Kelly Gruscinski believes in the power of good deeds.
Each year Gruscinski, a psychology professor at Lorain County Community College, collects holiday cards for the troops that are sent by the USO to men and women serving overseas. She began collecting letters and cards for the troops in 2005 after 20 members of the Brook Park 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment, 4th Marine Division were killed in Iraq.
Over the years, she’s collected and sent thousands of cards, but there is one card that stands out among all the others.
In 2007, one of Gruscinski’s cards landed in the hands of Akeem Inniss, an Army National Guard Specialist from the U.S. Virgin Islands who was stationed in Iraq.
On Christmas Eve that year, Gruscinski received a card from Inniss, thanking her for the Christmas card she sent. Gruscinski wrote back, and then Inniss wrote again. The two became quick pen pals and fast friends.
“It was a blessing that my card was given to Akeem that day,” Gruscinski said. “He was at a low point and receiving that one card made all the difference to Akeem.”
Gruscinski became a shoulder for Inniss to lean on as he navigated the challenges of being stationed so far from home. Their friendship continued after Inniss returned home to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the two exchanged birthday cards, Christmas cards and Inniss sought life advice from his new friend in Ohio.
Inniss began calling Gruscinski his “second mom.” At the age of 29, Inniss reminds Gruscinski of her own children. Photos of Inniss hang in her office alongside the photos of her own family.
“She is like a mother to me,” Inniss said on Facebook. “Whenever I need her she is always there for me. Every birthday of mine from age 22, Kelly always sends me a birthday gift all the way from Ohio. To this day we have never met in person, but we have a special bond.”
The bond is so exceptional, in fact, that when Inniss became a father last year, Gruscinski took on the role of Godmother.
“We have such a special friendship and I am so honored to be the Godmother to his son,” Gruscinski said.
In early October, Gruscinski received a package in the mail. Inside was a Bronze Star that Inniss received for his service in Iraq. He also included a note that in part read, “You earned it with me, I would never have earned this award if it wasn’t for you. ” The Bronze Star is awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement in a combat zone.
Gruscinski framed the medal, along with other mementos of Inniss’ military service and their friendship. She plans to pass the medal on to Inniss’ son in a few years.
“All of this began because I sent cards to the troops. I tell my students all the time how one small gesture of kindness can become something so much bigger,” Gruscinski said.
To encourage her students to get in the habit of serving others, Gruscinski began a Make a Difference project, which allows students to earn extra credit for doing at least one good deed a week. During the holiday season, many of the students choose to write cards for active duty military members and veterans.
Gruscinski and her family hope to visit the Virgin Islands soon to meet Inniss in person. Until then, the two keep in touch through social media, texting – and sending cards.
Gruscinski hopes to collect at least 2,000 cards to send to troops this year. Cards should be unsealed or not in an envelope. Cards can be dropped off at Lorain County Community College in room 234 of the College Center building. To arrange for pick up, contact Gruscinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.