SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- For nearly a decade, Isaiah Navarro has used his own experience as the child of a military service member to fuel his mission to let other military children know they're not forgotten.
"My freshman year of high school I didn't see my dad for 365 days that year," Navarro said.
Navarro said that year, his dad was deployed to Afghanistan, again.
"It was a very long year," Navarro said.
Frequent relocations, parents in combat situations, long separation - these are just some of the harsh realities for the children of military service members. While mom, dad or both are gone fighting for our freedom, life goes on back home.
"He missed all the award ceremonies. He missed all the different soccer games, basketball games," Navarro said.
So, at just 14 years of age, Navarro decided to do something about it. He started the Military Children's Charity (MCC).
With mom and grandma by his side and his dad and Marine buddies cheering him on, one toy at a time, Navarro would let military children know they weren't alone.
"His base, as I was collecting toys, was counting along with me," Navarro said.
"So that first year I was like, 'Oh let's do a thousand toys. I'm going to collect a thousand,' right and then everyone is like, 'Oh, OK, yeah, haha,'" Navarro said.
By May 2019, MCC was a volunteer-run nonprofit boasting more than 120,000 gifts of appreciation. That was just more than $1 million worth in donations to families across Southern California, according to Navarro.
"There was a point where we were sending stuff off to Hawaii and Guam," Navarro said.
School and baby supplies, toys, comfort gifts for those mourning the loss of a parent - the challenge quickly became where to put it all.
"We're looking for donated warehouse space so that we can store the gifts that come in," Navarro said.
The 23-year-old had his hands full. Navarro was about to finish his master's in mechanical and aerospace engineering.
"I'm a rocket scientist," Navarro said.
Still, year after year, Navarro made MCC happen, joking it took, "lack of sleep. It's a lot of basically, you just kind of have to prioritize what's going on," adding, "We've been in almost 18 years of war at this point and then there are literally adults now who have grown up with nothing but war time."
Navarro said the gratitude from the children he served and letting them know they're not forgotten, made it all worth it.
Teen's dream helping military children a decade later
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