Carmen George

Clovis church groups care for family of service member

Black Hawk helicopter pilot Daniel Yoder and his Fresno family will have a lot less to worry about over the next year thanks to the generosity of people who care.

The 28-year-old soon will be sent to Kuwait for nine months. He has been stationed in Texas for a couple of months in the Army National Guard and didn’t think he would be able to see his wife and three young sons until late next year.

People at Northside Christian Church in Clovis had other ideas. They weren’t about to let the price of a plane ticket keep the young family apart around Thanksgiving.

Members of the family’s church pooled funds to buy his ticket home and, on Saturday, Yoder surprised his wife, Jaimie, and sons David, 6, Dalton, 4, and Declan, 1 1/2 , at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Fresno.

His four-day visit is just one of many surprises made possible by the generosity of people at Northside, one of many churches around the central San Joaquin Valley that essentially adopt a military family.

Jaimie Yoder will have a small army of support at her disposal while her husband is serving overseas.

The first on a long list of volunteer helpers is Vashie Miller. She and her husband, Scott, are in a Northside life group with the Yoders. Each of the small groups gathers weekly to discuss the Bible and their Christian faith.

Miller wanted to help the family install security cameras they purchased before Daniel Yoder was deployed, so she enlisted the help of an electrician who attends their church, Kevin Arnold with KJA Electrical, who did the installation work free of charge.

That good deed “snowballed” into others.

In September, Daniel and Jaimie Yoder went on a cruise and the Millers watched their three boys – and had a painter paint the whole interior of the Yoders’ 2,000-square-foot home – while they were away. The painter, who donated the paint and labor and doesn’t want to be named, also attends Northside.

Before painting, churchgoers volunteered their time and energy moving the Yoders’ furniture.

Another Northside life group decided they wanted to help the Yoders, too. Among them is mechanic Harold Blanchard of Clovis Drop Shop, who fixed the family’s overheating van and repaired the broken air conditioner. His wife, Joan Blanchard, will be cleaning the Yoders’ home once a month.

The group also had a landscaper remove some of the Yoders’ dead plants, trim their trees and mow their lawn – and has other home-improvement projects in mind, such as building a kitchen pantry.

Jaimie Yoder says her house “feels like a home now. … We were in the middle of remodeling our home when we heard that he was going to deploy.”

Miller says she wanted to help because she loves the Yoders and those serving in the military, and because “God demands it.

“We’re supposed to take care of one another.”

A verse from the Bible is part of the inspiration:

“It says to make sure you take care of the fatherless, the widowed and the alien,” Miller says. “And, granted, they are not fatherless or widowed, but he’s (Daniel Yoder) not here, so they kind of are.”

Ron Twinn can easily imagine the family’s hardships: He was away from home for six months serving during the Vietnam War. He wants to make it easier for the Yoders.

“If you have somebody who is willing to be absent from their family and their duties – especially with three young children – that’s quite a commitment,” Twinn says. “You never get those days back.”

Yoder has done what he can to make himself present at home while he is away. He has hidden notes around the house for his children to find, recorded his voice in stuffed animals, saying how much he loves them, and is in the process of recording himself reading books so he can still be there at bedtime.

“He’s an amazing father,” Jaimie Yoder says. “I feel bad that he’s going to miss out on a year of his boys’ lives. That’s really hard to think about, but he’s making up for it daily. … He’s a very good supporter of us.”

Daniel Yoder is grateful for all the kind people supporting his wife and children while he is away.

“Everything they’ve done and are doing and are planning on doing – it’s just been overwhelmingly amazing. … It gives us peace to know that if anything was to go wrong, it’s going to be taken care of or we’ll have support and help through it.”

Joan Blanchard hopes that “maybe this will inspire other people to step up and take care of other needy families in the area.”

“It’s not just servicemen alone,” Twinn adds, “it’s other people out there that need help.”

Jaimie Yoder says she was stressed and nervous when she learned of her husband’s coming deployment. Not anymore.

“Everything that was a worry in my mind – the security cameras, the house not being finished, my car breaking down, who’s going to take care of my lawn, who’s going to watch my kids when I’m sick – all of these things, and now I literally don’t worry about anything. Everybody has stepped up in such a big way.”