Oct. 18, 2022

Survivors Of Fallen U.S. Military Personnel- Gold Star Wife Jennifer Carazo

Survivors Of Fallen U.S. Military Personnel- Gold Star Wife Jennifer Carazo

Jennifer Carazo is a gold star wife and the chairman of The Sugar Bear Foundation. The Sugar Bear Foundation was formed in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Mario “Sugar Bear” Carazo.

Sugar Bear made the ultimate sacrifice July 22, 2010, when his AH-1W Super Cobra was shot down while conducting combat operations in Afghanistan.

The mission of the foundation is to support the surviving spouses (Active-Duty and Service-Connected loss) and children of fallen United States military personnel by providing career, educational, financial, and wellness programs to help meet their immediate and ongoing needs, fostering their personal, emotional, and social well-being.

In doing so, they continue Mario’s legacy of service, share his story and celebrate his life in a way that is impactful upon their fallen military families. 

Jennifer Carazo is available to speak at your organization's event to bring awareness about Gold Star and Survivor issues.  Please email Admin@TheSugarBearFoundation.org to provide the details of your event.

Book a free discovery call on how to Keep The Fire Burning in your relation or develope an Overcoming Obstacles mindset at https://calendly.com/enduringthebadge/15min
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Hi everyone, and welcome to this week's episode of the Enduring the Badge Podcast. I'm host Jerry Dean Lund, and I don't want you to miss an upcoming episode, so please hit that subscribe button. And while your phone's out, please do me a favor and give us a review on iTunes, our Apple podcast. It says, Hey, this podcast has a great message and we should send it out to more people.

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My very special guest today is Jennifer Zo. She is a gold star wife, and if you're unfamiliar with that term is an honor that is given to a wife who has lost her husband in action. Her husband was Mario, a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan who was shot down and killed. Now, Jennifer has created a foundation in his honor called the Sugar Bear Foundation, an incredible found.

Helping those families of service men and women that have lost their spouse and she's filling in the gaps with this foundation and helping those families out to get past this loss and create something good in their life from it. Now let's jump right into this episode with Jennifer. Good. Good. Glad to be here with you today.

Thank you. Um, yeah, I'm excited to share your story today and what you're doing, um, in the world to make it a better place. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. Introduce the audience, um, to yourself. Sure. So I am a gold star wife. Um, I lost my husband almost 12 years ago. He was a Cobra pilot that, along with Major James Weiss were shot down and killed while serving in Afghanistan in July of 2010.

Um, in 2016, I had the opportunity to form the Sugar Bear Foundation. Sugar Bear was his call sign. Always have to explain that . Yeah. That's cool to, to serve my fellow, um, gold star and surviving spouses and their children. So, um, Taking something that some might view as a tragedy and turning it into something very productive.

Um, and, and the ability to give back, which I know would make Mario, um, very, very happy. Yeah. Yeah. I'll be honest, I had to look up on like the sugar bear. I'm like, Oh, that's, That, that is a very cool call sign, . Yeah. Well, it was so fitting it, it's better as you know, than what, what some guys get. So we were very fortunate with that, but it was just so fitting to him.

And, but I always have to explain that. I always have to explain, explain the name, but I just, I, it's just so fitting for, um, Was for his personality and also for what we're doing, um, because we, we do support, um, our gold star children and teens. So just, just a sweet name to go with what I think is a sweet cause.

Yeah. So let's just jump right into, how did he get that call signed? It's so funny. Um, a shorter in stature, I would say, kind of guy. And, um, one of his, um, superior officers at the time, they were in the ready room and getting ready to brief and just sort of stood up and pointed at him to go and just said, Sugar bear.

Cause he looked like, he looked like the character from, from the Serial. I'm, I'm dating myself, but, you know. Yeah. That's, that's what he looked like. He had that same sort of build and when he, when he danced, he kind of, you know, resembled the cartoon. So, but it ended up just being spot on for, for him and his personality.

Yeah. Yeah. That's, um, watching, Do you have videos on your website that, uh, that shows some What about, some stuff about the foundation?  and which talks about getting a little bit about his, his call sign. And I can see that in watching some of the, the videos, like how, how that would come about with a, such a good personality.

And it seems like not only was it just a good personality, but he was a kind and caring person. Oh, exactly. You know, recently I saw a comment on social media where somebody had said that his chest wasn't big enough for his heart, and I, and I real, that just had stayed with me and I, it's just, you know, just so accurate.

Uh, describing Mario because he literally was that guy that would give you the shirt off his back, whatever you needed to help. And it was just innate. It was just an innate part of his personality. He just, you know, cared about everybody. And, you know, since we've lost him, so many people will say to me, Oh, this is a great thing that you're doing to remember Mario.

