When we step out in faith, asking God to bless our hands in our endeavor to give Him glory, it is not surprising to be met with an unimaginable outcome. Lynelle Chauncey Zelnar, of Palm Beach, knows this firsthand, as she has watched her initial desire to help others be transformed into a well-known national organization that touches men and women on the front lines in the war overseas.
It all started back in 2003, when Lynelle was working as a full-time property manager. She remembers one of her co-workers living with the daily stress of having a son who was stationed far away and was experiencing depression due to the things he was seeing while on duty. “I remember her asking me specifically to pray for him and his friends who were stationed with him, so I started praying and I also decided to pack some boxes for him and his friends,” recalls Lynelle. Taking it one step further, Lynelle started to speak to others at a Christian coffeehouse that she frequently attended, explaining to them what she was doing. Immediately, people started to jump on board and began to give Lynelle additional names of soldiers that they knew. Lynelle had no idea what was coming next.
“Things just started to grow. We began to receive so many items, more names and addresses of soldiers and then FPL and Palm Beach County Schools jumped on board, supplying more names and using the school’s after-care program to allow the children to get involved with writing letters and collecting items,” explains Lynelle, now Executive Director of the organization. “Shortly afterward, a local attorney and C.P.A. came on board, pro bono, and the next thing I knew, the media became involved.” Good Morning America contacted the organization, officially incorporated as Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, Inc. (FSO), and gave them national exposure on the morning program. Soon after, FSO was blessed with corporate sponsors and numerous schools, churches and other organizations from around the country who wanted to become involved.
FSO’s Growth and Mission
Having grown into a nationally recognized organization licensed in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, FSO now packs and ships over 500 care packages per month to individuals, squads and battalions that are serving in the military – benefiting well over 1,000 soldiers per month through the items in the packages. “These boxes include so many different items that come in handy – from beef jerky to protein food, necessary toiletries for men and women, baby wipes and cleaning products, donated coffee from Starbucks, donated Girl Scout cookies through the generosity of the Tropical Florida Council and the most ‘looked forward to’ item – the letters of encouragement,” tells Lynelle. “Our organization really brings Christmas all year round to these men and women. Our mission is to send a little bit of home to make sure that these soldiers know that they are not forgotten. We do try to beef it up a little around the holidays with more traditional items – Christmas cards and candy canes – and we also hold a Christmas in July event where we ship the soldiers blank Christmas cards so that they can prepare for the holiday and have nice cards to send out to their family members and friends.”
“What helps FSO stand out from other organizations is that we never take a break – we ship out these packages every month. It is easy for these soldiers’ morale to go down as they are living with the fact that their lives are on the line and many of them are living in harm’s way every day. So if we are able to provide them with a few minutes of glory and bring a smile to their face, it is worth it and we are doing God’s Life . They need to know we haven’t forgotten about them. I feel that everyone in America, regardless of their political affiliation, should stand in support of these men and women,” Lynelle shares. “This is why we have the freedoms we do in the states – why we are able to go to church whenever we want, go fishing, go out with our friends and enjoy our lives everyday. I feel that too many people take this for granted and that we have become severely complacent in the United States. It is easy to take for granted what you have if you aren’t careful.”
In addition to the monthly care packages sent out through FSO, the organization helps to build a camaraderie among the family members of soldiers who repeatedly share how therapeutic they find the act of volunteering. Whether they are using their talents in fundraising, packing items or community outreach events , they know they are being used in a positive way and fellowshipping with others who are going through the same situation as they are – waiting for their loved ones to come home.
Faced With a Personal Loss
In addition to being able to relate to the volunteers at FSO in the desire of reaching out and helping soldiers, Lynelle can personally relate to experiencing the tragic loss of a family member killed in action. Lynelle’s nephew, Specialist Michael L. Stansbery Jr., 21, was killed a few months ago, on July 30, 2010, by an I.E.D. while serving in Afghanistan. Stansbery, who had already served one tour in Iraq, was a large part of Forgotten Soldiers, continually giving his aunt and FSO’s packing event manager names of fellow soldiers who he knew would be so thankful to receive a care package from back home. “He was a good Christian man who was always so excited about our mission here at Forgotten Soldiers. He would provide us with names continually because he would get joy out of others benefiting from what we do here. This was something that just hit home here for everyone at the organization and brought our mission full circle. I am even more driven now and we are going to honor the memory of my nephew and all of the other fallen heroes. We are here for them – that is our mission,” Lynelle adds.
All in His Hands
Lynelle will be the first to tell you how the Life came to be what it is today – through the work of God’s mighty hand.
“I am clearly just a servant. God has pulled us through so many times. I have faced the prospect of closing the doors because we did not have enough money to send out the packages. Through answered prayer, God always sends an angel our way. All of a sudden a business or individual will come through with a donation or with warehouse space. We have truly been blessed and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that God has been the main reason why our organization has been so successful,” explains Lynelle.
When the organization was facing a difficult season, Lynelle shares how an email from a soldier reminded her of how God is working through FSO, stating, “We received an email from a soldier who was really having a hard time, and through our care package and the letter and tracts that were inside of it, he told us that it brought him back into a relationship with Christ. What is more powerful then learning that a soldier’s faith has been restored through a package you have sent out? When people compliment FSO, I tell them that we are doing God’s work and God’s Life and tell them to give the glory to Him.”
For those looking for a volunteer opportunity that will benefit our country’s heroes, Forgotten Soldiers is the perfect outreach where they can use their gifts, talents and free time. “This is a great opportunity for people to show their support. We are a ‘feel good’ operation, and volunteers leave here knowing that they just touched the life of a soldier. If we get the chance to touch the life of even one soldier out there and restore his or her faith in God, then I know we are doing God’s work and I believe that is what life is all about,” adds Lynelle.
To learn more about Forgotten Soldiers or to become involved in the organization, please visit: www.forgottensoldiers.org or call 561-369-2933.