Few parents or grandparents would question the importance of raising strong, independent and courageous children. However, knowing how to accomplish that is an entirely different matter. In her 2017 book, “World Changer, “Gold Star mother Karen Vaughn shares an insightful blueprint and study guide grounded in the incredible journey raising her son, Aaron.

Aaron Vaughn was a highly decorated Navy Seal who was tragically killed alongside 29 fellow warriors on August 6, 2011 while deployed in Afghanistan. The 30 were part of the elite Seal Team VI, shot down in their helicopter Extortion 17.

Before you can fully appreciate Karen Vaughn’s parenting advice (which, by the way, is incredibly helpful to anyone who spends time mentoring, encouraging and supporting children and youth), it’s important to understand her story. She shares her family’s story in beautiful, inspiring and heart wrenching detail in the book, which describes Aaron’s childhood on their small farm in West Tennessee.

Aaron had the goal of becoming a Navy Seal from a very young age. Karen and her husband, Billy, supported and cultivated Aaron’s dream through encouragement, but also by allowing him enough freedom to fail at times, and, therefore, develop resilience and grit.

“Parachuting in to right every wrong on a child’s behalf can actually rob him of the valuable lessons he needs to experience in order to prepare him for a successful life,” she writes, urging parents not to waste those teachable moments. “…every hurtful experience has a take-away and becomes an opportunity for growth.“

Karen’s thoughtful tips breathe new life into traditional parenting concepts such as instilling a strong work ethic, personal responsibility and respect for elders. She helps parents understand how to teach – and model – compassion, empathy and meaningful service. Karen also makes important distinctions between what responsibilities belong to the child and which belong to the parent – a dynamic that has become more confusing and complex for children and adults alike in recent years.

Southwest Florida residents will have an opportunity to hear from Karen firsthand on Thursday, March 8, as she delivers the keynote address at Drug Free Collier’s 10th annual community awareness luncheon. Karen’s passion for helping parents raise kids who will make a difference in the world supports the coalition’s mission to help youth make healthy decisions that lead to a successful life.

An essential aspect of Drug Free Collier’s youth development programming is helping young people connect with their sense of purpose, identify their values and goals, and learn the life skills necessary to stay on track toward those goals. Young people who have a vision for their life and the tools and support to pursue it are less likely to be sidetracked by drugs, alcohol or other unhealthy activities and decisions that could get in the way. The Vaughn’s’ unwavering support of Aaron’s dream of becoming a Navy SEAL, was a critical factor in his staying focused on achieving that goal.

“I’m not going to pretend he was impervious to trouble, but he chose friends wisely and stayed home a lot on weekend nights, rather than running with the crowd,” Karen writes. “He had a long-term vision and anything superfluous – or potentially posing a threat to his end game – would have to take a backseat. “

Reading Aaron’s story, it’s clear that he was destined to become a “world changer.” His parents, Karen and Billy, have carried on his legacy through sharing his powerful story, advocating for veterans and supporting Operation 300, a nonprofit founded by Aaron’s sister, Tara. Operation 300 funds and operates an all-expense paid adventure camp for children who have lost fathers as a result of military service.

Karen’s deepest passion today is helping Americans understand the level of sacrifice our military men and women make to secure and sustain our freedom – and encouraging citizens to live a life worthy of the sacrifices made on their behalf.

To hear Karen Vaughn share Aaron’s remarkable life and the principles of raising a world changer, secure your tickets at www.drugfreecollierevent.org or call Drug Free Collier at239.302.6717. Lisa Gruenloh is Director of Program Development for Drug Free Collier, responsible for the organization’s youth development, life and leadership skills programming.

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