And it, there's never been a fear in my mind, a concern that people were gonna forget him because literally if you met him, You loved him. He was just that kind of a guy. So that, that's never been the, the concern at all. He just had that personality that stayed with you. Yeah. I'm sure that's what attracted you to him.

Oh, or one of the things. Absolutely. Yes. One of the things, , how'd you guys meet? As many good features? Yeah. How'd you guys meet? I, I can say it now that my kids are older. , we met in a dive bar in, in Pensacola. I was home for college. He was, um, a midshipman at the time of the Naval Academy. It was what they call their, their second class summer.

And even though he knew he wanted to fly, he always wanted to fly from the time he was a little boy. Um, he came down with a group of Midship. Um, to sort of check out Pensacola, if you will, to check out the base and, and to learn a little bit more firsthand about, you know, the aviation community and what flight school would look at.

And I was home from college in a, in a, in a bar that I was able to get into at the time,  on Pensacola Beach with my girlfriend and he was there with a big group of mid shipment and he just came over and asked me to. And we ended up going out the rest of that week. And then two weeks later he flew back down to see me before I left to go back to school.

And that was it. We dated for five years. Wow. Wow. And literally, he finished flight school, went to see my parents that night, asked for my hand to get married. He was very, very traditional. Very formal. And six months later we were married. Um, yeah, I was 18 at the time that I met him, and which my kids now just think, Oh my gosh, you know, I'm so young and , what were you doing, Mom in a bar?

And, but he just, the night that we met, just, I just instantly knew, I mean, just so much about his character, you know, he talked about, you know, Admiral Stockdale and John Paul Jones and just, you know, Amazing heroic figures and, um, just, you know, he, I, who he idolized and wanted to sort of follow in the footsteps and he was just so committed to serving our country and wanting to fly and just, you know, spend his life committed to service.

And it, he was just so different. Yeah. It was so different, especially at 18, to meet a guy like that and. We just, we just instantly connected and he was special. I knew he was very special from that, from that night. Very cool. So flight school, that's not something that is very easy and very few people get into that.

And he and Maria's true nature, he was very, very intelligent. Um, he was first in his class, He just excelled. But, but that was his, his dream and his goal in life. And so, I mean, he studied, he studied, but um, it, it just really came to him. And, um, you know, he was first in his class. Got cobras. That's what he wanted.

And we went on to, you know, we were really living the dream. We were living the dream life. I mean, he was really working hard and you know, I was by his side and able to see him achieve so many of his dreams. Going back to the academy. I was there when he graduated, and you know, the thing that was so special about him or one of the things that were so special about him.

All along the way, you know, from the academy on it was always us we're doing this together. We were a team. You know, the night he found out that he was going to be able to go on to fly and, um, his selection night at the academy, you know, 3:00 AM he's calling me, and, and it was, it was us. It wasn't just, Oh, I'm, I'm gonna do this.

He was just very, very committed to me and then eventually committed to our family and just, just a good man. Really good. Yeah, that, that's, that's, I think it would be easy to get wrapped up in all that and, um, lose the US part of that. And he was incredibly humble too. And, and that's another point that I always try to make to people.

You know, again, so many people are like, Oh, this is great. You're keeping his memory alive. And he was much too humble for that. For him it would be about, you know, giving back to the Gold Star community and making sure those families are taken care of. And so that stays with me daily. We're, we're basically just trying to use his story, um, to hopefully inspire people and, and.

Raise awareness about, about our Gold Star community. Yeah. So it, he ended up in Afghanistan. Was that his first tour? So that was his actual seventh deployment. Um, he had previously done two to Iraq, and then this was his first and only in Afghanistan. But previously he had been to the Middle East three, four times.

He did the, the mu, the 13th mu, um, Abor, the Palo. Three, four times was in, um, Okinawa, but this was his first and only to Afghanistan. Yeah. So he had flown combat missions. This is was not uncommon. Yes. Yes, but ironically he wasn't it. As it turned out, he was over there, um, on a staff tour. He was doing operations and planning and his old squadron, um hm, a 360 9 world famous gun fighters were there.

So because they were there, he was doing everything, any and everything to fly with them and got into a routine where he was flying almost every day. Um, we had sort of this, um, Habit, I guess you could say, where he always called after he landed and let me know that he was safe. And that went way back to starting in flight school.

Um, eventually we could text over the years, but so he would always call. Um, and we got into this routine of that, especially while he was in Afghanistan, cuz he, you know, he just loved it and he was always. Excited and he wanted to be in the fight over there, so to speak. Yeah. So he would call up and share stories that maybe I didn't always wanna hear, but I could just, I could just hear it in his voice.

