An effort to aid a co-worker's daughter teams with campaign for wounded vets

A pictorial `thank you' for the troops' service

November 09, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

Jackie Geyer couldn't stand by when her co-worker's daughter left for Iraq on May 3. It was Lori Tietz's birthday and a week before Mother's Day. "It just didn't sit right with me," said Geyer, who works at Air Inc. in Annapolis.

The Severna Park resident soon sent an empty photo album to Navy Lt. Jennifer Tietz, a 2001 Naval Academy graduate, and pledged to send her photos that would lift her spirits.

Geyer wrote "Thank you" in bold, black letters on a plain sheet of paper and asked strangers to pose with it for pictures. She has sent a different photo to Tietz every week since.

Jennifer Tietz said the photos have helped her put bad days in perspective.

"I look at the photos several times a week and take every opportunity to pull out the album any time I meet someone new who is feeling glum or missing home," she wrote in an e-mail from the detention camp where she is stationed in southern Iraq.

Some of Geyer's photos have made it into a 2008 calendar to raise money for Maryland for Our Military, a nonprofit support group for wounded veterans and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

The calendars are on sale for $10 each - $9 of which will go to Maryland for Our Military if all of the calendars are sold. Rissa Miller, co-owner of Balance Photography of Catonsville, which produced the calendars, hopes to raise $10,000 by the end of the year.

Miller, a former photo editor for The Sun, and her husband, Nathaniel Corn, had heard about the need for donations of money and personal items for wounded veterans from the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce.

Balance Photography enlisted the help of Geyer's niece, Ashley Riddle, in June to style female models for each month's photo. Riddle, of Elkridge, runs Up-Do's for I Do's, a bridal hairstyle and makeup company.

When Riddle learned of her aunt's project, she introduced Geyer to Miller and Corn. Geyer's thank-you photos appear in the empty blocks of each month's calendar.

Balance Photography scheduled "wholesome" shoots of the 14 models, who donated their time to pose for the pictures. Miller and Corn chose sites in the Baltimore-Washington area as backdrops and shot the photos in a week during July. The winter scenes were the most difficult for the models, Miller said.

"We were mopping the sweat off of them, saying, `Come on, act cold,'" she said.

One of the more important backdrops was Walter Reed. A picture of wounded veterans holding up a sign that reads "You're Welcome" is on the back page of the calendar.

Kathy Ratti, founder of Maryland for Our Military, introduced Geyer, Miller and Riddle to the veterans at Walter Reed. Sgt. John Borders agreed to be photographed with his wife, Mollie. He said the project is a refreshing antidote to the bad news from Iraq.

"It's just nice that members of the general public want to thank us and found a unique way to show it," said Borders, who has been receiving treatment at Walter Reed since an improvised explosive device detonated under the Humvee he was driving in Iraq on Jan. 5, 2006.

His legs were crushed, and he also suffered contusions to his lungs, shrapnel burns to his face, liver damage and a broken arm. Doctors amputated his right leg below the knee and have performed several operations to save his left leg.

Because of the length of his treatment, his family moved to Maryland a few weeks ago. Ratti and her organization supported the Borders family with groceries, clothes, gasoline money and other needs. She took his daughter on shopping trips and helped his family navigate the military bureaucracy.

Riddle said the calendar project is popular with soldiers in Iraq. She sent her aunt's thank-you photos to another soldier, her childhood friend, Chris Watford, who is stationed in Iraq with the Air Force. She said he was so excited that he has ordered calendars for other airmen.

Geyer said she was unprepared for meeting some of the wounded soldiers whom the calendar sale will benefit at Walter Reed.

"The thing that struck me was that a veteran is not [just] my grandfather or someone from World War II," Geyer said. "A veteran is 19 years old."

Lori Tietz said Geyer's project and emotional support have been overwhelming. Geyer had never met Tietz's daughter but is helping both women deal with their anxieties.

"It takes away that stress because you don't feel like you're alone," Lori Tietz said.

The calendars will be on sale from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. today at the Big Bean coffee shop, 558 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd. in Severna Park, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Hard Bean Cafe & Booksellers on City Dock in Annapolis. The Thank You Calendar also can be purchased online at www.thankyoucalendar.com.

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