MANATEE -- When Susan Chandler’s son was preparing for deployment overseas with the military several years ago, she began searching for others who would understand the emotions and stress she was experiencing.
Out of that need, the Palm-Aire-area resident helped found the Southwest Florida Chapter of Blue Star Mothers, which serves an area from Manatee to Collier County.
Blue Star Mothers are those who have -- or have had -- children honorably serving in the military.
The nonprofit, nonpolitical veterans service organization supports its military children while promoting patriotism.
Chandler, who serves as president of the chapter, is looking for more Manatee mothers of armed forces members to help tackle projects supporting their children in uniform.
She also wants to expand the network of women with shared concerns.
“I think one of the great things we offer is that you can pick up the phone and talk to another mom. You feel like you have a friend on the line,” Chandler said. “We are a resource for them from boot camp to deployment to transition to coming home as a veteran.”
The local chapter of Blue Star Mothers supports soldiers with packages mailed overseas, and also when they return from a war zone.
“We work with the bases and the commanders to make sure they have a welcome home packet,” Chandler said. That’s especially important for single soldiers who are often only 19 or 20 years old.
“We appreciate you, thank you for your service and welcome home,” Chandler said of the message the welcome home packets send to returning warriors.
“We also support our Gold Star Mothers,” Chandler said of mothers who have lost a child in combat.
Another project in the works is working with Bay Pines VA Healthcare System to provide downtime for caregivers of wounded warriors.
Among those who have adopted Blue Star Mothers is the medical coding class at Manatee Technical Institute.
MTI student Lynn Woolf suggested the idea as a SkillsUSA project.
“I wanted to do this to give back. We were always taught at home to do something quietly for the community and just give back,” Woolf said.
Another MTI student, Jessica Guillmat, said donations go directly to the troops through family members.
“It gives them the tastes and comforts of home. It’s like Christmas for them,” Guillmat said.
Deb Marquis, the first president of the local Blue Star Mothers chapter, and Chandler have much in common.
Both their sons are serving in Afghanistan.
“We are on the same rotation,” Marquis said, and their thoughts are turning to keeping supply lines open from the home front to the war zone during the Christmas holiday.
“For a small ‘Band of Mothers,’ we have accomplished a lot since our humble beginnings in March of 2009. We want to do more to help local military families and veterans,” Chandler said.
For more information about Blue Star Mothers, call 941-812-1551, or visit www.floridabluestarmoms.com.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at (941) 745-7021.