Continuous deployments and thousands of miles of separation can take its toll on any military family. But for Wade and Brigette Sparks of Murrieta, a local nonprofit helped the two rekindle their family bond.
The Sparks’ are among a growing list of military families affected by combat deployment that have been offered the opportunity to reconnect as a family again through Murrieta’s F4RV, For Free and For Fun, a nonprofit created by Rory Smith and Army Lt. Col. Sarah Letts-Smith, that lends RVs for free to military members recently returned from deployment, offering them an opportunity to take a three-to-four-day vacation. The RVs are provided through Smith’s RV company, Best Buy RV in Murrieta.
“It’s really hard to transition from getting him home then getting him back out again,” said Brigette Sparks of her husband Wade’s deployments.
Wade, who is stationed out of Camp Pendleton, was deployed and returned home in July from Afghanistan, surprising his two sons at Diamond Stadium in Lake Elsinore. He was back to work on Aug. 22, then the Sparks found out he will be deployed again in March.
“We did not expect that he’d have to go back… well not so soon at least,” she said. “When you consider all the training time before deployment, it’s almost like he’s gone sooner. So we take every chance we get to be together as a family. This was our chance.”
The Sparks recently returned from a mini-weekend vacation they took in the borrowed RV to San Onofre.
Brigette said their two boys, Dakota, 8, and Lincoln, 5, were thrilled about going on vacation and getting to sleep in the RV, but most importantly, spending time with their dad.
“That weekend trip, that’s a memory the boys will never forget,” she said. “Spending every minute together is your goal while they’re home from deployment. You just want to be together and be a family, and we were able to have that again.”
Letts-Smith, who’s been in the Army for 28 years now, and in the past nine years has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, understands just how difficult deployment can be. While deployed, her husband was left home to be a single parent, leaving the family to readjust to mom coming back home, she said.
“That’s why we started F4RV, to be able to give other families a chance to be whole again,” she said. “Going RVing was successful for us. It was a chance to get away from the house and all the work pressures and distractions, and a time to focus on family and remembering what brought you together.”
The nonprofit currently lends out two 26-foot RVs with hopes to adding a few more to their fleet. The company is also able to consign RVs with the proceeds supporting free vacations for military families, Letts-Smith said. RV owners can also donate their recreational vehicle when not in use and can be rented out to a military family for their vacation. Letts-Smith said the donations would be considered tax-deductible. A grand opening for the nonprofit today at noon, will help spread the word of what is needed to help the program grow, she said.
While the RV rentals are free, there are some rental conditions that come with it. A security deposit is required in order to rent the recreational vehicle, but is refunded 100 percent when the RV is returned. Renters are also responsible for gas costs. Lett-Smith said she eventually hopes to defer some of these costs through donations of gas cards and creating an escrow account to offset the deposit fee.
“One thing we are really hoping for is to get enough donations so that we could provide the deposit money for those who can’t afford it,” she said. “Times are tough and families that are in the most need miss out on the opportunity because they don’t have that money readily available. We don’t want that initial refundable fee to be the reason they can’t take a trip.”
For more information on the F4RV program call 951-500-9799.