Volunteering: Give a little, get a lot

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors logo.
Written by Jessica Jannuzzi.

The tragic loss of a loved one is sometimes an unfortunate part of being a military family. Coupled with the unique lifestyle of being stationed apart from extended family and other support systems can make dealing with a loss especially challenging.

That’s where TAPS comes in.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors is a 24/7 resource for anyone who has suffered the loss of a military loved one, regardless of the relationship to the deceased or the circumstance of the death. TAPS provides immediate and long-term emotional help, hope and healing to surviving family members of fallen military men and women through services including emotional support, grief and trauma resources, case-work assistance and connections to community-based care.

The heart of TAPS is the Peer Support Network and its volunteers. Military and non-military volunteers can provide support to survivors of all ages. Recently, a member of the Coast Guard, Petty Officer 3rd Class Mitch Motlagh, shared an account of his experience volunteering with TAPS over a long weekend to mentor a young military survivor.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Mitch Motlagh and Fabian pose for a picture with a member of the Old Guard military fife and drums corps at a TAPS event near Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Mitch Motlagh.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Mitch Motlagh and Fabian pose for a picture with a member of the Old Guard military fife and drums corps at a TAPS event near Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Mitch Motlagh.

For two days Motlagh was paired with Fabian, an 11 year-old boy from Chicago. Fabian lost his brother, who was serving in the Army, to bacterial meningitis. Throughout the weekend, mentors and mentees joined together in organized activities that helped them have some fun while developing bonds of trust. The two-day event included lunch at the Roosevelt Memorial, a performance by the Old Guard, a tour of Capitol Hill and some friendly pick-up football games on the National Mall. Light-hearted games were interspersed with activities that helped mentees explain their feelings through creative methods and without actually expressing them verbatim.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear one of the participants say the only thing she regrets was not letting her dad hug her more before he passed away,” said Motlagh as he recounted the weekend.

The weekend was concluded with a ceremony and the realization that perhaps what Montlagh had given to Fabian during his 2-days as a mentor was actually something gained.

“I did not expect to cry, I did not expect to laugh as much as I did, and I certainly did not expect to form a bond with a young man that I had never met before.”

TAPS offers a variety of options for those seeking support and volunteer opportunites alike. To learn more about TAPS and about volunteer opportunities, visit their website.

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