The life of a fallen soldier inspired his family and friends to form a nonprofit to help soldiers keep in touch with their families as they serve.
Two years after 25-year-old Nic Madrazo was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, his family and friends found that coping with his death was hardly getting easier with time.
“It was still fresh in our minds,” said Joel Madrazo, Nic’s father. “We were still talking about where and when we found out he had died and why.”
The image of two officers waiting at his parents’ Bothell home to deliver the tragic news wouldn’t stop replaying in mother Jenny Madrazo’s head.
Marine 1st Lt. Nicholas Madrazo, who was killed Sept. 9, 2008, was the kind of guy who made it his mission to help others, says his brother Jared Madrazo, 23, an Army lieutenant who is deploying to Afghanistan on Thursday.
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“He’d write my mom to send school supplies to the kids he would meet [in Afghanistan], said Jared, “He said they looked at pens like kids over here look at Xboxes.”
Before deploying to Afghanistan, Nic volunteered in Thailand to aid Burmese refugees. Before that he’d gone to Mexico to help underprivileged children.
“He just made everything he touched better than he left it,” said Ben Wiselogle, one of Nic’s Seattle Pacific University classmates and a close family friend.
To better handle their loss, a cousin suggested the Madrazos launch a nonprofit dedicated to Nic. The idea blossomed into the Nic Aaron Madrazo Endearing Service (N.A.M.E.S) Foundation, which for a year and a half has been raising money to help military families keep in touch with soldiers.
Establishing an independent nonprofit requires a lot more coordination than raising money and then sending it off to a larger charity. There’s paperwork to file to the IRS, insurance to buy to keep donations safe, marketing, event organizing and then hashing out long-term goals among family board members.
And then there was the risk of dwelling on Nic’s death even more than they had been.
“But we decided it was a duty of ours to continue serving and reaching out to the community the way he did,” Jared said.
It’s a testament to Nic that more than 100 friends and family were willing to help carry on his memory, Jenny said. They showed up at the 5-10K run/walks SPU friends Dave Kolk and Josh Barry set up last year (this year’s is on Sept. 9).
They started off using proceeds last year with Jenny, Joel and Jared personally handing out 550 prepaid calling cards to soldiers. Free phone lines at overseas bases usually have long lines of soldiers waiting to talk, and paid lines can cost more than $20 an hour, Jared and Wiselogle said.
“Sometimes those calling cards are your lifeline out there,” Wiselogle said. “And they can add up.”
The pictures Jared sent back home of soldiers in Iraq and at Fort Bliss, Texas, smiling with their calling cards confirmed to the Madrazos that the N.A.M.E.S. Foundation was on the right track.
“All the planning can make you anxious at times,” Jenny said. “But I must admit I like seeing the smiles that come from it.”
Nic’s old friends felt the same. Wiselogle said that’s why the nonprofit is expanding its mission this year by helping finance families’ travel to wounded soldiers at places like Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma. Though there are other nonprofits that help house families near military bases, they don’t cover transportation costs or financial losses from missing work.
The need for such aid has increased along with soldiers’ wait times for medical evaluations and discharge completion. Thousands of wounded soldiers wait more than a year — sometimes two — to be discharged, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. They are in limbo waiting to start civilian lives closer to colleges, new jobs and families. Of 18,651 such cases filed in 2011 — added to cases left over from previous years — the military completed 7,106 last year.
Helping ease the wait for these soldiers’ families is a big goal for a small nonprofit, but the family sees strength in the organization’s personal touch.
They’ve raised almost $20,000 while swapping stories about Nic at fundraising events. And, just as Nic often did, they like offering their financial and moral support directly.
“I like that almost every person donating to the foundation knows exactly who Nic was,” his mother said. “Ultimately, it feels good to see Nic’s generosity live on.”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org