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VIProfile: Daryl Mackin

By Lee Rennick

When Daryl Mackin’s neighbors, Henry and Fay Golczynski, lost their son, Marine Staff Sargent Marcus Golczynski, in combat during the Iraq War in 2007, he really had no idea how to help them. Although a military veteran himself, Mackin, like many Americans, asked himself, “did it matter and does anyone even care?” Although he loves the men and woman who wear the uniform, he had never really thought about the families left behind. Then he read a letter that changed his life.

“I had the honor to read a letter Marc had written to family and friends defending why he was going back for his second combat tour in Iraq,” said Mackin. “Marc wrote, ‘We are warriors and as warriors that have gone before us, we fight and sometimes die so our families don’t have to. Stand beside us because we would do it for you. It is our unity that has allowed us to prosper as a nation.’ When I finished reading that letter, I had a fire in me to do something for my neighbors. Marc said, ‘Stand beside us.’ I thought to myself, how? The answer came to me in different ways. But it was clear, I knew God was calling me to something unique. I would do it by caring for their kids, now orphaned.”

On Christian Golczynski’s 10th birthday, Mackin and his family attended a Marine bust ceremony for his father Marc in Lewisburg, Tennessee. They arrived with gifts for Christian in a way to communicate that he mattered, that he was loved in a special way, that they honored his father’s ultimate sacrifice and they offered him hope. From that small gesture, Mackin began A Soldier’s Child Foundation.

Mackin spent six years in the US Navy as a cook and both his biological father and his step-father were combat veterans with PTSD, so he knows about what service means and how it can affect a family. Both of his fathers were out of his life before he was 12.

“Originally from Long Island, New York,” said Mackin, “I came from a family of 16 kids, eight boys and eight girls. It was a case of yours, mine and ours.” The only boy in his family assigned to kitchen duty, he always loved to cook. After his time in the Navy, he went on to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

“From there I continued to chef everywhere from Nantucket to Florida to Maui, Hawaii,” said Mackin. “I married my wife, Jojo, in 1995. We have three children, 15-year-old twins Malakai and Nadia and our oldest, Zachariah, is soon to be 20. Also in 1995, I became a chef instructor at a local high school in Bridgton, Maine, my wife’s hometown. This is what brought me to Murfreesboro in 2004. I was hired as the Culinary Arts Teacher at Blackman High School.”

There he turned many a student on to the art of cooking, as well as having his students create the opening dinner for The Avenue Murfreesboro for 800 dignitaries. He and his students won a number of cooking championships, but his call to start and build A Solder’s Child was stronger than his love of cooking.

Although A Soldier’s Child began with and still sponsors birthday celebrations, they have also added programs for those between the ages of nine and 16 and they offer college scholarships. Every year from birth to age 18, they spend $150 per child for birthday presents gleaned from a gift interview form. Journey Camp, mentorship programs and mini camps for golf, dance, theater, science, song writing and hunting/fishing are offered to kids nine through 16 who have lost a military parent or parents. Currently, these occur in Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, Maine and Nebraska. Kids are encouraged to attend for three years to help them with their grief. A leadership development program (PS23) has been designed for young adults 18 years of age and above. PS23 is an intensive outdoor weekend focusing on mind, body and spirit. And A Soldier’s Story facilitates college scholarships for their recipients through their partner organization The Folded Flag Foundation.

“It’s been 13 years now,” said Mackin. “We serve over 4,000 children nationwide. We spend over $35,000 a month on birthday gifts, celebrating birthdays for over 250 kids. We conduct 18 camps a year, offer a Christmas program and more. We do this all out of our office in Smyrna with four staff members and literally thousands of volunteers. We expect to exceed 5,000 children by the end of 2022.”

He has no plans to stop, in fact, Mackin has big ideas for the future. Currently, the organization is looking for land to build their A Solder’s Child home compound. They envision an office building, family retreat lodge, bunk houses for kids, zip lines, animals and an art center to serve both the mom’s and kids within their foundation. Also, many of the children they serve do not qualify for the GI bill or other military non-profit scholarship funds. So, they have started their own Xavier Martin “Fill in-the Gap” Memorial Scholarship Fund. Martin was a sailor who died during active-duty service never having the opportunity to go to college. The “Fill in-the Gap” fund will be offered to young adults in the program that are not receiving any college funding benefits.

“Recently a friend and advisor said to me, ‘Daryl, what got you here, won’t get you there.’ It struck a chord inside. I feel God is leading me to think about and plan for the sustainability and continual growth of A Soldier’s Child after I am gone. We have begun events across the country raising funds with corporations, churches, small business groups, civic groups and others. Our military men and woman are willing to run into what most of us would run from. Join us as we champion the cause for A Soldier’s Child.”

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