BY JOE MARVILLI
While many people spent the Thursday before the Fourth of July preparing for barbecues and fireworks, a few children read letters to their military parents about the meaning of freedom.
In North Shore-LIJ’s Community Health Building in Manhasset, three members of the armed forces came together to listen to their children talk about what their parents’ service meant to them. The letters they read included feelings of pride, fear and happiness over their parents’ respective positions.
This event came out of the hospital’s VALOR employer resource group, which is dedicated to helping veterans re-enter civilian life and the civilian workforce. Members of this reintegration program were selected for the first edition of this event, where their children celebrated Independence Day by talking about the price of freedom and the sacrifices made by all.
“I think that people who have served, you’ve made this investment. I think these kids are invested too,” Andrew Roberts, director of Military and Veterans Liaison Services at North Shore-LIJ, said. “They have a better appreciation for what we’re celebrating this weekend. I think they did a great job of sharing that with us today.”
Two of the guests have connections to Queens. Katrina Aronoff and her two daughters, Alina and Evelyn, are from Forest Hills. Katrina is a reservist in the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as a radiation therapist. Both Alina and Evelyn were proud of their mom.
“In the military, my mom helps people by protecting them and saving them from drowning or dying. It is important to save people because it is not always about yourself,” Alina said. “I bet she was a great big hero.”
Evelyn was also enthusiastic, saying that she wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps in her letter.
“My mom is the best. My mom saves people. My mom rides boats. My mom can be a hero,” she said. “When I grow up, I want to be in the Coast Guard.”
Katrina said she was grateful to North Shore-LIJ for the opportunity to hear her daughters speak from the heart on their mom’s path in the military, a decision she made with her family’s blessing about a year and a half ago.
“It’s pretty amazing. It’s so hard for little people to talk about how they feel. For them to open up about it, it kind of takes your breath away,” Katrina said. “I wanted to fulfill my dream of being in the Coast Guard. It was a family decision. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Another speaker was Camilo Serrano, the son of Juan Serrano, who served in the Marine Corps from 2000 to 2009 and now works for North-Shore LIJ in Rego Park. Juan was injured during his time overseas, fracturing his neck. This injury gave Camilo a personal perspective on the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers.
“I am glad my father is alive and I am grateful to him and all his Marine friends, because their sacrifice afforded us with the opportunity to make our own choices,” he said. “I am proud to be an American, because as a nation we achieved freedom, and today is a good day to remember that freedom is not free.”
Juan responded to Camilo’s letter, saying that his son understood what it takes for a family member to be supportive to those fighting overseas. He added that the children of military members are essential in recovering and transitioning back into civilian life.
“They are your nurse, they are your therapist. They are the ones who assist you in that transition and assist you with becoming free of being afraid,” he said. “Being overseas, you get to endure many things that are not spoken about. People will not be able to understand unless you are there.”
Although this is the first time North Shore-LIJ has held this type of event, Roberts said he hopes it becomes an annual tradition.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JoeMarvilli.