10 Years of Serving on the Homefront

By Doug Brown, Class of 2007

Doug in his father’s flight helmet, Hanau AAF, Germany 1991

One of my earliest memories as a military child is greeting my Dad’s unit back to Hanau Army Airfield in Germany upon their return from Desert Storm in the early 90’s. To this day I can remember the sights and sounds of everything happening around me in that old Army hanger. This is the earliest indication of being an ‘Army Brat’ and understanding what it would later mean to serve on the home-front. Over the next 18 years of my young life, my mother, sisters, and I would serve here at home while Dad was doing his part in some foreign land halfway across the globe. In 2007, after 23 years of selfless service to his country, my father finally hung up his flight suit and combat boots one last time as a soldier. This also happened to be my senior year of high school and just in time for the next chapter in my life, college.

The Year 2007 saw:

  • Apple introduced the world’s first iPhone
  • Virginia Tech Mass Shooting occurred on the Blacksburg Campus
  • The Mitchell Report claimed use of steroids in Major League Baseball
  • US housing bubble began to burst as home prices dropped drastically
  • Nancy Pelosi elected first female Speaker of the House
  • Barack Obama announced his presidential candidacy
  • Corvias Foundation offered its first scholarship class under the name Our Family for Families First

As with most military families, neither of my parents had gone to college or gotten degrees . Military parents often married young and had multiple children with another on the way. We weren’t poor by many standards and always had food on the table and a roof over our heads, but we certainly weren’t taking lavish family vacations or driving the newest cars. So, when it came to school and college, I knew my best shot at being a first-generation college student was a combination of good grades, scholarships, and a little luck. One day in the spring of 2007 while browsing my high school’s newsletter, I saw a section listing scholarship opportunities. Of the dozen or so scattered across the page, one in particular struck me as both odd and a potential candidate at the same time:

“Our Family for Families First Scholarship Foundation and Picerne Military Housing seeks Military Dependents for annual scholarship…”

I had heard of odd scholarships for those that are left-handed, shorter or taller than average, could finish a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded with one hand behind their back, etc., but I had never heard of a scholarship directed solely to children of the military. Even with a great GPA, I still figured myself a longshot due to the of the competitive nature and high demand of scholarships , but I applied anyway at the request of my counselors and family. I got letters of recommendation from JROTC instructors, coaches, teachers, and even my school principal. I poured over my entrant essay for days trying to get the wording just right. This was the break I had been waiting for…this was my chance to better myself and earn a college degree, something my parents hadn’t yet done…ANDDDD I was rejected. I was heartbroken. In what would become the silver lining and a similar story among my other scholarship alumni, I was asked to apply again as they would be doing two award rounds that year to jump-start the new foundation. With that encouragement and a bit of hesitation at the thought of being rejected again, I reapplied. This time, I was accepted into the inaugural class of recipients for the newly formed Our Family for Families First Foundation. Not only would I be going to college, but with almost all expenses paid, the great financial burden upon myself and my family had been lifted.

Like many college freshman, I struggled with the new adjustment of being away from home and, relatively, out on my own. I was just another young, 18 year-old kid trying to find my place amongst a world much different from the strict and orderly military life I had grown accustomed to. Luckily, during the annual recipient award ceremony in Washington, D.C., I had been introduced to Maria Montalvo and Melissa Ballou. They were directors at the Foundation and would be our “guides” throughout our time in college. I wasn’t sure just how much that meant at the time, but it is evident today what they truly mean to the success of every recipient. When I began to struggle with harder classes my second semester, Melissa was there to check-in every so often and see if there was anything The Foundation could do to help keep me on track. Not only had Corvias given me a scholarship, but they were personally vested in my individual success. They were “Serving on the Homefront” as I had done for my father all those years ago.

