Weekend for Warriors
Author: Paul deVere
Grant Evans had seen enough. On his frequent trips between his home in Dayton, Ohio and second home on Hilton Head Island, he saw plenty of soldiers at the Savannah airport. When he switched on his television at his home in Long Cove, he would see local news reports of troops deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, or coming back from those hot spots into the arms of their loved ones.
“In the airport, I caught myself staring, watching these guys and gals, the big hugs, the tears. I thought that it is absolutely unbelievable that these people are going over there and we’re just going on with our daily lives,” Grant said. Somehow he wanted to help.
“Operation Gratitude” was born when Evans, who owns short term rental property on the island, thought it would be a great idea to invite returning soldiers and their families to spend a weekend, accommodations compliments of the property owner, at a rental villa or home on Hilton Head. “It would be in the off season when the property sits empty anyway,” said Evans.
Not knowing exactly how to get in touch with the military, he talked to some USO representatives at the Savannah airport. They directed him to Pastor Andy Smith, a Baptist minister in Richmond Hill, Georgia, whose church has “adopted” over 50 families from neighboring Ft. Stewart, the largest U.S. Army installation east of the Mississippi. Ft. Stewart is home of the Third Infantry Division, who were deployed to Iraq for the third time in 2007. Smith said he would supply the families.
Evans also contacted the property management company he uses, Beach Properties. Owner Linda Maloney said, “We thought it was a great idea. I sent an e-mail to our owners, introducing the idea, right before we left for Thanksgiving. The response was terrific.” In just a few days, over 16 owners had volunteered their property.
Evans, with wife Mia, are organizing other partnerships on the island, working with restaurants, stores and recreational facilities to see if they would like to offer something special for the soldiers and their families. “Operation Gratitude” will begin this month. “I am so impressed with the generosity of the people that live on Hilton Head. I’ve seen more generosity on the island than anywhere else,” Evans said.
strong>Note: Any business or individual who would like to participate in “Operation Gratitude” can contact Grant Evans at 843-842-2299. CH2 will be covering the families in a future issue and reporting on their visits.