YORK, Pa. — For Cassidy Spinelli, photos help tell the story of her service.
“Here’s my time being a plane captain,” she said, while turning the pages of her photo album. “We would do detachments in Guam.”
Twenty years in the U.S. Navy took the chief petty officer around the world, including Japan.
“This is downtown Atsugi,” she said, pointing to one photo.
It’s a time she wouldn’t trade for the world.
“So rewarding,” Spinelli said. “Sacrificed a lot of years and just feels amazing.”
Those years weren’t without struggle. While stationed in Japan, she gave birth to now 15-year-old Dante.
“He came out with the umbilical cord, wrapped around his neck,” she said.
Doctors diagnosed Dante with cerebral palsy. He needs a wheelchair and constant care.
They transferred him to San Diego and Spinelli continued her service. However, when Dante was 11, she was deployed to the East Coast.
“That was a year away from Dante,” she said. “A very long time.”
She arranged for Dante’s care in a children’s hospital for the year she was gone. Yet, he was getting older and heavier. Spinelli knew she would eventually need to save enough money for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. She tried to make the most of it.
“Let me see the positive in this time away from Dante,” she recalled thinking. “And I will just save money, save as much as I can - and I know at the end of this I'm going to have a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.”
That ended up happening, but not in the way she expected.
“I think I cried for days just,” she said, as she teared up. “I still cry about it.”
Sierra Barclay is a case manager with the nonprofit Semper Fi & America’s Fund, which helps military members and veterans with financial needs.
“It’s hard to understand unless you've lived it,” she said.
Barclay has seen first-hand what single parents in the military go through.
“It's an unseen sacrifice,” she said. “You know, I think people take it for granted.”
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, about 8% of U.S. Military service members are single parents. Out of all the men in the military, about 4% are single fathers. Meanwhile, 11% of all the women in the military are single mothers.
When the Fund learned about Spinelli’s drive to save enough money for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, they stepped in and purchased the $80,000 vehicle for her.
“We're able to kind of fill in the gap there financially,” Barclay said.
Spinelli was overwhelmed.
“It's really life-changing,” she said. “Once we had the vehicle, I just found myself taking him so many more places.”
That is why she wanted to get the word out to other single parents in the military, who may need some extra help.
“It's a tough balance, it really is, to be a single parent in the military,” Spinelli said. “I am very grateful to say that I've had gracious leaders along the way.”
She also received help from nonprofits like Semper Fi & America’s Fund, who ask that people do one thing during this May Military Appreciation Month.
“When you pass a service member, the best thing you can do is thank them for their service,” Barclay said.
It is a service they embrace, along with their families.
“Just seeing his face light [up],” Spinelli said of her son, “it's everything.”