Destini Yaden, who serves active duty in the Air Force, is no stranger to the trials and tragedies of military life. And, she’s channeled her experience into helping children cope with losing a parent.
Since 2007, Yaden, who is part of the Honor Guard that performs funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, has worked with the National Military Survivor Service and the Good Grief Camp. These initiatives, offered through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), enabled her to help Brooke Nyren, a young girl who lost her father, navigate her grief and life after losing her father.
“It changed my life to sit and talk with her about her loss,” Yaden said. “The connection we have has been huge for me.”
Yaden met Brooke at a weekend Good Grief Camp. During the camp, mentors and youths play games and participate in team-building activities that foster trust. They also write letters to their loved ones to send up in a balloon release.
Mentors offer youths a 24-hour support network. So, the experience is about more than volunteering, though, she said.
“This isn’t just about a volunteer opportunity to do something good to check it off the list,” she said. “It’s a matter of spending time and being with families during a tragedy to support them.”
Throughout the first camp, Brooke and Yaden sparked a unique friendship, and the Virginia teen requested Yaden as her mentor every year thereafter. Soon, their relationship spilled beyond the camp with Yaden spending more than 700 hours with Brooke on weekends, helping her with school work and attending extracurricular functions.
Her efforts have been an example to the more than 5,000 TAPS mentors, according to her nominators. She’s been the TAPS representative on every base she’s served and has provided support to numerous families.
“The problem today is that a lot of people don’t realize why they do what they do in the military because it has become a job,” she said. “I know I’m doing my job for those who wish they could be here. Volunteering makes me passionate about everything I do every second of the day.”
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