Weather Updates

GIs in Afghanistan helping make Christmas brighter here

Updated: January 25, 2013 6:07AM

This time of year usually brings a stream of gifts to soldiers stationed overseas from grateful civilians at home. But one Yorkville soldier and her comrade in arms are playing Santa — from Afghanistan — to a needy family in St. Charles.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I first heard from Jill,” said Denise Blettner, development director for the Fox Valley United Way.

Jill is Army Administration Spec. Jill Wackerlin-Watson, an Oswego native who lives in Yorkville when she’s not serving in the Middle East with the National Guard.

Wackerlin-Watson contacted the United Way about making a donation to its Holiday Assistance Program.

“To think of helping people in need back home when she’s living and working in a war zone takes a great deal of compassion,” Blettner said.

Wackerlin-Watson learned about the United Way’s Holiday Assistance Program from a friend’s Facebook post, Blettner said. After downloading a brochure about the program, the 30-year-old e-mailed Blettner and asked for a list of children she could choose to adopt. Wackerlin-Watson adopted a homeless family headed by a nurse’s aide who lost her job shortly after her mother died, leaving her to raise her two young siblings as well as her own son.

“We started receiving packages from her in early December,” Blettner said. “She’s really being astoundingly generous. Our guidelines call for spending about $50 per child, and she’s gone way over that. She’s ordered name-brand sweatshirts that cost $70 apiece online, as well as other gifts.”

When Wackerlin-Watson mentioned her donation to Ray Manaois, another administration specialist with whom she works in Afghanistan, he volunteered to join the project. Manaois adopted the same St. Charles family and sent them gifts, as well as donating cash to the project to buy food for needy families.

“Thanks much for sharing the info with me!” he e-mailed to Wackerlin-Watson, who forwarded it to Blettner. “My heart goes out to the families back home as well, and I want to do what I can to help out, too.”

Wackerlin-Watson referred to Blettner as “the wonderful lady who helped me be able to give a family a Christmas.”

Nine years ago, then-Oswego Village President Craig Weber called Wackerlin-Watson a hero and praised her dedicated service to her country during a 17-month tour of duty in Iraq.

At that time, Wackerlin-Watson said she spent her tour driving equipment trucks between military bases in Iraq and Kuwait. Now she and Manaois manage military support services throughout Afghanistan, Manaois explained to Blettner.

“Thank you for making this wonderful program happen and making sure many children have a Christmas. I hope they love the gifts!” Wackerlin-Watson e-mailed Blettner Dec. 11.

For more information about the Holiday Assistance Program, contact program coordinator Deborah Collins at 630-896-4636 or

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.