James E. Kokas
James E. Kokas is one of five winners of a special judging of the Daily Point of Light Award being honored during National Family Week (Nov 22-26, 2004). Commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the United Nation’s International Year of the Family, these awards honor and celebrate individuals, families, organizations, and volunteer efforts that are strengthening families and transforming neighborhoods by making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children and families and meeting the critical needs of their communities.
Learn more about how volunteering strengthens families and transforms neighborhoods.
Jim Kokas is a Vietnam veteran who decided years ago that no soldier, sailor, airman or Marine should ever depart or return from overseas without knowing that someone appreciated their commitment. Jim received his opportunity when he was approached to help organize the military processing center at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside California. Jim personally organized a fleet of charitable organizations and corporate donors to provide emotional support and other assistance to deploying troops and their families.
In 2003, Jim touched the lives of more than 77,000 troops and arranged for more than 17,988 tons of supplies for deploying service members and their families. Working with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) as the state of California’s VFW Southern area volunteer Military Assistance Program (MAP) chairman and the Salvation Army, more than 1.5 million personal items were distributed. Jim worked with Cingular Wireless and the VFW to provide some 7,000 hours of telephone communications using calling cards and cell phones to keep the troops connected with their families at home. This effort alone has enabled fathers and mothers to stay in touch with their children, filling what could have been a great emotional void during long overseas deployments.
Already in 2004, Jim and his band of volunteers, agencies and corporate donors have provided 32,000 gift packs and another 8,000 tons of needed assistance. Everything from food to baby wipes have been donated to families, many of whom are living on less than half of the breadwinner’s normal pay. This kind of support is particularly significant to a mother of a new family who is left alone to care for them and cannot work because of the age of her children. In addition to the supplies, Jim’s phalanx of volunteers has given these families comfort, advice and often an ongoing relationship that will likely continue for years.
In addition to the supplies and moral support, Jim has organized large “send-off” and “welcome home” celebrations for tens of thousands of military personnel. Fulfilling his heart’s desire that no troops would depart or return without sufficient recognition, Jim’s well-organized events are the envy of deploying troops all across the U.S.
Through Jim’s efforts, and abandoned hanger at March AFB was converted into “support central,” a place where deploying and returning troops and their families can rest, enjoy a snack and receive encouragement from hundreds of volunteers working round-the-clock to ensure no service member or family is missed.
The thousands of hours and personal funds that Jim Kokas has committed for the past two years have earned him the respect and cooperation of the military commanders at march AFB. He has brought dozens of corporations and non-profit organizations forward to help America’s heroes, heroines and their families. Through Jim’s efforts, thousands of individuals from the surrounding community have taken a personal interest in the lives of America’s men and women in uniform. The long-term impact of Jim’s work remains to be seen as these very personal relationships grow over the years.