When Cathy Brooks sends homemade greeting cards to troops serving overseas, she takes it personally.
“When a troop member picks out my card, he or she knows that I made it with my own hands,” Brooks said. "When someone at home receives a card, it’s so special to know their loved one touched it and wrote in it.”
The same type passion has motivated Brooks’ work with area food and holiday stocking drives as well as her service to veterans, foster children and others across the community.
And it’s one that’s been recognized by one of the Midlands corporate trend setters of volunteer service.
Brooks, a senior compliance contract consultant at Colonial Life, has been named the company’s Volunteer of the Year for 2013. The award is given annually to a Columbia-based employee of Colonial Life or an affiliate of its parent company, Unum, who exhibits excellence in volunteer activities in the community, has a positive outlook about volunteerism, is an inspiration to his or her co-workers and whose activities have had an effect on the quality of life in the community.
Brooks was selected from 1,300 eligible employees who contributed 12,500 volunteer hours to area causes in 2013.
Her primary volunteer outreach is Operation Write Home.
In 2005, Brooks read a magazine article that asked people to send Christmas greetings through homemade cards to troops serving overseas. During the next two years, she integrated card-making classes for troops into monthly card classes she taught at a local scrapbook store. In 2008, Brooks discovered the Cards for Heroes organization, now called Operation Write Home, and the following year she started a program at Colonial Life to support that program with card-making classes at lunchtime and after work. She eventually expanded those classes to several churches and an assisted living facility and helped a friend set up a Hero Mail program at a local middle school where the friend teaches.
In 2012, Colonial Life sent 933 of the 1,592 letters delivered to Hero Mail while the middle school she worked with sent 510 pieces of mail. To date Operation Write Home has received 5,718 blank cards and Hero Mail from Brooks and those involved in her programs.
“Cathy has no family in the military and is involved in Operation Write Home simply because she cares about the people in our armed forces,” said Susan Vinson, Colonial Life’s director of contract compliance and filing. “She spends hours making beautifully detailed and unique cards for someone she has never met and will probably never meet.”
Brooks’ other outreach organizations include Carolina Children’s Home, Harvest Hope Food Bank, Salvation Army, United Way of the Midlands and Dorn V.A. Hospital.
“Cathy is always encouraging friends and coworkers to join her efforts,” Vinson said. “And while she never enjoys being in the limelight, she’s very happy to bring attention to an organization she so strongly believes in and supports with her time and talent.”
Colonial Life and its employees contributed more than $2 million to South Carolina charitable organizations in 2013.
Colonial Life annually donates $1,000 to the volunteer of the year’s charity of choice. Brooks selected Operation Write Home.