Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California, or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Paula Stano | The Stano Foundation (Wesley Chapel, FL)
It began with a mother and her teen-aged son trading letters. He from Parris Island, SC, she from a small suburb just north of Tampa.
Paula Stano was moved by the powerful emotions emanating from the words written by her only child away from home for the first time and facing a life-changing challenge. She found herself stalking the mailman most every day.
Likewise, mail arriving at the Marine Corps famous, 100-year-old training base was the best part of boot camp. She would learn from her son that it rivaled Christmas for a recruit to hear his name called signaling the arrival of package or a letter. Almost as important was what followed: a playful jab or barb from a fellow recruit. Not only did it provide something to read and someone to write back to, it was what it meant to be part of a team. It was what it meant to be loved by family or friends.
And if your name isn’t called, it is loneliness all around.
It was those young “boots” who weren’t getting their names called that Paula, herself a single mom, started worrying about.
“Jordan’s letters,” she says referring to her son, now a Marine Staff Sergeant, “is kinda where I found inspiration in wanting to help those kids who weren’t getting support for whatever reason. Some of them were there because they weren’t sure what to do and they didn’t want to go to college. Some didn’t have any financial support or sometimes no support from home. Jordan asked me if I could write letters to some of his rack-mates or a couple of friends who weren’t getting mail.”
Never mind she didn’t know anything about the military, Paula was about to get involved. She and a few friends started writing to the SAMs (standalone Marines). Soon after she learned that upon graduation from boot camp, Marines were given 10 days to go home before their next assignment. Instead of that restful perk, many of the SAMs, with no one to meet them, were bused on ahead.
An idea popped into Paula’s head and at that moment and without knowing it at the time, the seeds for growing her own movement, were planted.
“It’s where I started to see a real need,” says Paula. “I started asking, ’Is there something we can send these kids off with? A snack-pack, something they could look forward to and take with them at their next stop when they get on that bus.”
Paula learned of a business in South Carolina that specifically helped SAMs. They had posted a list of items in a Facebook group Paula had belonged to and with their blessing, she posted a request for snacks, personal hygiene items or anything a young Marine might want. “I got so much stuff sent to me that I had to borrow a friend’s Yukon to take it to Parris Island,” she recalls with her signature hearty laugh.
After Jordan graduated, her desire to help did not wane. She kept up with her corresponding and then adopted a soldier, then an entire unit. Donations poured in through her Facebook requests as she filled boxes for military members. So much was collected she decided to partner with a like-minded local nonprofit.
More boxes were now going out, but Paula became frustrated by what she perceived as an assembly line approach by this new partner. The mailings lacked the kind of personal touch she sought. “I wanted to know what do they (military members) need,” says Paula. “They might be receiving stuff they don’t even want or need. We ask them what are the five things you are missing from home. I don’t want to spend $45 on a box and have them throw it out. “
With the help of her best friend, Libby, and guidance from Jordan now serving overseas, it was time for her foundation to take flight. In 2015, two years after Jordan enlisted, what is now known as The Stano Foundation became official. It is a place where no one draws a salary. When she is not running the foundation and managing 100-plus volunteers, Paula serves as a portfolio coordinator for a financial services provider on the West Coast and has been working remotely even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In our first year we only sent 64 boxes, but now we send between 1,000 and 1,500 a year overseas often to units getting deployed,” says Paula proudly. Even with COVID restrictions, the foundation sent out 1,079 boxes in 2020. Relationships have been formed with Family Readiness Officers, chaplains and others who have helped identify those troops in need of a boost in the form of a care package which can contain anything from protein powder and bars, beef jerky, crew socks, toilet paper and masks (PPEs) in addition to the usual snacks and personal hygiene items. Christmas boxes which are specially wrapped include wooden ornaments and other seasonal goodies. Paula’s group has even dispatched an artificial Christmas tree overseas.
In 2018, the foundation grew again with the introduction of a veterans’ program. “We partner with organizations that house veterans who are transitioning out of homelessness,” says Paula whose primary partner is the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 248 in Tampa. “Anything they need we try to assist with.”
While that could mean donations to the veterans’ food pantry, providing household goods for starter home baskets, or giving veterans and their families holiday meals and presents, with The Stano Foundation, it’s also something else. “We help with the social aspects as well, by fostering friendships and relationships,” says Paula.
While his mom remains in the background providing a mother’s touch to hundreds and hundreds of military members past and present, Jordan, who serves as the foundation’s Military Outreach Director while on active duty, has become one of the Marine Corps most familiar faces. He is currently featured in the Corps recruiting videos and on Facebook after auditioning at the urging of his girlfriend, Hollyn.
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation
To see more of Jordan go to Facebook.com/MarineCorps. For more information on The Stano Foundation, the website is Stano.org. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and the phone number is 888-789-4994.