The fall of my sophomore year, I decided to really press my luck and pledge a fraternity. After-all, I had survived my first year with only a few minor bumps in the road. I was pretty confident that a few social events here and there couldn’t be too disruptive, right? Well, as I am sure you can guess, I was wrong…I actually managed a sub-1.0 GPA! I didn’t even think that was remotely possible, but I am here to confirm, it is! Contrary to what you might assume, it wasn’t for lack of trying or skipping class—the older Brothers in the fraternity made sure we were in class every day and attended study mandatory study halls. However, the late nights and distractions of constant events and functions certainly took my focus away from what was most important to me. There were just no excuses, but it didn’t change the fact that I was completely devastated. I was an ‘A-B’ student in high school and had just about breezed my way through my freshman year. How was this any different? Nevertheless, Maria and Melissa were there to help me with suggestions at a time when I feared losing my scholarship altogether. They had ideas I had never remotely considered, such as, visiting my professors on a regular basis and speaking to my department counselors about tutors and study sessions. Again, the Foundation was “Serving on the Homefront”.

In the summer of 2009, I was invited to the annual recipient award ceremony. Now held in Boston, the event also included a college orientation for recipients.    I hosted a “no-adults” 1-on-1 session with the incoming class so that we could, openly and honestly, respond to any concerns that the new recipients may have had about college life. In planning this panel, The Foundation provided multiple new benefits to it members. New scholars were given the chance to learn from their senior peers, who were already experiencing the same challenges they would soon face. Rather than the college marketing orientation weekend, this was a no-holds-barred conversation about what to really expect when you first step onto campus. The less obvious benefit was the opportunity to offered to the other scholars and myself.  As the youngest of 3 siblings, I was usually the one being looked after by my sisters. This was the first time I really had a chance to be a leader and mentor for those around me. I can’t say for sure, but it was definitely the spark of who I would later become as a part of The Foundation and Alumni community.  It was also the stern kick-in-the-pants motivation I needed to get my schooling back on track and finish my final two years with a bang and make The Foundation proud.

Finish with a bang is what I did! The next two years were full of your typical ups and down in life, but I persevered with the support and guidance of Maria and Melissa who always seemed to pop in just when I needed them most. In the Spring of 2011 I finally walked across the stage and accepted my Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Commerce & Business Administration with a Sales Specialization. To the joking amazement of many, I also managed to escape in only four years. I had made my family proud, I had earned my degree and I had finally fulfilled my promise to The Foundation…or so I had thought! Shortly thereafter I received a call from Maria asking if I would be the guest speaker at the annual new scholar & alumni award ceremony. As somewhat of a blossoming leader, I was beyond excited to again get to share my experiences with my peers, the new scholars, their parents, and the rest of The Foundation. I chose to speak about how failure is just a stepping stone of success, a lesson I had learned through the support Maria, Melissa, and the Foundation.

In 2014 the Foundation introduced a new benefit by organizing the first annual Alumni Leadership Summit. We were tasked with brainstorming how to help future scholars succeed and how we could grow the mission of the Foundation beyond its’ original scope to also give back in each of the communities we now lived and served in. Over the next several years, this would become an annual gathering of “the family” as we often called it to honor the original Our Family for Families First name. Together we would derive our current mission statement and alumni vision, perform community service projects, and inspire each other to continue to do good at home.  Perhaps most importantly, we have grown closer to one another by supporting one another and striving to inspire the world around us.

Several years out of college, I keep connected with the Foundation Family that continues to support me with opportunities for leadership and personal growth.  I have become one of the de facto leaders among the alumni. So much so, that I earned the nickname ‘Dad’ during our time in the mountains of Colorado because of my father-like  nature to always be on the lookout for others in the group. This past year in Connecticut, that nickname became even more relevant when I revealed to the group that I would, in fact, be a real ‘Dad’ come this Christmas.

Looking back on the last decade of how Corvias has “Served on the Homefront” and how that mission has evolved is quite amazing. To get to be a part of it since nearly day one, is nothing short of a miracle. Maria and Melissa are no longer our only “guides”, having added Erin Mathias to the Family, and have become affectionately known as the “Corvi-Aunts”.  Like our biological families, they are a shoulder we can lean on in times of need or a listening ear if we just want to share our good vibes for the week. They show us how to care for others and help us grow.  It’s hard to believe that the Foundation could be any better than it already is, but the Corvias way is to never settle and always ask “How?”. I just hope that I can be a part of the Family for many years to come and continue to do my part in “Serving on the Homefront”.

 

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Photo Highlights of the 2017 Alumni Summit

Photos by Shamera Robinson.  Descriptions by Katie Newton.

