Aim High. It’s the motto of the U.S. Air Force. Ashlee Bieberly follows it, too.
The high school freshman fills her days with classes at Ste. Genevieve High School in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. On weeknights and weekends, you’ll often find her working as a babysitter or waiting tables over at the Kozy Kitchen restaurant.
And while her days are full now, the 14-year-old is also thinking about her future. She plans to join the Air Force after graduation and pursue a career in medicine. Family ties to the military run deep. Her stepfather is retired from the Air Force; her brother is set to join the Army this summer.
“I love the military,” Bieberly says with pride. “They don’t receive the appreciation they deserve for all that they sacrifice.”
She can help change that at Ste. Genevieve. And beyond.
Bieberly recently launched a service project for military personnel, inspired to make a difference after she joined the Family, Careers and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) Club at her school. She chose the nonprofit H.E.R.O.E.S. Care as her beneficiary.
H.E.R.O.E.S. Care (standing for Homefront Enabling Relationships, Opportunities, and Empowerment through Support) serves men and women from all branches of the military, along with their families, through services ranging from mental healthcare to navigating any number of other pre- or post-deployment challenges.
Regions Bank works closely with H.E.R.O.E.S. Care in Missouri. The bank delivers financial education to its clients, and the nonprofit took part in Regions’ 2018 “What a Difference a Day Makes” campaign, which raised awareness, funding and volunteer support for military-focused nonprofits. Regions associates also collected toys for St. Louis-area military families ahead of the holidays.
Bieberly’s mother, Anita, who works for Regions as a Financial Relationship Senior Consultant, is also connected with the nonprofit, serving as the bank’s H.E.R.O.E.S. Care Partner for Southeast Missouri. So, when Ashlee decided she wanted to lead a project supporting military service members, Anita saw the natural alignment.
“Our family’s connection to the military combined with Regions’ connection to H.E.R.O.E.S. Care created a perfect project fit,” said Anita.
The localized approach H.E.R.O.E.S. Care takes in helping military families has resonated with bank associates across Missouri since the partnership began in 2013.
“Supporting our veterans and their families is a cause that unites people from all walks of life,” said Mike Hart, Market Executive for Regions in St. Louis. “We ask members of the military to respond at a moment’s notice and be willing to make any sacrifice in the name of protecting our country. In turn, we need to make sure that we are here for them during their times of need. Not only should we be here for them, we need to remember their children, their spouses, and other loved ones, too.”
Another reason it’s fitting that Bieberly would choose H.E.R.O.E.S. Care: the nonprofit itself is the result of two young girls wanting to make a difference. In 2003, the Jerome sisters – 3-year-old Mallary and 11-year-old Rachael – expressed a desire to help others during a family dinner conversation. What began as a wish led to filling care boxes with necessities for deployed military members. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, flashlights, batteries and other essentials were crammed into 13 boxes for the first shipment.
That “kitchen table” concept grew to become a multi-state nonprofit. H.E.R.O.E.S. Care President Jon Jerome – father of Mallary and Rachael – estimates the organization has distributed more than 20,000 care packages. In 2017 alone, H.E.R.O.E.S. Care shared more than 320,000 pounds of food, provided 300,000-plus clothing items and donated more than 400,000 baby care items to military moms.
For military families facing financial challenges, sometimes help simply cannot wait. Being nimble is a key aspect of H.E.R.O.E.S. Care’s support model.
“We can send 150 care packages at a moment’s notice,” noted Jon Jerome.
After sharing her idea with school leaders, Ashlee enlisted the support of Anita as she rolled up her sleeves and dove into the logistics of the project. She set a goal of filling 19 boxes. Students, bank customers and Regions associates made sure the goal was reached. And then some. Together, they filled 33.
FCCLA members sorted through the donations. Students wrote notes to soldiers. The bank brought in pizza to keep everyone full while package assembly was underway.
What happened in that room in Ste. Genevieve was met with gratitude from military families in Virginia, California, Germany and Singapore. Some of the recipients were actually graduates of Ste. Genevieve High.
Mallary Jerome, now 19, says shipments represent far more than basic essentials.
“It’s a sweet taste of home,” she said. “It connects people and reminds them of the place they live while they are away.”
Jon Jerome is grateful to see teens like Mallary, Rachael and Ashlee recognizing the sacrifice of military personnel.
“This represents the next generation of support,” he added. “The students who participate gain a different perspective as they become part of our network.”
In reflecting on what the group accomplished in just one month, Bieberly feels a sense of satisfaction. She is continually thinking about the next opportunity to Aim High, sharing, “I want to be a role model for the community.”
With her drive to help others, the sky’s the limit.