One Kiss at a Time 

By Diane Toomey

Edited by Nancy Waddell, photo by Nancy Thai

A cookie jar filled with Hershey’s Kisses became a nightly symbol of fatherly love to his sons during his deployment. That jar of Kisses represented never missing a goodnight kiss from their dad while deployed overseas. 

Maribel said “she would never forget that idea” – unwrapping that Kiss every night was a ritual that helped the family endure their father’s deployments. Maribel Paulino learned of the “Kisses” after participating in a Red Cross Reconnection Workshop in Fort Drum, New York.

The Red Cross has always been a part of Maribel’s life. Maribel grew up in the Dominican Republic, and as part of her high school graduation requirement she volunteered at the local Red Cross chapter. After graduating, she met the man of her dreams, Rafael, in a small town in La Romana, Dominican Republic. They got married and four years later he joined the US Army and was transferred to Fort Drum, NY. Maribel remained behind in the Dominican Republic during his basic training.

A year later, Maribel used the services of the Red Cross when she needed help contacting her husband at Fort Drum to tell him their first son, Julio, was born. Maribel classified that as “a weird moment in time.” A year later, with Maribel still in the Dominican Republic, Rafael was deployed to Iraq. Shortly after his deployment, Maribel found herself pregnant again; she claimed that was also “another weird moment.”

After the birth of Sebastian, she decided she would move to Fort Drum where she would begin navigating life on a US military base. As she began to settle in, Maribel remembered the kindness of that brokered call when her first son was born. “I am the kind of person when someone does something for me, I want to say thank you,” she said. This thank-you became the idea of giving back through volunteering. Maribel confessed to others on the base that she didn’t know anything about volunteering or living life in the military and further, she felt ill equipped to contribute with her language barriers. Her enthusiasm for helping and her quest to learn did not go unnoticed, and she was encouraged by other spouses not to let language get in her way.

Maribel began volunteering by teaching classes for the Army Community Services/Red Cross, first in Spanish and then in English. The classes were designed to help military spouses learn about life in the military. Maribel enjoyed volunteering both for the Red Cross and in other base activities during her time at Fort Drum. Maribel also found time to earn a certificate as a Pharmacy Technician through a grant offered by the Department of Defense to Military Families, a certificate that would later prove useful in her next volunteer position with the Red Cross.

A three-year overseas assignment to Japan offered Maribel and her family some challenges. She was in a new country with two young sons and a husband on deployment. Maribel again credits the Red Cross Reconnection Workshops for giving her successful tools for dealing with her kids and her husband’s transitions between family life and tours of duty.

With good support in place, Maribel found an opportunity in Okinawa to showcase her newly earned certification as a volunteer Pharmacy Technician for the Red Cross in addition to being an instructor for the Health & Safety program. Maribel summarized by saying, “I had realized my dream of helping an organization that had helped me, and you can’t do better than that.”

Maribel’s contributions to the Red Cross are far from over. She is now working at Joint Base Lewis McChord, in Washington State, as a Services to the Armed Forces Regional Program Specialist.  Maribel continues to bring her enthusiasm and dedication to volunteering for the SAF – Red Cross. It is hard not to admire all she has accomplished.

Coping with deployments: psychological first aid for military families.  Take advantage of this no-cost program. Go to redcross.org/cwd

 

 

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