1-Erin, Katie N., Tom, Adrianna, Megan S. , Marlena, Paul, Anthony, Katie S., Cody, Melissa, Josh, Mecia, Karl 2- Maria, Kathryn , Shamera, Alexis, Kinza, Megan H., Ashley, Samantha S., Cristi, Kaylan, Kris, Yeralis, Tonia 3- Whitney, Brittany, Samantha B., Kaitlynn, Asia, Brandi, Doug, Carolyn, Trey

Sunday, July 9, 2017:

Our group gathered at the Bradley Airport and traveled by bus to the Guest House Retreat and Conference Center in Chester, Connecticut.  The Guest House had all the charms of a New England country inn and was very welcoming to our group.  The evening was spent re-connecting with friends and getting to know our newest alumni.  Several people also spent time personalizing their validation bags– a place to leave each other notes of encouragement, friendship, thanks, etc.

Monday, July 10, 2017:

For a few of us the day began bright an early with Yoga lead by Kris.  Our first summit session was “Telling Your Story”, lead by Dawn Fraser.  Dawn got us loosened up passing Zap!’s  and Woah!’s around a circle.

Samantha B, Kathryn, Whitney, Kris, Yeralis, and Megan S.

We then discussed the elements of a story and broke into pairs to practice telling a 4-minute story.  We had more than enough volunteers when Dawn asked people to share their story with the larger group.

Shamera and Carolyn

Shamera

Brandi

Dawn Fraser

Trey and Dawn Fraser

In the afternoon Janet Colantuono, Corvias COO and champion of healthy work-places, gave a talk on Work-Life Balance.  Advice on loving the body you have, staying hydrated, and the real challenge of achieving work-life balance were shared.

Samantha S., Janet Colantuono, and Paul

Anthony

Kinza

Tonia, Adrianna, and Samantha B.

Kathryn, Trey, and Brandi

Tom

Whitney’s Dog

The group then hiked to a nearby lake to enjoy some sunshine and a swim.

1- Marlena, Katilynn, Kathryn, Karl, Paul, Tom, Anthony 2- Shamera, Brittany, Megan, Samantha, Katie S., Whitney, Mecia, Marcus, Trey 3- Yeralis, Kris, Christi, Tonia, Kaylan, Maria, Asia

Marcus

Tonia

Marlena

Kris

Mecia

Katie S.

Megan H.

Cristi

Samantha S., Brittany, and Ashley

In the evening we gathered around a bonfire.  The fire was large and warm and had space around it for everybody.  However, as the evening progressed we moved our circle to one side of the fire, and we took turns sharing the stories we had developed this in the morning session.  We shared difficult life lessons, stories of loss, and stories of personal success.  We learned not only about each others’ experiences but also about how each person views and describes their own experience.

Cody, Cristi, and Melissa

Alexis

Kathryn and Yeralis

Josh

Mecia and Asia

Megan S.

Kaylan and Kris

Whitney

Jessica, Maria, and Whitney’s dog

Paul

Kaitlynn and Adrianna

Doug

Katie N.

Carolyn

Samantha B., Samantha S., Ashley, and Brittany

Tuesday, July 11, 2017:

The second full day of the Summit began with rise and shine yoga for a few early birds.  After breakfast, the first Corvias Connects session convened.  In a collective conversation alumni shared their stories of personal and professional connections made through the Corvias Foundation.  We were reminded of the power of our network, especially when we look for ways to give to others and when we ask for help for ourselves.

Samantha B.

Alexis, Whitney, Doug, Anthony, and Ashley

The next session was discussion on practical finance with guest financial planners Chris Bartlett, Ed Pieroni, and Dave Sweeney.  Dealing with debt, preparing for retirement, and understanding taxes were popular topics of discussion.  With only an hour and a half to scratch the surface of these topics, our guests kindly agreed to answer additional individual questions following the discussion.

Kathryn, Katie N., Asia, Mecia

Megan H.

Marcus

The goal of the second Corvias Connects session was to foster connections with alumni in the same geographic regions.  We broke in to smaller groups based on current location (Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West/Southwest).  Each group was prompted to discuss ways they could support each other personally, professionally, and philanthropically.

