A Taste of America

Silent Heroes improve area through quilts, baseball, camping

Jacquelyn McKinstry is Alabama’s state director for Quilts of Valor.

One person invests in military veterans through quilting. Another gives back to youth through baseball. The other contributes to community through a church camp he built.

Though the approaches are different, the most recent Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass award winners improve the region through deep American values, says Wiregrass Electric Cooperative Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro.

“Jacquelyn McKinstry supports our military veterans, displaying her patriotism and thankfulness,” he says. “Charlie Bell teaches younger generations through America’s pastime. Buddy Braswell helps develop fellowship and unity in churches through his camp, and religion played a major role in shaping the United States. These three truly represent what’s great about our country.”

All three recently earned $1,000 from WEC’s Operation Round Up Charitable Foundation and were recognized with special segments sharing their story on WTVY-TV. More than five years after its inception, the Silent Heroes of the Wiregrass partnership continues to highlight the good deeds of ordinary citizens in the area.

“This partnership’s longevity is a testament to the quality of people who live in the Wiregrass,” Kimbro says. “We hope these stories inspire more good acts that further improve our communities.”

Jacquelyn McKinstry

Jacquelyn McKinstry

McKinstry has served since 2016 as Alabama’s state director for Quilts of Valor, a national network of volunteers who sew quilts for military veterans. McKinstry says the quilts honor those who sacrificed much in the service of the country, many of whom suffer ill effects even after retirement or separation.

“A lot of them have posttraumatic stress disorder,” she says. “These quilts surround them and comfort them.”

Working with QOV since 2012, she has witnessed how much a homemade quilt can transform a veteran’s life. One story particularly resonates.

“Bill Metzger served in Vietnam and was a prisoner of war for more than 2,000 days,” she says. “Hardly anybody knew this, but when we presented him with a quilt, he began to open up. It opened up a whole dialogue. He even shared his story at a class reunion.”

QOV, which began in 2003, operates through hundreds of local chapters. People volunteer to sew and can use whatever pattern they want, although they are asked to create quilts of specific sizes.

By the end of 2021, more than 291,000 veterans had received a quilt through QOV. McKinstry says the WEC ORU donation will pay for materials to make more quilts.

Charlie Bell

Charlie Bell

What began as an opportunity for Bell to coach his children has turned into 35 years of dedication to youth sports. Bell, who lives in Dothan, has occupied all positions within the Dixie Youth Baseball organization — including his current post of national director. Dixie Youth supports thousands of baseball players from ages 5 to 12 in 11 states ranging from Virginia to Texas.

Bell loves seeing the joy children have playing baseball.

“It’s always a lifelong dream for children to play baseball. They all want to be on the Yankees,” he says. “I love baseball and all the kids that come through the league. You see them in the grocery store 10 years later, and they still remember you.”

Bell also takes pride in how Dixie Youth furthers the education of many of its former players. Thirty-five people earned a scholarship through the organization in 2021.

Bell says he will use the ORU donation to support the Dothan American League.

Buddy Braswell

Buddy Braswell

After he and his wife served as missionaries in Romania for 10 years, Braswell returned to the Wiregrass looking for a new assignment. He found it on a piece of property on Fletcher Smith Road near Cottonwood.

In 2012, he converted the property to a camping site that various church groups have used for events like fish fries, gospel concerts, and youth gatherings. From that, Braswell Christian Ministries was born.

In addition to serving as a gathering place for area church events, the Braswells also annually operate a three-day summer camp for children. The camp served as a Wired ministry site for three years. Wired is a week-long Biblically-based summer missions program where area teens and preteens complete various community service projects throughout the Wiregrass. To use the camp, an event must have one hour of preaching or Bible teaching.

The camp appears to have a bright future. In early 2022, the Braswells will open a 24-bed dormitory that will likely attract more events and churches.

Braswell is a huge fan of the Silent Heroes program and is honored to be a recent grant recipient.

“I love how the program gives back to so many communities and causes,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine how many people it has helped.

Kimbro thanks the cooperative’s Operation Round Up board members, who tirelessly review nominations to determine the best people to honor.

“This program could not accomplish its great work without our Operation Round Up board members,” he says.

For More Information

To learn more about Quilts of Valor, visit the Quilts of Valor website. To learn more about the camp, visit Braswell Christian Ministries on Facebook or email Braswell. To learn more about Dixie Youth Baseball, visit the Dixie Youth Baseball website.