To support San Diego’s military families and causes, two La Jolla High School freshmen (and their younger brothers), have formed a youth club – Operation Smile San Diego. They’ve already embarked on a service project to thank World War II veterans, and have a few more plans on the horizon. The club is only four members strong, but looking to add some new members by Nov. 30.
Evan Steinwinder and Morgan Watson, with their middle school-aged brothers Colin and Landon, started Operation Smile as a way to show gratitude to those who provide military service. “We were thinking of what we could do to give back to the military and help them out,” Evan said. “We got the idea to form a club just to give thanks for those who have served our country.” Morgan added, “We want to be there in case they need anything we can help with.”
For their first club project, the four boys participated in an Honor Flight San Diego reception. With Honor Flight, World War II veterans are treated to a chartered flight to Washington D.C. to see the World War II Memorial, with side visits to Arlington Cemetery, the Lincoln, Korean, Vietnam, Air Force, and Iwo Jima Memorials, as well as the Naval Museum.
When the Veterans returned from a recent Honor Flight, Operation Smile San Diego was there to greet them with flowers and handshakes.
“They helped us back then, so we want to help them now. We gave them flowers to remind them that they were, and are, needed,” Morgan said.
Evan added, “Participating in the Honor Flight reception was a great experience for me because I got to shake hands with those who helped our country win the war, which is a huge part of our history. It was really special.”
For its next project, Operation Smile San Diego will host a drive to collect books for children, teens and adults. Adult books will be delivered to USO at San Diego International Airport, with children and teen books delivered to MCAS Miramar Youth & Teen Center on Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11). E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for drop-off locations.
Further down the line, Operation Smile would like to offer tutoring to elementary students of active duty parents, sports mentorships through youth and teen centers at local military bases, help with transporting donated food to organizations that support military families, and babysitting services to parents whose spouse is deployed or has been killed in the line of duty.
“Families of deployed service-members sometimes need help with their children,” Evan said. “If a parent is deployed, the other parent could have some difficulties around the house, let alone helping their child with homework. If we offered babysitting or tutoring, that would be one less thing they would have to worry about, because it can be really hectic when you are missing someone.”
To bring some fun to military families, Morgan said, “We’d like to host a bunch of military kids and teach them sports and maybe play a big soccer game with them.”
Because Operation Smile needs to start small, it is only accepting a few new members. The club is looking at forging a connection with children and teen centers on military bases, but that requires special clearance, said parent Irene Steinwinder. The Steinwinder family has such clearance, so space is limited to as many as can fit in the family car. But down the line, should membership grow, additional clearances could be explored.
“My dad was in the Navy and he retired a few years ago, but we want to keep the connection to the military through this club,” Evan explained. Morgan, without a direct military connection, said he still wants to support the cause he believes in.