Yeah. That would be, That would be hard on you to know that he, he wants to serve and be in the fight and I totally can, can understand that, but as a spouse, that is probably very difficult to hear. It was, it was, but ironically, I always thought it was probably safer. For him to be flying because fortunately, I guess, you know, we don't hear as many stories about them getting shot down, right?

It's, it's more with the ground forces. Um, so at, at the time, I mean, I always worried, I always worried about him flying. Um, but I also thought, well better that maybe he is up flying than sitting at a desk somewhere and, and working. Um, so as, like I said, as ironic as that turned out to be sort of a twist of fate.

Yeah. So was the mission, did you have any idea that was gonna be risky or, or anything? I had no idea. I had no idea until afterwards. Obviously. What, what had happened? Um, they were just out, from what I've been told, um, ground forces were getting hit pretty hard there. Some of the aircraft were out doing reconnaissance.

Their bird got called to kind of go on, so to speak. And, um, Four RPGs were launched and one hit the tail rotor and then they went down. Yeah, that's very, that's a very difficult terrain and very difficult to, from what I've seen, I'm flying in and, you know, Yeah. With that type of weapon tree and stuff like that, and generally those helicopters are truly very, very safe.

Yeah. Yeah. No, I mean, fortunately, yes. Um, but, you know, I, I take comfort now in knowing that that's what, you know, we believe, you know, God put him on this earth to do, and, and he died doing what he loved and hopefully saving lives. And so for him, if he had to go, that was the way that he would wanna go. And so I, you know, that, that's where I can sleep at night is knowing that.

He did what he, what he lumped to do. Yeah. I'm, I'm sure he saved numerous lives through, throughout his years flying. I mean, that you can't do much, I just don't think as a ground force without having that, that type of support. Right. The support. Absolutely. Yes. And how, how, I guess, how did that play out being notified?

You know, the Marine Corps is truly family. Um, I, I can't even say enough. I had literally just dropped our kids off at summer camp. Um, they were nine and almost seven at the time, and I came home. And they had notified my parents first who were there. Uh, my parents were living with me and told my mom and dad and they, they just took such care and time to make sure that cars were in front of my house and to just tell me in a way, um, that was direct.

Because that's what they had to do. Yeah. But then stayed. And 12 years later are, are still in our lives, Um, both personally and professionally with the foundation. We have just received an outpouring of support and I just, I, I can't say enough. I mean, part of the reason why we are doing so well today is be because of, because of the Marine Corps, because of our military.

C. Yeah. Yeah. Truly, truly family, for sure. Yes, absolutely. Yes. I think anybody that's served at any, especially in the military, that's, I think there and first responders such form such families outside of, you know, your immediate family. Yes. And he told before he, Mario, left Berg, um, Afghanistan, we had a conversation and he.

Bluntly told me if, if I don't make it back, don't worry because the Marines will take care of you. And I remember thinking, Oh my gosh, why are you saying this? But yeah, from the minute I opened the door, that conversation, you know, came back to me. It stayed with me to this day, and they did. He was right.

He was always right. Um,  and so I hate admit it that, but this is, this is one time I will admit . Um, but they, they did, they have been by our side and he was absolutely right and we have needed, wanted for nothing. And still, I mean, to this day family and have been there for us and we're very, very blessed for that.

Yeah. It's hard to have that conversation with your spouse about, um, death and. Many of us, I think probably put that off either way too long or don't even talk about it at all. And then when tragedy does happen, I think that probably makes things a little bit harder to deal with. I'm, I'm fortunate for that conversation.

Like I said at the moment, I thought it was horrific and I was like, Why? Why are you, what are you saying? And. He literally in those moments told me kind of what to do, how to go on, what was, what he deemed important for us and for the, for our children. And I, I took just such comfort in, in his words, and I still do do to this day.

So it was just, it was a blessing that, that he did, um, say what he said to me. And it's, it's almost been sort of like an outline for the rest of rest of our lives. Yeah. Uh, explain a little bit about what is a Gold Star wife for listeners that may not So A gold. Yeah. A gold star wife is one whose, um, spouse dies while in active duty.

Um, you know, some say it, it's like our scenario killed in action, but really it's, it's, it, it can be any loss. Um, you know, a loss is a loss. I, I. Think the circumstances matter at all. Yeah. I mean, if you lose your husband, you lose your husband, and so it's, it's in a nutshell, it is a spouse who dies while serving on active duty.

