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The Education Center of Developmental Resources is honoring several local residents in November for their work on behalf of children and families. This year's winner of the Sid L. Port Humanitarian Award is Deb Rickert. The following information was provided by The Education Center.
Rickert is founder and president of Operation Support Our Troops – America, formerly known as Operation Support Our Troops – Illinois. The mission of the 501(c)(3) is to support the morale and well-being of troops serving in harm’s way, their families, and returning veterans.
Rickert has inspired our community to come together to meet the needs of troops overseas and their families here at home. Bill and Deb’s three sons – Dan, Dave, and Joe – grew up in Naperville and attended . Dan, a 2006 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, has completed one tour of Iraq and is now stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. David is a newly commissioned infantry 2nd lieutenant stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
Rickert started the organization in 2003 when her oldest son went to West Point. Since then, Operation Support Our Troops – America has grown into one of the largest volunteer-based military support organizations in the country.
During the past eight years, it has raised millions of dollars and supported programs for troops, veterans, and their families.
Rickert personally created a lasting partnership with actor Gary Sinise and began “Rockin’ for the Troops,” an annual day of support/concert for military families and supporters. With the money raised through this and other events, Operation Support Our Troops – America has raised awareness of the needs of veterans and has contributed to Hines VA Hospital, Fisher House for Illinois, the Wounded Warriors Project, the USO, and many other veteran programs.
Operation Support Our Troops – America has also developed a variety of programs to help troops and their families, including:
- The group sends comfort packages to deployed military members in harm’s way and special requests to units and hospitals in the field. The organization has shipped more than 35,000 cartons to troops overseas.
- Operation Support Our Troops - America also encourages people to write letters to service men and women and provides information about opportunities for veterans.
- Its “We Have Not Forgotten” program offers ongoing group and immediate grieving support for family members of the military.
- Its Family Resource and Support Team provides outreach to pregnant wives of deployed service members.
- In partnership with the United States Army Golden Knights, the organization offers a “Gold for Gold” program to provide a growth experience based on the principles of a "Leap of Faith" for families of fallen service members. The seminar encourages families to explore the other side of grief and sadness and includes a tandem skydive with the Golden Knights.
One of the primary goals of the organization is to participate significantly in the national dialog regarding issues affecting our troops. Operation Support Our Troops – America advocates for new and better treatments for post traumatic stress in returning troops and veterans.
Rickert has served as a mentor and advisor for many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans working to create veteran support opportunities and has been actively involved with the development of programs under Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran leadership.
Rickert has used her unrelenting energy, positive outlook, and psychology background to reach out to the troops, their families, members of the community, and to those who have lost family members through war.
Each year, this award is presented by the Lawson Products Company in honor of its founder and well-known Chicago philanthropist, Sid L. Port. Mr. Port’s legacy of giving includes generous support that helped establish The Education Center. The Education Center also offers scholarships to the families of veterans who need counseling or academic support.