I was 11 years old when my father was deployed to Afghanistan. There are no words to really explain the sight of seeing my dad leaving us to go to war; just remembering it sends chills down my spine. I would go to bed and thoughts would creep into my mind at night that he might not come home. It’s hard to recall the look on my 5-year-old sister’s face and the sound of her crying when it hit her that our dad was really leaving. My parents realized how much stress this deployment put on the both of us. So they decided we should take a situation full of such fear, stress, and sadness and make it as positive as possible. We were not able to change our circumstances, but we were able to change our views. For that year, my parents let my little sister and I live out a dream.
Since I was five, all I wanted to do was be an actress. I was certain that I was going to be the next Disney Channel star. But never would I imagine that only six years later, my mom would sign both my sister and I up for acting classes, even fly us from Texas all the way to Los Angeles to meet with managers, agents, and go out on auditions. Acting has been the best escape since day one. My little sister and I grew out of our shells, pushed out of our comfort zones, and loved every second of it.
But despite the distractions, there were the constant reminders of war. I remember being with my mom one day and hearing her talk on the phone about someone being injured by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). It was scary and confusing, but I remember telling her that I believe every military kid who is facing something like this should be able to live out a dream of theirs. They deserved to have a distraction and escape like my sister and I did. Whether it is pursuing a career, meeting a celebrity, being trained by an NFL player, or even just going on a vacation with their family. No dream is too big or too small.
From there, Brat Pack 11 was formed. In the simplest terms, BP11 grants wishes to military kids of wounded and fallen soldiers.
I’ve been working on BP11 for almost six years, and it has been a project very close to my heart. From the very beginning, it was a struggle to have my voice heard and for my vision to become a reality. Having adults take me seriously enough to support me and buy into my vision has been the biggest challenge. I remember making calls and getting laughed at or dismissed as though I was too young to realize that I was biting off more than I could chew. This has always been shocking to me because adults complain that teens are lazy. Meanwhile, I was trying to do something for the children of America’s heroes, and I was getting nowhere fast.
I think these adults thought I was too small to make a difference in the world. I am glad to prove them wrong. My favorite quote is from Anita Roddick: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.” There is never a perfect age or time for you to live out your dreams. You just have to see it and go for it. No matter how old you are, you can accomplish anything if you have tenacity and passion driving you. You should never doubt yourself — or others. We are all capable of changing this world for the better.
A few years ago, I reached out to a national non-profit called The Boot Campaign that took me under their umbrella and made my charity a program under them. They loved my passion for wanting to help other military kids and wanted to help Brat Pack 11 grow. Military kids are the only group that did not choose the military life; they were just born into it. They are often forgotten, however, when we talk about the sacrifices of soldiers. The Boot Campaign saw that this was a group that I wanted to bring a voice to, and they supported my vision without hesitation.
There are a lot of struggles and sacrifices all military kids and their families face that others don’t see or realize. For example, constantly moving and being the new kid in school. I have attended twelve schools so far, and let me tell you, it never gets easier. The worry of having a parent deployed and not knowing if they will come home is a daily stress. And, sadly, some soldiers (and their families) pay the ultimate price for our freedoms. I wanted to show these military kids and families that there was a community that cared about them and that we have not forgotten their sacrifice, not for a moment.
Together, The Boot Campaign and I formed a BP11 Task Force. They helped me raise money to grant wishes and included me on their website to share the stories of some amazing military kids. We would have 7 AM conference calls before school to go over all of the applications and discuss the planning and details of wishes we were granting. It has been an amazing experience working with everyone there, but I knew eventually I wanted BP11 to grow big enough to be its own national non-profit. To get there, we would have to grow our own wings.
I am currently working to obtain a 501c3 to make Brat Pack 11 its own national non-profit. We are on the hunt for a web designer to help us create our very own website. (Make sure you meet the team at the end of the slideshow below!) Unfortunately, that means that the applications that a guardian, family member, or a family friend would send in to get a wish granted for their Military Brat are temporarily closed until we can get our website back up. But, once we start receiving applications again, we will begin unPACKing a million possibilities and making dreams come true for deserving military BRATs all over the country! Make sure to watch out for some exciting announcements we’ll be making on our Twitter very soon, and if you would like to donate to the cause, please do so here.
Click through to see highlights of wishes we have granted and learn more about Brat Pack 11:
Kenzie was awarded the Military Child of the Year for the U.S. Army from Operation Homefront for her efforts in supporting military children.
All images courtesy of Kenzie Hall