Yeah, that that's, You're right. A loss is a loss and it's very difficult. And I think any true, real American just, you know, can appreciate this, the sacrifice, um, both, you know, his own sacrifice and then that sacrifice comes down to you and your, your family and your right. Your children. Exactly. Yeah, exactly.

How, how did your children take that news? Oh, um, again, they were nine and seven. Um, I immediately just wanted them, you know, I, I wanted my kids. We were, and again, the Marines were like, We'll come with you. And I'm like, No, no. You know, my parents were there and I was like, We'll, go get the kids and. Then you can come back and did, went and picked him up.

The kids immediately knew something was like, Why are you, you know, why are you picking us up early? And yeah. Came home, I didn't say anything, um, until we got home and basically sat them on the couch. Um, at the time I said, you know, there was an accident and, and daddy's now in heaven. Now my husband was also

Very direct with our son before he. And he had a, my son had a big map in his room. He had pictures of what daddy's office in Afghanistan looked like, um, as humble . That's cool. And as simplistic as that was. Yeah. And he told my son, you know, I'm, here's where I'm going. Here's what I'm going to do. And it really explained, you know, the origins of what was going on over there to our then nine year old son who, who got it.

Um, So immediately he says to me, Daddy was shot down. And I said, Yes. And he used the word the terrorist got daddy. Yeah. And I said Yes. And dunno if that was right or wrong. We were always very open in our household. Yeah, we are still to this day. Uh, my daughter was completely clueless, you know, she just, you know, just kind of daddy's in heaven with the angels kind of thing.

And my, my son just started crying, I mean, just to like, he got it. He just, he totally got it. And, um, again though, you know, having our house. Filled. Um, even to this day, constantly having friends come over and to see us and be with us just made such a difference. I mean, especially in those early days, it was just such a good distraction for the kids, but especially for my son.

Um, and he knows this today as a 21 year old that. It. These, these are the guys, these are the families daddy served with, and they're still in our lives and they literally are still in our lives. And I, I just can't even explain the difference that has made 12 years now, um, especially for the kids. So, Yeah, I, um, I could see, you know, families being deployed all over the world and sometimes Right.

Well, oftentimes the only families that they do have, right, is the, the families that they're serving, you know, their spouses are serving with Exactly. Exactly. And they do, They become, they become family. And I mean, this is going back still to my, um, Mario's days at the academy. I'm still in touch, you know, with so many friends from there.

And it's, it's just sort of moved on throughout his career. So, um, it does, and it makes a difference, like I said, especially in our situation. Yeah. How do you move on from such a, a tragedy like this? Oh, I mean there multitude of ways or sort of facets that kind of factors that help me. Um, one, we're, we're Catholic.

We have a very strong, deep belief in God. Lot of, lot of prayer, lot of praying. Good. Like I said, good military support and Marine Corps military community that has stayed with us has made a huge difference. Um, my parents have been there the whole time, um, and good friends also. Again, that conversation that, that Maria and I had, I mean, I knew what he wanted for us.

God forbid if that happened. Yeah. And he used to always say to me, I'm tough on you because God forbid if the worst happens, I don't want you to fall apart. Which, yeah, I think about daily. Um, and he, he really sort of prepared me. In a way, um, for all of this, I think the deployments prepared me in a way. I mean, it's obviously different.

Yeah. But I, I knew how to stand on my own two feet, um, and he made sure of that. And so I, and I just really knowing what he wanted for us, and he made it very clear to me, um, in that conversation and over the years, and I, and I can also always hear him saying, You don't want the enemy to win. Yeah. So if I would've fallen apart after.

He would've been disappointed and the enemy would've won. And so I couldn't do that to him and I couldn't do that to my children. So you just have to suck it up and you just, you know, day, day by day, moment by moment. Exactly. Exactly. Yes. So how, you said Mario kind of prepared you and you talked a little bit about that.

What, what did he want for, for you and your family after, you know, if he felt like he passed away? To go on living, to go on living, not sit around, feel sorry for ourselves, not, um, set an example for the kids. You know, be strong for them. I mean, obviously you need to grieve, you know, you need to grieve, but to not get stuck in that grief.

Count your blessings. We always counted our blessings. Even even with the deployments, you know, it was like, okay, he's gone nine months. It could be worse, there could be no communication. I mean, look at what, Yeah. You know, earlier generations went through, there were no phone calls, there were no emails. So I, and to this day, I, and with my children too, I've really tried to instill in them this sense of.

Might not, something might not be good, or it might not seem easy, but it can always be worse. It can always be so much worse. A as a gold star wife, I mean, I'm, I'm blessed for the benefits that we receive. Yeah. You know, uh, previous generations didn't get this, so you really gotta count your blessings and so he, we always had a positive outlook in our household and I was determined.

