting social anxiety and withdrawing,” Mackin said. “Being able to be with other kids going through what they are going through, is great therapy.
“After he got back home, his mother told me he was a changed boy. I told her I thought we were really changing lives through love and honoring them. She said, ‘I think you are saving their lives.'”
Since 2008, A Soldier’s Child Foundation has put smiles back on thousands of the forgotten ones – the children of the fallen soldier.
It’s been a wondrous movement which allows Americans to “stand beside” the ones protecting your freedoms, as Marc Golczynski wrote in his letter.
It’s also been an effort which has changed Henry Golczynski’s mind.
“I think he thinks a little differently, because his wife (Fay) and he attend many of the ASC events and he believes it is a great cause,” Mackin said. “This shows we stand by the fallen by caring for their children and everyone who volunteers, and it shows we are loving and honoring them.”
Most importantly, the effort by A Soldier’s Child Foundation takes the word “forgotten” out of the equation, by showing the legacies of the fallen that they are remembered, honored and loved – the way it always should have been