Wranglers reach out in friendship to soldiers serving in Afghanistan

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Staff Photo/June Collins-McKiernan
The Northshore Wranglers, a nonprofit Special Recreation and Services Program for people of all ages with intellectual, cognitive and developmental disabilities, their families and caregivers, has a broad mission to give back to the community.

The organization’s ongoing community giving campaign, “Team Wranglers,” promotes advocacy for people with special needs and also helps raise awareness for other nonprofits in the community that support them.

To this aim, the group participates in numerous local events and activities such as the recent Can Do 5k/10k, which benefitted Northwest Special Families.

Now the organization has a chance to “adopt” a platoon of 16 soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan.

“A friend of mine who works closely with soldiers and this particular platoon knows the work I do with the Wranglers and contacted me to ask if the kids (Wranglers) could write letters,” explains Betsy Sanders.

The local woman, who is a parent of two Wranglers, Will, 18, and Emily, 12, and has been involved with the group for the past six years, thought it was a wonderful idea.

She subsequently discussed it with Cole Caplan, program coordinator for the organization, who wholeheartedly concurred. He says, “Team Wranglers is an advocacy and awareness campaign that seeks to involve and invest participants in the community and the community in them. ‘Community’ can be big or small in focus. The appeal to this Team Wranglers’ opportunity is to reach out to soldiers serving in Afghanistan as a way to support the troops.”

Members and their families who choose to participate in the activity will spend a few hours writing letters to the soldiers.

There will be a list of questions to serve as an outline for the initial letter, which will basically be an introduction.

The Wranglers will share information about themselves and their interests and also include a photo to provide a visual for their pen pal.

Those who can write on their own will do so and others will have the support needed to ensure their messages get communicated.

The intent, notes Caplan, is for a one-to-one match between a Wrangler and a soldier, and the hope is that the correspondence between the pair will continue on a regular basis.

In regards to the depth of understanding that the Wranglers have as to the function or focus of this activity, Caplan responds, “I believe all of them understand the value of friendship, and friendship is something we all value. This is an opportunity to make a new friend via letter writing. Many Wranglers have a great deal of friendship to give and this is a way for them to give that friendship to a soldier serving our country.”

Sanders notes that the Wranglers have a very broad range of disabilities.

She comments that her two kids understand that the soldiers help make the world safe for everyone in the same vein as policemen or firemen do in their community.

She adds, “But, some of the Wranglers cannot understand even that simple concept. Some of our Wranglers can understand ‘being scared’ and having a ‘safe person,’ whether that is a mom or dad or other caregiver. Some Wranglers can understand that soldiers fight for our country. So you see, the degree of understanding is so varied.”

Both Caplan and Sanders believe that the pen-pal experience will hold much value for both Wrangler participants and platoon members.

Caplan comments that the two groups have something important in common —  they both face challenges on a daily basis.

That commonality will hopefully help to enhance understanding and compassion and provide a shared footing for all of the participants.

Sanders says, “The value is in helping others. Anytime you share yourself with words, however that may look, you are giving a gift. Gratitude is something most of our Wranglers can understand on some level.”

As for the soldiers, she adds, “I believe they will be appreciative and grateful. I can just imagine the isolation they must feel being where they are and to just know that someone (the Wranglers) or anyone took the time to thank them will lift spirits. The fact that our Wranglers who struggle with writing and self-expression are writing will mean that much more.”

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