We were going to carry that forward. And so if I were to sit around and feel sorry for myself and complain and do the why me stuff, he would, he would just not be happy. And so , Yeah, I'm living life for him. We're living life for him. And that's what he would wanted. Sounds like he helped coach you in some mental toughness and some resilience throughout his Yes.

Your marriage. . Yeah. So he just had a great outlook on life and, and that goes back to even when we were dating. I really just adopted, you know, that sort of mentality that, like I said, it, it can always be worse and to be grateful for everything that we have. So, you know, we always tend to focus, or so many of us focus on that glass being half empty.

Yeah. But you know, it's, it's also half full. And you have to remember that each and every day. Yeah. I, I feel like we're in a society of, of the negativity of just, um, yes, it's been on my mind a lot lately. And a little bit off topic is just the, the, the mental strength that we're in instilling or not instilling in our children.

Yes, Yes. And I, and I. Take as many opportunities as I can to tell them to basically suck it up and, you know, if, if they are having that kind of moment, both, both my son and daughter, you know, it's like get over yourself. You know, look at everything you have and you have a lot. And, and you know, I always sort of say cuz I'm, I'm very fortunate my parents are still with us and at, in their eighties and nineties.

Oh wow. And I don't know what it's like to lose a parent, but I always say, you know, we, we still have so much, despite what we've lost, we have so much and so much more than maybe other people. And so you need to remember that and. You know, you can have a bad day, that's okay. But then you say, Tomorrow I'm gonna start over and it's gonna be a good day and I'm gonna make it a good day.

And that, I think that's very important to teach our young people today. And that life is not gonna go as planned and you just, you have to roll with it. You, you really do. You've gotta always have that plan B, or make a plan B. If you're not happy with the way things are going, then you and you alone have the power to change it.

That's so true, and it, it really only does follow onto us, like there's a lot of other outside of influences in our lives, but yet it falls to us to, to make those changes. Hey everyone. Have you lost that loving feeling because life has you so stressed out and you're just being moms and dads now and just running around like crazy and the passion in your relationship is gone and you don't make it a priority anymore?

Well, let me help you with that. I offer a free 15 minute discovery call that you can book on in during the badge website, or you can just reach out to me on anyone social media platforms and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Absolutely. Yeah. If you're not happy with something, then, then fix it as what, As what Mario used to always tell me.

So make, make that change. So, And you can do it. You definitely can do it. Yeah. And these hard times that we go through in our lives are moments in time over the grand scheme of our lives. These things will, will pass. These tough things will pass. Yes. I mean, you, you do, you find joy again. I mean, I, I remember, you know, in the, the years that followed him dying, I remember every morning I would just wake up with just, just this horrible feeling and just, and I remember thinking, Gosh, is this ever gonna stop?

And it, and it does. It does. And my outlook now is that I don't try to focus on him being gone. But him being with us, he's still with us, but in a different way. Yeah. Right. And I wake up now every day and I, again, I, I thank God for everything that I have and count my blessings and, you know, just really try to look on the positive side of life.

And I, I realize I, I don't have that sort. Horrible feeling. Um, instead, I, I feel happy again. I, you know, definitely a lot of joy in my life. Yeah. Do you feel like the Sugar Barrier Foundation has helped you do that? Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I, I have a whole new renewed purpose in my life that's outside of my children.

It's outside of, you know, anything personal. It's, it's me and there's a need for, well, me and my team, I should say. But there, there's a need for it and there's so much healing in helping others. You know, if we focus, Mario always focused on other people, not just himself. And there is, there's so much help in that.

Um, like I said, I, I have a reason to get up now in the morning outside of the kids. And, um, and there's a need for it. There is such a need for supporting our gold Star community. So absolutely. I, I was a teacher in a previous life and this is where I find my joy, my fulfillment now, um, in, in. Running the foundation and it's, I have a whole new direction and course of life, so it's, it's been an absolute blessing for me.

Yeah. Let's dive down into the foundation a little more and talk about what you're doing with the foundation. So we focus on, um, areas that were important to Mario, um, and areas that kind of similar with our veteran community. Um, that I think are equally important to our gold star community. Gold star surviving spouses.

Um, cuz we serve both, we serve both active duty losses and we serve service connected losses. So whether that's from suicide, um, unfortunately now we've got so many that we're losing as a result of the burn. Um, or catastrophic injuries. So we serve both, but we focus on career, education, financial and wellness initiatives.