To find out who is in your region, check out the file on our facebook page.

With much of the day spent listening and learning from others, we took a different direction for the next session.  During the self-love session, we turned inward.  Kris led us through a guided meditation.  Then we identified the successes and potential we have as individuals by completing the phrase “I am . . . “.  We filled sheets of paper with words of what we are and what we want to be.  Putting it all in the present tense was a reminder to find and nurture the good things inside of us.

Kinza

Karl

Katie N., Tom, Brandi

Mecia

Marcus

For the last session of the day, it was time for some #CorviasGivesBack.  This year’s on-sight service project was done in partnership with Together We Rise, a national organization that provides “sweet cases” and bicycles to foster children.  Working together, we decorated and filled about 15 sweet cases and assembled about 10 bicycles.

Brittany

Megan H.

1-Ashley, Samantha S., Alexis, Tonia, Kris, Megan 2- Maria, Kinza, Marlena, Brittany, Mecia, Carolyn

Adrianna and Kaitlynn

Yeralis and Katie S.

Kaitlynn

Katie N.

Cristi, Yeralis, and Katie S.

Whitney and Asia

1- Doug, Anthony, Paul, Karl, Josh 2- Kaitlynn, Asia, Kaylan, Megan, Whitney, Marcus, Katie N. 3- Brandi, Katie S., Cristi, Yeralis

Our celebratory dinner was from the Taco Pacifico Food Truck.  Options on tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, and churros.

The rest of the evening was pretty quiet.  Per tradition, we found a puzzle.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017:

The day began with a restorative yoga practice led by Kris.  Following breakfast and check out, we came together for our closing session.  For our last opportunity to form connections in person this year, we went literal.  We attempted what might possibly be the world’s largest human knot.  All 34 alumni present formed a circle and joined hands with two people across the way.  My arm ended up squished through the middle of the circle and after 5 minutes was falling asleep.  It is very hard to make progress when nobody can move so we decided to break into two smaller circles.  Twenty-five minutes later, both knots were unraveled, and it was time to say our good-byes.

Doug, Anthony, Katie N., and Marcus

Adrianna, Ashley, and Samantha S.

Samantha B. and Paul

Yeralis

 

Anthony

Trey

Marcus and Karl

This year’s unofficial theme was “Connecting in Connecticut”.  The Summit planners did our best to make sure each session and activity facilitated forming genuine connections.  Howerver, it was our alumni that made the week a success.  Everybody came with an open heart and an open mind and was willing to share of themselves.  In return, each left with the friendships, a greater network, and the motivation to keep reaching higher.


A special thank you to Shamera for documenting our time together so thoughtfully:

Shamera

Shamera


Thank you to all involved with planning the Summit:

Corvias Foundation- Maria, Melissa, Erin, and Jennifer

Alumni- Cristi, Tonia, Kris, Kaylan, Samantha S., Anthony, Mecia, Brandi, Shamera, and Katie N.


Thank you to our many guest speakers:

Dawn, Janet, Ed, Chris, and Dave

Your contributions made our Summit powerful and educational.  Thank you for your generosity of time, knowledge, and spirit.

Let’s Connect!

Behind the scenes at the Corvias Connects Blog, we are getting excited for the upcoming Alumni Summit!  (Less than 2 months!!!!)  We love having the opportunity to connect in person with old friends and to welcome new faces into the alumni family.  The time to be inspired by and learn from one another is invaluable.  Helping to maintain these connections and providing a platform to share our collective knowledge and experience throughout the year are central goals of the Corvias Connects Blog team.

In this spirit we want to feature YOU, the creative and internet savvy scholars and alumni who create their own blogs or websites!  Connect with us via the comments, facebook, or email to let us know about your internet pursuits.  With your permission, we will add a link to your site on our side bar.  You get to share your awesomeness with everyone (with no extra effort!), our readers have more quality content to enjoy, and Corvias Connects gets the satisfaction of bringing everyone together.  Win, win, win situation!

Check out the link (also on the homepage) to Corvias Connects blogger Samantha Seifert’s Samantha and the City about life in Chicago.  Will you be the next to join her and help us form new connections?