In a hotel ballroom in suburban Washington D.C., a 12-year-old from Texas and a young Air Force Reserve sergeant from Tampa salute the flag. It begins the day at Good Grief Camp, for families grieving the death of a loved one who was serving in the armed forces.
The 12-year-old's father died while serving in the Air Force; the young sergeant from Tampa volunteered to be her mentor. The camp is organized by TAPS, which stands for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. It's a non-profit group founded in 1994.
There are hundreds of children at the camp from all over America. Their faces are happy. The healing is constant. The sergeant from Tampa, Naara-Liz Miguez Vera, is planning to take 12-year-old Lauren to the Air Force base where her dad was a reservist so that she can understand more about where he served and why.
But the mentor also has other plans for Lauren.
"To play and dance and give her piggyback rides!" said Vera.
Their bond doesn't stop at camp. They also email one another, talk on the phone and Skype.
Naara-Liz volunteered as a TAPS mentor, along with her friend Lorimar Rivera Morgado, also in the 927th Air Refueling Wing at MacDill AFB. They work together at the base clinic as they also work on careers in health care outside the military.
Lorimar mentors an 8-year-old who is working through the suicide of a loved-one, all too common in the military.
"To be able to break the ice and to say, 'Hey I lost somebody close to me too.' It kind of helps her to feel comfortable to talk to me about it as well," she said.
Mentors also receive special training on how to talk to children about the devastating loss of a loved one.
Every chance they get, Lorimar and Naara Liz volunteer. They buy their own airline tickets and hotel rooms to attend TAPS functions all over the country. They take photos with the girls they mentor. Kids and mentors wear red, white and blue T-shirts and tiny American flags are painted on their faces. They smile and laugh and talk.
"It's an amazing way to give back to our brothers and sisters who have made the ultimate sacrifice," says Lorimar. "Knowing that if I had to make the ultimate sacrifice my family would be taken care of."
For more information on TAPS and Good Grief Camp, visit www.taps.org.