And with that we have just a variety of programs, whether it's helping a spouse or a teen apply to college. We have college consultants that are helping them. Virtual tutoring programs. Um, we have career coaching and life grief and trauma coaching. Um, we're very fortunate now to be working with hiring our heroes and so we can help our spouses find not only employment, not only find jobs, but as one spouse recently said, Find a career and a career that's gonna work with them in their situation of now being what I call solo parents.

You know, they're, they're, it, there's no weekend break or, you know, anything like that, that it's, it's just them running their household. And so hiring our heroes has just been an amazing partner to work with, and they really understand our community. And so, and we have different types of workshops and in person events.

And so, um, trying to help these, these spouses and their children have essentially what I have, just a whole new direction in their life. Yeah. And tangible areas that are gonna help them make that, that change. You know, things that are really gonna, um, change the direction of their lives, hopefully, whether it.

You know, financially, whether it's emotionally, um, but give them a new lease on life because they deserve it. They absolutely deserve it. Yeah, they, because they have a couple choices when something like this happens, you know, to Yes. And, and it's, and it's hard. It's so hard. And you, and, you know, you can take steps backwards and that's okay.

Um, but we wanna be there to help them take the steps forward and, and not just, you know, for one event or, you know, one scholarship, but really to be on that path with them for the years to come. You know, we wanna provide that support. Ongoing going forward, and not just a quick fix. We like to say we're a solutions based nonprofit, so that, that's very important to me as well.

Yeah, yeah, that's definitely right. The, the quick fix only gets you so far, but yes. Sounds like with all the different facets then opportunities that you provide, there's. You're, you're great. Like I see as a great toolbox that, you know, you can come to the foundation and, and, and get the help that you need.

In many, it sounds in many different directions. That's what you know. Like I said, I, I. Saw so much good after we lost Maria. So many wonderful organizations out there that are, that are doing so many, um, providing so much important support to our community, but then saw some gaps and we didn't wanna reinvent the wheel.

So I, I really took note of what I was hearing from, you know, My fellow spouses and what their children were needing. And then to me personally, you know, if, if my kids were, you know, at a younger age using tutoring or when they were applying to college or those kind of things, I'm thinking, Gosh, this is expensive.

Yeah. Yeah. It would be wonderful if, if we could have, you know, somebody paying. But we have an amazing, um, educational sponsor, RF Lambda in San Diego. They have just been with us almost every step of the way, and they're always wanting to do more and they just, they. Really, really focus in on the educational component of it with internships and helping to pay for college and the tutoring programs and a lot of the workshops we're doing.

And so, um, they're really an integral part of what we're doing, but they get it. They get it as well where they wanna help to, um, Make that change in these families lives, but be there for the long haul as well, which is really, really important. Yeah, that's a lot to take on to be a solo spouse and try to, you know, pick up and move on.

And then I, as a spouse of, you know, someone that's serving our country, you often probably give up your own careers to to, to bounce around. Exactly. Exactly. So exactly. Seeing how you would need a new, a new career or maybe jump back into a career. Right, Right. Or do a pivot, especially after losing your spouse, you know, and there's wonderful opportunities out there with going back to school, but maybe you need some assistance in applying to go back to school or somebody that can, you know, provide the benefit information.

We now have a resource and financial assistance counselor that's helping with all of. And, you know, just to have some questions answered or to really sit down with you and do sort of a long term, um, planning process. And it, I just, I just think it's needed and, you know, we're getting good feedback from our spouses, so hopefully making a difference there.

Yeah, there's lots of facets to life to try, you know, to, I feel like military spouses are really great at. You know, when their husbands are deployed and things like that, holding the fort down and they've probably learned a ton, but you know, then they focus a lot and probably keeping it, you know, on their families and not so much on themselves.

And then defining exactly situation where now everything kind of relies on to you. Yes, I like to say this is a very long deployment. Um, and that's what it, you know, it can feel like because you're now responsible for everything and, and that's, you know, a lot of weight to put on someone's shoulders. Um, and so support is needed and it, and it's okay to reach out for, for help and, um, usually it.

Well received and they, they are open to it and, and should be, should be open to it. Yeah. So yes, absolutely. I kind of, I like the tutoring aspect. I think that's very, very cool part of it because I could see as a spouse being mentally drained and then having to help your children with their, their schoolwork or things that they're struggling with on top of what they are struggling with.

That would be emotionally tax. Exactly, and especially, you know, after Covid where kids were at home and you know, all of it. And we, like I said, we support the spouses and the children who need assistance with tutoring. Um, we provide enrichment tutoring. Maybe, maybe there's a child that, um, they wanna, they wanna work ahead, you know, they're gifted and they, they want that additional support.

