Emily Matlach created Operation Serenity to bring joy to lonely veterans at the VA hospital in Lake Nona.
Both of Emily Matlach’s parents are retired military veterans, so when it came time to select a project to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award, she naturally chose one that matched her family’s patriotism and love for their country.
Emily called her project Operation Serenity and was inspired to collect items for veterans at the Orlando VA Medical Center in Lake Nona.
“My parents always told me to respect veterans,” she said. “Both my parents have been there a bunch, I’ve been there a bunch. The people on the staff are neat. I kept seeing (notices) like how they were wanting donations on Facebook and stuff plastered on walls: ‘Give for Veterans Day.’ So I thought I could put some stuff together to help them out. I donated just to kind of brighten up their room; they’re sitting in their rooms and lonely.”
The West Orange High School freshman started working on her project in July. She is a member of the school’s Students Serving Soldiers Club, which helped her collect donations. She also contacted the quilting guild in The Villages to solicit donations and create items “that will bring joy to those in the hospital,” she said.
The guild’s response was incredible, she said, and members produced 60 handmade quilts that featured patriotic or floral patterns.
Emily and her mother took the donations to the center Nov. 10, the day before Veterans Day. In the delivery were the quilts, 50 wooden puzzles, 40 crossword puzzle kits, 100 toiletry bags, and an assortment of stuffed bears, flag pins, craft kits, playing cards, stress balls and art supplies.
The center and its residents cannot have visitors because of COVID-19, so Emily could take her gifts no further than the front door. But center staff were happy to accept the donation on behalf of the residents.
“They were so happy, so it made my day,” Emily said.
She also created a card with her email address that accompanied each of the gifts in case recipients wanted to respond to her or send photographs.
In all, more than 800 items were taken to the veterans center. She estimates she put in about 100 hours gathering the donations.
Her project is completed, but she said the groups she worked with will continue their efforts with veterans. The Students Serving Soldiers Club, which was founded last year, still collects items to be given to veterans in hospitals or serving overseas. The quilting guild at The Villages also has committed to making more quilts to give to VA centers.
Emily has been in scouting since she was in kindergarten, and she and her mother shared the activity when her mother was serving as troop leader. Emily has a heart for others and has achieved other scouting honors, including the Silver and Bronze awards, through collecting donations.
For her Silver, she gathered dog toys and treats and donated them to a local animal shelter; for her Bronze, she collected socks and food and created kits for a homeless shelter.
Emily, 15, is the daughter of Charles and Nicole Matlach, of Winter Garden, both of whom are retired from the U.S. Army.
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