0430PADENaudListen to Amy Paden, a Hall County native living in Kansas, talk about efforts through her nonprofit organization, Hearts of America, to gather items for the military serving in the Middle East.
Those interested in donating items or money to Hearts of America can contact Amy Paden at 785-655-9402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Paden never considered herself to be super patriotic.
But the events of 9/11 and then later, a co-worker losing her son in Iraq at the start of the war, transformed her life.
"Incidents like that got me thinking that it’s really a blessing to be here in the states," she said.
"It just became more realistic to me how military families and the military themselves make a sacrifice for those of us who don’t experience that firsthand."
But rather than just glow in her newly energized feelings for America, Paden decided to take action.
She founded Hearts of America, which works to gather items for military men and women serving in the Middle East. The items can meet personal needs or be used, such as toys and school supplies, in humanitarian efforts for people in that part of the world.
Paden’s efforts began several years ago when a cousin’s husband, serving in Iraq, asked for some toys found in fast-food children’s meals.
"They wanted to use them on their missions, to give out to the kids," she said Wednesday during a visit to the North Hall home of her grandmother, Erverine Miller. "It had become a hobby of mine to gather up items such as that and also items specifically for the troops."
Paden said she considers the organization, which began officially in the summer of 2008, as a "supplemental resource." The group has started a Web site, www.heartsamerica.com.
"Our goal is to become nationwide," she said.
She has spent this week trying to stir up interest in her hometown, speaking to the Gainesville Kiwanis Club on Tuesday and receiving donated items from that group.
She also is working with her Web site designer, Valerie Williams, who lives in Covington, and takes sporadic trips to the Gainesville area.
Paden, 38, grew up in Hall County, attending North Hall High School before moving to Kansas. She now works at Fort Riley, home of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, where she prepares microscopic slides from surgery specimens.
She said her work with Hearts of America has been "a fulfilling experience."
"It’s something that if someone were to come up to me 20 years ago and said, ‘Would you ever consider (such an effort)?’ I probably would have said ‘no’," Paden said.
"It’s something very simple. ... It doesn’t matter your age, your background, your financial status — there’s a place for everyone, whether it’s volunteering your time or volunteering your services you might be doing as a living."
Miller said she is proud of her granddaughter.
"She likes to go out and do things and help people," she said. "... She’s always been a hard worker."