When they first got the call from Patricia Gibson, Michael and Yolanda Fletcher were truly skeptical.
“I didn’t believe it,” said Michael. “I thought it was one of those things where people get you to invest money in something. There’s a lot of that around here, especially to military members. They want you to invest in their organization. We get that so often.”
But the call the Maryland-based couple got from the Legacy Ladies Inc. was indeed very serious. And what convinced the couple was looking at the organization’s web site to see what they had done for the three other families the group had assisted.
The Los Angeles-area nonprofit organization had researched the Fletchers and determined that the young military couple could benefit from assistance through the group’s Adopt-A-Family program.
“Because our organization is so small, we wanted to focus on one family and one individual at a time. We felt that was a great way to make an impact–to work with one family, support the parents as well as the children. That way the outreach could be much greater,” explained Jacqueline Castillo, founder and president of the four-year-old organization.
What made Legacy Ladies select the Fletchers to help was in part the group’s desire to help a military family. They were also impressed by the spirit, character and inspiration the couple gave to others despite their own very trying situation.
Michael, 23, and Yolanda, 26, first met when they were stationed in Alaska in the Air Force.
“They called her Ms. 99 in the squadron because she was the only one to score a 99 on the test,” explained Michael. “I wasn’t dumb but I needed someone to help me study, and I thought who but the best. I studied with her, and I made a 97 on the test. I took her out to dinner to celebrate, and from then on it was just us.”
The two married and while they were still newlyweds, Michael, who was a military policeman (as was Yolanda), was shipped out to Iraq. In 2005, the military humvee he was in flipped over and the first roll ripped off his arm, said Castillo. “On the second roll it crushed his face–the whole midsection. His teeth were destroyed.”
As a result of the accident, Michael lost an eye, and arm and his nose. At the time, medical personnel gave him only 21 hours to live, and they had to resuscitate him twice because of the blood gushing from his severed arm, recounted Castillo.
But Michael was not ready to die, and through sheer strength of will that he calls a blessing from God, and the surgeons at Walter Reed hospital, he survived. In the process, he made medical history, because instead of getting the customary prosthetic nose, he was determined for his son’s sake, to have a nose reconstructed of skin and cartilage from his body.
A team of 40 surgeons, working 40 hours and performed six surgeries to rebuild his nose.
In order to take care of her husband, Yolanda, who was six month pregnant when the accident happened, asked for a discharge from the military after serving only two years of her three-year commitment.
It would take nearly eight months (Aug. 2005 to April 2006) for Michael to recover, and during that time all his bills went into collections. “When I got hurt, it was hard for (Yolanda) to take care of my finances, because we had just gotten married, and she didn’t know much about them,” Michael said. “There was so much treatment and therapy I went through that I forgot about some things. . . Everything started to pile up, and when I saw it was so much, I said how can we even come close to paying so much?”
That was where the Legacy Ladies stepped in. After researching and talking with the couple. Castillo and Gibson flew out to meet them and get a sense of what their needs were. Then the group went to work.
Castillo said they gave the young couple a more fuel efficient car to use in place of the gas guzzling SUV they had; gave them the keys to a house, where the rent would be paid for a year, and convinced Dale Carnegie to offer Michael a scholarship.
“At an awards ceremony, they said everything they were going to do on stage, and I almost choked up. I fought the tears,” remembers Michael. “I was so overwhelmed. I haven’t felt that way since I was in middle school, did a play and got a standing ovation.”
Castillo also urged Yolanda to write a letter of appeal about her own educational situation. She had been denied her educational benefits, and said she was told she could have been discharged as a hardship case.
“I did serve two years in the military, and I got out because Michael was hurt. I had invested in the Montgomery G.I. Bill but since I got out at the two year mark instead of three years, they wouldn’t help me with school,” explained Yolanda, who said she also lost all the money she had invested from her own salary to pay for school.
Currently the fees for her classes at the University of Maryland comes from the family budget, and the Legacy Ladies are looking to help with that, if the appeal of her benefits denial is unsuccessful.
The organization will assist the Fletchers for a year, and the goal is to help them become self sufficient.
Castillo said the ability to help families like the Fletchers is made possible because of their major corporate partners like United Parcel Service (UPS) and Walt Disney Company; through the contributions from members, and because of the annual fundraiser they hold.
“We focus on African American families, because if we can’t help one another, who can we help?” asked Castillo.