We can help with that. We can also, we're helping homeschool families now. Um, so it's just, we're, we're doing the gamut, but it, it is, you're exactly right. It's, it's needed. Especially when it's, when it's one person that is now running the household potentially working. Taking the kids to the activities, you know, paying the bills.

It's a lot, it's a lot to do and it's a lot to do for the next, you know, 5, 10, 15 years depending on how old the kids are. So, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. How, like, this is, seems like a monumental task of taking on this, um, foundation. Like where'd you start? From the very beginning, another whole long story. But, um, a Marine that had served with my husband came to me in 2016, but this had been after, um, several years after we left Maria, 2010.

And, Kind of unbeknownst to me, I was just going to events af after we lost Mario. Obviously there were a ton of memorials and so of course went to those, but I kept getting invited to different things, whether it was like Squadron or um, you know, Marine Corps related. But the invitation started to expand where I started to get invited to different organization events and started speaking, um, for other organizations that were assisting us.

Um, Just going around speaking and I found myself eventually sitting on some boards for different organizations and just, this is where I started to really kind of, sort of take copious notes, if you will, on what was out there, but what was still needed. And then hearing directly from spouses and, you know, different Facebook groups or whatever.

Um, and really listening and, and just paying attention to this. And so in 2016 when this offer came in, To start the foundation, I was just ready to go because I knew what, what I wanted to do. Um, I went to three of Mario's really, really good friends who I joke now and say they're probably better friends to me and had my whole elevator pitch ready to go.

Didn't even have to do it. They're just the best. I. The best board you could imagine. And great guys all served with him, all combat veterans, um, all Marines pilots. Um, and they were just, they were just a yes. And so we just, we launched and it, it's more, it's not even like a job for me. It, it's just what's in my heart and I never look at it as, Something laborist to do.

Yeah. I mean, I'm just energized every day and it's what I wanna do and if anything, I tend to get ahead of myself. Um, but it never feels like work. And I, and it was always important to me. If we were gonna do this, it was gonna be at least. For me, my guys are so busy and I try not to add more to their schedule, but for me at least it was gonna be that 150%.

It wasn't gonna just be this, Oh, I'm gonna do the nonprofit thing today. Yeah. And I literally was still teaching at the time. Um, somehow. Was doing that for about four or five years into this, and then it became where I, I think this is gonna have to be full time with the foundation, but, but that's where my heart was going, and that's where my passion is.

And so was not even like a transition for me. Um, but it is, it's 24 7, and I say that in a good way. I'm literally, if anything, I have to really force myself to take, to take breaks. Um, but it brings joy. It brings great joy and satisfaction and it, it's so needed. It is so needed to support and for people to understand our community.

Um, and I, and I don't say that in a negative way. I say it in hopefully a good way, a positive way, so that more people in the civilian sector can, can really understand the spouses and, and what they, um, What they go through after, after these losses. I mean, and it's not just them that are having to sort of, if you will get through this, but now they're children, you know, they have to be there, they have to be strong for themselves, but they also have to be strong for their children and, and really take this on and.

It's a lot. It's, it's a lot. And it takes a toll on our families and, you know, really just always try to get that message across in, in a positive way. You know, not looking for sympathy, but, but understanding and insight to what it means to be a surviving family. I, I think that's a big part that's lacking again, in the world.

I, I feel like that everybody wants under wants understanding. Maybe on their side of things, but maybe not so much outside of their own little world that don't want to take the time or the initiative maybe to, to understand what's going on in other people's worlds or, you know, and communities. Because the military is a community, right.

And you know Yes. Right. Families, communities, those, those are the same, same thing. I think when you give insight to that and people do start understanding that, That, that comes with more support. Right, More support, more exactly. Loving, caring, and under understanding, which is what the world needs. Oh, absolutely.

Absolutely. And then that's where that, that change and that trajectory of a, of a family's life can, can happen. Like I said, we had so much support, we still do. And it's made all the difference in the world and. I really hope to see that with, with our other families, that they feel that same love and support.

Yeah. And so, Cuz otherwise we're, we're gonna have, you know, I, I know there's a mental health crisis going on Sure. Now, but think of these families that, you know, they're. Service member is now gone and it, this is left on, we have both husband, gold star husbands and wives. And so what is sort of left to them to now handle and um, it's just so important.

It's, it's just so important and it's, that's what my life's work is now, and I'm, I'm blessed to get this opportunity to serve in this capacity. Yeah. Do you see the foundation expanding what things that you're gonna do? Yes. We, yeah, we are. I mean, the number of families we're serving is growing and, and that's a good thing.

