By KIM ESTES, Four Points News
A school project became a life lesson for Austin Tennis Academy junior, Meghan O’Malley, as she raised $5,200 and learned one person can make a difference.
Last fall, O’Malley, daughter of Mike and Rachel O’Malley of Steiner Ranch, began to research the War on Terror for an International Relations class. “I focused on Afghanistan because my dad was sent there,” she explained.
O’Malley was 8-years-old in 2006 when her father deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom as a naval reserve officer. He returned safe and sound a year later.
Now, with a greater understanding of military conflict, O’Malley said, “I’m so thankful. I didn’t realize how dangerous it was. Things he did everyday could have got him killed or injured.”
The Department of Defense, O’Malley said, reports that more than 50,000 men and women have been physically wounded in the War on Terror. Retired Sgt. Rick Yarosh, whom O’Malley also found in her research, was one of them. He suffered burns on 60 percent of his body and lost part of his right leg, multiple fingers and most of the function in both hands.
Appreciation for her father’s safety turned into compassion for others’ sacrifice, and O’Malley wanted to help.
After more research, this time into charities, she found Lake Travis Christmas Hope, which works directly with San Antonio Military Medical Center and its Warrior and Family Support Center to provide grants uniting patients with their families.
Composing her findings and feelings into a fundraising letter, O’Malley wrote, “Currently, there are over 400 military personnel going through some form of rehabilitation at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. Many of them have families with children. All of these ‘numbers’ are moms, dads and kids. They each have a story… (Many) are not from Texas, but they came, on a moment’s notice, to San Antonio. (Family of the wounded) leave their lives behind while they help their loved ones recover. Spouses quit their jobs; kids go to new schools in a new city. They live out of suitcases, in temporary housing, for months – even years.”
From her letter and by speaking to the Austin Tennis Academy and teammates, O’Malley eventually collected $5,200 for wounded warriors and their families.
She also contacted Yarosh, who agreed to come from New York to Austin and tell his story. “We didn’t sell tickets. We just invited people and about 150 came,” O’Malley said.
Yarosh spoke about his experiences and what he has learned. When asked by a guest if he would take away his scars if given the choice, Yarosh replied, “If I had to give away my scars, I would have to take away what they gave me. My scars gave me the confidence I needed. I have purpose. It’s okay that I will never change a light bulb again, but I can change lives.”
As for the younger patriot, high school graduation is less than 18 months away, as is a greater future. O’Malley thinks about her research and meeting Yarosh, and she is considering applying to the Naval Academy or West Point.
“If I do that,” she said with deliberation, “and if I get in and have to serve (in the military), I’ve learned that I’m not scared. I have the highest respect for these wounded warriors,” she added. “They make a difference.”