More than 100 soldiers ate homemade turkey and ham with local families this holiday season thanks to local nonprofit.
It was a big boost for Citizen Soldier Connection, a Colorado Springs based nonprofit that helps young transitioning soldiers and their families find their place at Fort Carson. Their Holiday Connections program deals with Thanksgiving and Christmas specifically, pairing soldiers with local sponsor families.
"The program had really almost died out," said executive director Elizabeth Quevedo.
When Quevedo started with the Citizen Soldier Connection, the holiday initiative was only able to connect two soldiers with local families.
"It was kind of a trickle over the next couple of years," she said. "This year we broke the code."
By this past Christmas, Quevedo had placed over 100 soldiers with families from Colorado Springs, Divide, Woodland Park and Denver.
The program also provided eight military families $20,000 to help them through the holidays.
She credits her success with newfound access to briefings provided to soldiers arriving at Fort Carson.
"You need to be able to sign them up in person," Quevedo said with a laugh. "And then I just don't go away."
Her constant presence helps break down barriers that many young soldiers put up when they first arrive. "It just takes a little bit of coaxing," she said.
Once the soldiers are in the program, many are hooked. That is thanks to the sponsor families who participate every year.
Stacey Wrobel and her husband started sponsoring soldiers in 2015. "The first year we had seven over for Thanksgiving," she said.
This year she took care of more than 50 soldiers. "We cooked four turkeys and two hams," she said. "We had food for days."
Of the soldiers she fed over the holidays, only 16 of them were new transitioning soldiers.
Most of them were return customers.
When asked what pushed her to provide a surrogate home for so many she explained, "We have been that young family, who had nothing, knew no one."
That is why Wrobel tries to provide as much as she can. Not only does she feed soldiers, she has walked a few through buying a car, helped with weddings, and supported families while their soldier is deployed.
"It just depends on the environment of the host family," she said. "I do what I can, so that they are comfortable."