That's a good thing. Um, you know, initially we were just in the San Diego area. We're nationwide now. We serve spouses and children throughout the United States. Um, you know, all branches. The military, again, does not matter manner of death. We, we are there. Um, so. My hope, my focus is just on expanding, um, the impact that we're able to make and to expand our programs.

Um, and so that's, that's what I get up every day and that's what I'm working to do and our team is working to do. Yeah. Yeah, I can see the energy and the enthusiasm in it. , if you can't hear it in your voice, you need to watch the YouTube video cuz you can definitely, you can definitely see it. How, Jennifer, How can people support the foundation?

Oh, there's a lot of ways. I mean, obviously donations, that's, that's our lifeline. And they can go to our website and they can make a donation, um, you know, get involved. They can help share our mission. We have ambassadors. Every year we do a virtual run in Honor Sugar Bear. We partner up with the Marine Corps Association, who's also been fantastic to us.

And, you know, they can get involved as an ambassador and help share our mission. Um, they can get involved with, um, different companies with internship. For both our spouses and our teens. I mean, there's just a gamut of ways that they, they can help, help support us, um, sponsor different families, you know, with the support we're providing them, you know, reach out to us.

We're, we're open to collaboration and suggestions. Always. Yeah. And how would somebody do that? That's, that's, listen. Sure. So, um, usually best to go through our admin, which that address is, um, admin at the sugar bear foundation.org. Um, my email address is Jennifer zo at the sugar bear foundation.org. Um, check out our website, you know, there's, follow us on social media, all of that.

You can learn more about what we're doing. And then obviously, like I said, donate. Which is right on the right on the website. And they'll get a nice little, you know, tax, tax deduction notice there. So, Cause we are a 5 0 1 C three, so it, it definitely is a write off. Let's say I'm an educator and uh, I teach math.

Oh gosh. Okay. , I'm, I'm not, but I'm just saying, let's say there I was one , would there, they could, would there be something like they could help tutor type of thing? The different people in career field? Well, so that's one of the things we, um, we have all certified tutors that we use that that's what, um, The funding goes to towards, because we have all, you know, they're all, um, certified, they're all background checked, all of that.

So we tend to use, because also a lot of our families, um, especially with what they've gone through, um, the kids may be having learning challenges, so they need specialized tutors. Um, but again, they could volunteer as an ambassador. To help us spread the word. That's definitely, they could host fundraiser for us.

You know, there there's just a gamut of ways that they could get involved with us. So if you want to help, you can help. There's a way. Yes, yes. And we're, we're always open to collaboration. You know, we've had some wonderful outcomes with that, with people doing just that, like, hey, This idea and you, next, next thing you know, we're having an event or you know, a new program is, is offered.

So yeah, we're, we're definitely open to that. Awesome. Where on social media can they find you? We're everywhere.  we're, we're on Facebook, Twitter, I, I mean,  people probably friends of mine are probably sick of seeing me, but, um, we're on Twitter, Instagram, we're on LinkedIn. I'm on LinkedIn, I'm on Twitter, Instagram, um, everywhere.

We're on YouTube. We have a YouTube channel as well. So yeah, we're everywhere. , is it all under the Sugar Bear Foundation? All under Sugar Bear. I also have my own personal accounts. Um, okay, so either. Yeah. Awesome. Jennifer's so great to have you on today. So great. Thank you. To share what you're doing. I think that's incredibly important.

I love that you found the gaps, um, that were needed and were willing to jump in and, and feel those for our servicemen and women that have suffered loss. Thank you and thank you for what you're doing. It's, it's just so important, you know, the stories that you're highlighting and, and how you are giving back as well.

So, um, you know, my hat's off to you as well and just, you know, um, thank you for everything you are doing cuz it's, it's definitely needed. Yeah, I appreciate it. I, I'd love sharing the, the stories. I always say like, I'm a, I'm a lucky person because I get to ask the questions that I want to ask, but I know that, that, you know, audience members are, are wanting to know those, you know, those questions and answers as well.

So keep up the awesome work and, uh, thank you. If there's anything I can do for you or our audience can do for you, please just reach. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Thank you. Yeah, thank you. Thank you for listening, and please remember to reach out to me if you're struggling with your mindset, your marriage, or any aspects of mental health.

I'm here to help you. Thanks again for listening. Don't forget to rate and review the show forever. You access your podcast if you know someone that would be great on the show. Please get a hold of our hosts, Jerry Dean L through the Instagram handles at Jerry Fire and Fuel, or at Enduring the Badge Podcast also by visiting the show's website, Enduring the Badge Podcast.

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Jennifer CarazoProfile Photo

Jennifer Carazo

Gold Star wife/ President and CEO of the Sugar Bear Foundation