On May 3, 2016, Anastasia Welborne volunteered at the Honor Flight fundraiser by the Lafayette Gold Star Mothers, a fundraiser that helps pay for veterans to see the war memorials in their honor in Washington, D.C. Anastasia greeted guests, hugged as many veterans and Gold Star Mothers as possible, and helped clear tables.
Veterans are very close to Anastasia's heart because her grandfather fought in WW2 in the Philippines. However, he died when she was only two years old. Although she doesn't remember him, she says that she knows he was a very great man by the stories that she has heard about him.
"We like to go to the Honor Flights to welcome the veterans back, but it's too exhausting for me (because of my cerebral palsy) to cheer and wave pompoms", Anastasia told Miss Amazing. "So I hold a sign that says 'Free Hugs for Veterans'."
Anastasia has hugged a lot of veterans in the past couple of years! In fact, she and her sister have hugged so many veterans that the Lafayette Gold Star Mothers now call them "The Hug Girls" and have asked them to help with other Honor Flights. They help by greeting and hugging the veterans, veterans' wives, and Gold Star Mothers. They also help by leading the Pledge of Allegiance and decorating. Anastasia has been volunteering at the Honor Flights on the first Tuesday of each month for three months now, and she loves it!
Anastasia has a special bond with one of the God Star Mothers, Marilyn Franz (pictured above), because she also has Cerebral Palsy. Mrs. Franz cheered Anastasia on at this year's Indiana Miss Amazing event, and was touched to see the participants being celebrated.
Anastasia says, "She is very encouraging to me, and she says that I am very encouraging to her. Mr. and Mrs. Franz wanted to be the first ones to donate to my 'Go to Nationals Fund'. I'm so thankful for them!"
Anastasia's favorite part of the Honor Flights is, of course, hugging the veterans. She also enjoys talking to veterans and Gold Star Mothers and hearing their stories because it inspires her to do great things. She especially admires Raymond Miller, who flew bombing missions over Europe during WW2.
She says, "I love him because hugging him feels like hugging my grandpa, even though they fought in different theaters. I've hugged him many times, but this time, when he saw my tiara and sash, he took his hat off because he said he was in the presence of royalty! He has such a sweet laugh."
For Anastasia, hugging veterans and Gold Star Mothers is a passion.
In her words, "My contribution is small, but it makes the veterans happy to be hugged and honored."
Check out WLFI's story on Anastasia below!