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Mentoring Program ‘Operation Bigs’ Helps Military Families

By Lea Sutton and Monica Garske
|  Friday, Jun 7, 2013  |  Updated 3:21 PM PDT
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A local mentoring program called Operation Bigs is helping military families cope with the deployment of their loved ones. NBC 7's Lea Sutton reports.

A local mentoring program called Operation Bigs is helping military families cope with the deployment of their loved ones. NBC 7's Lea Sutton reports.

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For those who serve in the military, going away for months, or even years, is part of the lifestyle. Now, a local, homegrown program is helping to make those separations a bit easier for families, especially military children.

Those long deployments and homecomings mean a lot of ups and downs for military children. With constant change within their family, sometimes it helps to have a friend on the outside.

That’s where the local program, “Operation Bigs,” comes in. It’s a one-on-one mentoring program for military children helping a lot of local families.

U.S. Navy YN1 Larry Decandia has been away from his family most of the past two years. He says the separation from his wife, Jeanie, and his daughter, Trinity, has been tough.

“It’s always there, ‘Are they doing okay in school?’ You know, the little life lessons that dads are supposed to help their kids with, especially little girls,” said Decandia.

His wife, Jeanie, says Decandia was deployed almost as soon as they moved to San Diego. With no other family living here, Decandia’s absence has been especially difficult on their little girl, Trinity.

“We came out here, we didn’t know anybody. I had never been out here before. We were just plopped in San Diego,” said Jeanie. “Being deployed thousands of miles away, it’s [tough]. The phone, the email is good, but it doesn’t do it justice when sometimes [your child] needs that hug or just someone to vent to.”

Fortunately, Trinity has found a good friend in her very own Operation Bigs mentor, Amy Benson.

Benson spends time with Trinity each week, doing all kinds of activities.

“We’ve done everything from kickball to tennis. I showed her how to throw a football to the best of my ability and she said that was her first time, and she was going to show her daddy when he got back,” Benson told NBC 7.

But the connection between Benson and the family is about more than just playing games. She’s there for Jeanie, too.

“She’s a part of our family,” said Jeanie.

And although it’s just one hour a day, one day a week, for Trinity and Benson, it’s time that makes each week special.

Operation Bigs is now a national Big Brothers Big Sisters program for military children that started right here in San Diego. To help, it only takes 1 hour of volunteer time per week during the school year, and they're looking for volunteers for the upcoming school year right now.

The organization is hosting a BBQ fundraiser at Petco Tailgate Park on Imperial Avenue and 14th Street on Jun. 24 to raise money for the program. For details on that event, click here.

For more information about the mentoring program, visit the Operation Bigs website.
 

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